Over 150 people turned out in Queens on Sunday May 15th for the Amudim awareness event, a rare opportunity to learn how to spot the early warning signs of addiction and abuse in order to empower children and protect their futures. The symposium, held at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, was held in joint partnership with Chazaq and featured several prominent speakers, each of whom is well acquainted with the problems of abuse and addiction in the Orthodox Jewish community.
Mr. Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim, opened the evening discussing the alarming rash of untimely deaths that has swept the Jewish community over the past few months. Gluck noted that just two days earlier he had sent an emotional email to his contacts that spoke of the 65 deaths of people under the age of 35 due to drug overdoses that have taken place since Rosh Hashana this year alone. By the time the event began on Sunday night, that number had risen, tragically, to 66.
Pretending that these problems don’t exist in our community is a luxury we cannot afford, explained Gluck.
“It’s no longer possible to try make believe that certain things that are killing our kids are not happening,” said Gluck. “Whether it is being victims of abuse, whether it is suffering from addiction or mental illness, these are issues we must confront and accept that it is a problem.”
Gluck also stressed the importance of working with professionals and rabbonim in order to bring about awareness of these issues, a mandatory step in effecting change.
Amudim’s rabbinic advisor, Rabbi Elya Brudny, rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, discussed the importance of advocating for our children from the Torah perspective, noting that problems can occur in the best families, in top rated schools and in state of the art classrooms. While not every crisis ends in death, the effects can still be devastating and can linger for generations, making it all the more important for parents to stand up for their children.
“In a time of tragedy we have to reevaluate what parents are supposed to be,” observed Rabbi Brudny. “We can’t go by what we used to, or what the norm is out there. We are not going to save our youth by parenting like the parenting we are accustomed to around the world today.”
Ensuring their children’s well being must be of paramount importance for every parent.
“We have to train ourselves to the mentality, to the instinctive ability, that my child should be safe no matter what the cost is, no matter what the consequence is, my child must be safe,” said Rabbi Brudny.
Dr. Shloime Zimmerman, a member of Amudim’s advisory board, noted that the tragedies that the Jewish community has experienced over the past few have been years in the making.
“On the death certificate it says drug overdose but this guy didn’t really die of a drug overdose,” remarked Dr. Zimmerman. “He died of shame. What is shame? It’s feeling unworthy. Unlovable. Feeling that if people really knew who I really am they would disconnect themselves from me. They would not approve of me.”
The importance of acceptance and compassion are crucial, said Dr. Zimmerman, who said that parents must model those behaviors and must embrace their children’s imperfections and struggles.
“We don’t have to be perfect,” said Dr. Zimmeman. “We don’t have to pretend to be perfect.”
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, founder of Ohr Naava, spoke passionately about raising awareness of abuse so that those who become victims know that they no longer have to hide their heads in shame and that help is literally just a phone call away.
“Before Amudim showed up, people who went through sexual abuse thought that it was a secret and that there was nobody there to help them,” said Rabbi Wallerstein. “They didn’t have the people who refused to give up on these kids, whether it is therapy or rehab, whether it is money or personal help. They know if they go through something, there is an organization, there is a person to go to that will not give up on this thing that used to be hidden.”
Rabbi Wallerstein observed that once abused, a child’s life is forever altered and that even those who appear to have gotten past their victimization are permanently scarred.
“For some victims, they were given a death sentence, but all have a sentence for life,” said Rabbi Wallerstein.
With so many tragedies taking place this year, it is incumbent on each of us to do our part to prevent the statistics from growing ever higher, noted Rabbi Wallerstein.
“At the end of the day it is on our watch,” said Rabbi Wallerstein. “How are we going to answer that Hashem’s bas or ben yechidah went through abuse? Our answer will be that we had an organization. We put something together called Amudim. Hashem, we did our best. There is no organization that does this.”
Participants lingered long after the event was over, approaching the speakers with questions, some seeking guidance or advice.
“We have already had requests for follow ups in this community and others,” said Gluck. “As always we continue to remind people the same message: if you know someone who needs help, speak up. Your actions can often mean the difference between life and death.”
To find out more about Amudim, visit www.amudim.org or call 646-517-0222.