by Susan J. Cole
From United Synagogue Review, Fall 1995
Reprinted With Permission
As I write these words, a nice Jewish boy sucks on a crack pipe. In twenty-five seconds, freebase cocaine will sear his brain, firing the neurons that signal intense pleasure, the visceral excitement of food or sex. A few minutes later, he sits frozen, eyes darting. When the paranoid delusions ebb, he reaches for the pipe again.
Across town, in her parents’ marble-tiled bathroom, a nice Jewish girl purges her latest carbohydrate binge. Later tonight, her sister sits with friends in a club, drinking vodka gimlets as she surveys the men. At home, a Jewish mother counts out her hoard of pain killers and muscle relaxants. Meanwhile, the bus to Atlantic City delivers its cargo of pleasure seekers, including Jewish husbands and fathers who will put this month’s mortgage money on the line and lose it all.
Listen to the sound of unanswered phones ringing. One, two, three rings, then a click. Sleep-deprived and frantic, someone who loves an alcoholic or addict listens for the tenth time in a row to the recorded greeting, wondering whether the person whose cheerful voice they hear is alive or dead.
Who are these people? They have your eyes, your arched eyebrows and your mouth. They like chicken soup and a good corned beef sandwich, lean. “They” are us. Are there alcoholics and addicts in your congregation? Yes.
Denial is a hallmark of addiction. Jews face double denial. The alcoholic or addict denies the disease. And our community denies that the alcoholic or addict exists. As one woman recalls, “I remember looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I can’t possibly be an alcoholic. I’m Jewish. But wait a minute. What if I am an alcoholic? Then maybe I’m not Jewish.’ I had to go pour myself another drink and sit in my rocking chair to figure it out.”