Substance abuse education is vital to prevention and sometimes provides an easier, more acceptable path to introducing the problems of alcoholism and addiction to the congregation. But if we think of drink and drugs as a “teen problem,” we are closing our eyes to the truth. Although alcoholics and addicts may begin their substance abuse as teenagers, the roots of the problem often go much deeper.
During the High Holiday, rabbis remind their congregations that “ kol Yisrael arevin zeh la zeh,” all Israel is responsible for one another. The word “arevin” is related to the word “ erev,” meaning evening, the time when day and night, light and darkness, mingle together, a time when complex emotions are more poignantly felt. So often, the cause of denial is fear. Alcoholics and addicts are “those people,” not us, not Jews, not in our congregation, our home, our mirror. That is not true. The truth is that we are all mixed up in it, in one way or another, and so we are all responsible. As the old year draws to a close, mingling our hopes and fears, may God help us to lay aside our communal denial and reach out to the alcoholics and addicts and their families among us, to open our synagogue doors and let in the light.