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Alcoholism in the Jewish community

It’s not easy to be a recovering alcoholic who is also Jewish.

It’s hard enough for someone to admit having a problem with alcohol, let alone having to buck long-standing cultural and religions traditions to find sobriety.

Helping people overcome these unique challenges is the goal of Jewish Family Service (JFS). With offices located in Westport and Stamford, the JFS created J PASS, “Jewish Partnership for Addiction Support and Services,” as a way to provide confidential, professional information about substance abuse to the Jewish community in Fairfield County.

“We want people to feel comfortable coming to us for help,” explained Eve Moskowitz, Director of Clinical Services. “They will find that we have professionals on staff that they could easily relate to because they are from their own cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.”

She went on to say that there are many prevailing misconceptions surrounding alcoholism, addiction and Jews. For example, one long-standing myth is that Jewish people could not be alcoholics.

“Addicts and alcoholics are ‘those’ people,” Moskowitz noted. “In fact, I have heard people make the comment, ‘Oh, they can’t be an alcoholic. They’re Jewish.'”

Contrary to this belief, though, a study conducted a few years ago by Jewish Alcoholics Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (“JACX”) confirmed that addiction is as common among this community as it is in any other. Moskowitz added. “The needs of this population, though, are not being met,” she said. “We felt they were falling under the radar and we wanted to do something to raise awareness and offer tangible help.”

Although a person who has a drinking problem is typically defined as a man who imbibes, each week, more than 14 alcoholic drinks or a woman who consumes more than seven, the numbers are not as important as the overall effect it has on one’s lifestyle. For example, in her practice, Moskowitz challenges clients to look at alcohol’s impact on their work, school and personal relationships.

Through the J PASS program, they can also receive the resources to address these compelling issues.

“It’s important to know that if you contact us, your privacy is guaranteed,” said Gail Karlitz, a JFS staff member. “We are bound by strict laws to not divulge any information.”

In researching material for a book she is writing about Jews and addiction, Karlitz became familiar with many of the personal obstacles which keep Jewish alcoholics from seeking recovery.

“When I first started questioning people about what they thought about Jewish alcoholics, I frequently heard, ‘Oh, Jews would never do that,'” she said.

Karlitz acknowledged that even if someone might suspect that they, or a family member, are wrestling with the disease of alcoholism, they are reluctant to tarnish the family’s reputation by seeking help.

A family’s immaculate, good name is especially important for young Orthodox women who hope to marry into a mutually respected Jewish family, Moskowitz noted. “There is a fear that no one will marry you if you have an alcoholic in your family,” she added.

She also explained that staff members are also aware of the ongoing Jewish tradition pertaining to saying negative things aloud. There is a great sense of propriety about what is appropriate to speak about to those who are ‘outsiders.’

“When we talk about people with an illness, we tend to whisper,” explained Moskowitz.

However, to receive the kind of assistance that could lead to sobriety and improve their lives, Jews who are alcoholics and addicts have to be willing to trust professionals such as those found at Jewish Family Service.

In addition to J PASS, the community service organization also offers Pathways to Recovery, a support group led by an addict who is Jewish and reared in the Talmudic Studies experience.

This program is akin to Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step recovery program for addiction. Although people of all religions, races and backgrounds are welcome at AA meetings held throughout Fairfield County, some Jews feel uncomfortable with the Christian references, including recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Moskowitz said that the origin of this prayer is steeped in Jewish tradition. “It’s interesting because its contents are Jewish teaching verbatim,” she added.

source: Westport News

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