The email, which was forwarded to me by a prominent askan,
carried an extraordinarily painful and piercing message. Written by Rabbi Zvi Gluck, the founder and director of a life-saving organization named Amudim, it was a powerful call to action. The email told of two Orthodox Jewish families, each of whom lost a child within the past two weeks to a devastating disease known as addiction.
When I called Reb Zvi, an old friend — the son of the legendary askan Rabbi Chaim Baruch Gluck — to get more information, the pain in his voice was unmistakable.
“Since Rosh Hashanah, we lost 64 precious souls — all under 35 — to addiction and abuse,” he told me.
Every Jew is the equivalent of an entire world, and each lost soul is an irreplaceable void for our entire nation.
In his email, he asked a series of questions, each of which cut like a knife.
“Did we do enough? How did we miss the signs? Why did this happen? What could we have done differently?
“The answers to these questions? There are no answers. Sadly, in my line of work, the questions always come to me — but I don’t have the answers, either,” he readily acknowledges.
While there are indeed no ready answers, there are crucial steps that we, as individuals and as a community, can and must take.
First and foremost, it is vital that we recognize that this crisis really exists and is found in every sector of Torah Judaism. We can no longer afford to close our eyes or sweep such matters under the proverbial rug.
Let us not delude ourselves: there is no safe haven. The disease strikes individuals in all types of families: rich, poor, respected and illustrious, or relatively unknown, learned or simple.
The most potent weapon in our arsenal is, of course, tefillah. During every Shemoneh Esrei, let us whisper an urgent plea; every time we have the opportunity, let us recite an additional kapitel Tehillim and pour out our hearts for those who are already battling addiction, for the victims of abuse and for those who are at risk. Let us daven that the rest of Klal Yisrael be spared this terrible test.
Early detection makes a huge difference. It is vital that resources are allocated to ensure that all those involved in chinuch are trained to recognize the warning signs and are given contact information for those possessing expertise and experience in this area.
Upon the urging of our Rabbanim, our community has come a long way in dealing with mental and emotional illness. But much more must be done to remove the stigma long associated with this disease. Gedolim from across the spectrum of Torah Judaism have repeatedly urged that those who are in need of it seek and receive the help of mental health professionals. It is imperative that emotional and health issues be viewed and treated the same way that physical health issues are dealt with.
A close and loving relationship between parents and children plays a very significant role in both helping to prevent children from falling victim and saving those who are already ensnared. But, according to Rabbi Gluck, a positive relationship between parents plays an even greater role.
The lack of shalom bayis creates a major vacuum in the lives of children. In a home where there is constant fighting, children see themselves as the protectors of their parents, and are therefore reluctant to confide in them. While victims come from even the most wonderful homes (and one should never extrapolate from the struggles of a child and draw any assumptions about the home s/he comes from), a home filled with respect and mutual admiration goes a long way toward reducing the risks.
Finally, there is another essential element to bear in mind at all times. A heart filled with emunah peshutah, a Jewish child who feels a true bond with the Ribbono shel Olam will have the inner strength to overcome the weightiest of nisyonos. We must continually seek to strengthen our own emunah and raise our children with the knowledge that every Yid is a beloved child of Hashem, and help them forge a close connection with the Ribbono shel Olam.
May Hashem bestow consolation on the shattered families of those we lost and grant a full and lasting recovery to all those who are battling addiction. May our entire nation be healed of this most heartbreaking plague.