Friday, October 25, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for October 18

Mazal tov to Helene Leichter and her family, and we thank them for sponsoring this week's Shabbat announcements and Shabbat-O-Gram, honoring Helene's bat mitzvah, which will take place tomorrow afternoon.   Join us for services then as well as this evening at 7:30.  At services on Shabbat morning, I'll be taking a special look at the sacrifice of Isaac as depicted in the arts. As you can see in this sneak preview and study guide, the Akeda has captured the imagination of artists, poets and essayists of all faith traditions for thousands of years, up until this very week, when it was the subject of a humorous cartoon in the New Yorker.  Also, see my Jewish Week column this week, "One Year Later, Taking Ownership of Sandy," based loosely on my comments on Rosh Hashanah.

Last night I traveled to Newtown at the invitation of a congregant in her late 20s who was speaking to high school freshmen of her struggles with alcoholism and addiction. was eager to support Rachael (her first name is being used with permission); she has moved on so beautifully with her life and I am so proud of her for surmounting her personal hell and being willing to share her story with teens.  I also wanted to see Newtown, at long last, to begin to understand whether they too have begun to move on from their own hellish nightmare.  More on my reactions to visiting Newtown in next week's Shabbat-O-Gram.

The speakers who gave testimony, including Rachael, all received prolonged standing ovations.  But the question remains, will the teens listen?  Will these teens and parents, who have seen the consequences of irresponsibility, reckless behavior and mental illness so starkly, who live in a community that has suffered so immeasurably, will they act more responsibly because of it?  

Although some surveys indicate that programs like this are having a positive effect, the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days (see more statistics here):

  • 39% drank some amount of alcohol.
  • 22% binge drank.
  • 8% drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 24% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

Rachael spoke powerfully about her "allergy" to alcohol, saying "I put it in my body and I break out in stupid," and she was brutally honest about the consequences of the bad choices she made.  She focused on self esteem issues and the self-inflicted bullying that oftentimes is even crueler than the bullying inflicted by others.  She said that every time she drank she only fueled that self loathing, and how that addiction destroyed everything in her path.  Her recovery has been a blessing, and she can barely recognize the person she describes, the person she was, when she speaks with numerous groups of students.

I was very proud of her and felt blessed that in some way I've been able to help her get back up on her feet.  But as she spoke, it occurred to me that I also was part of the world that let her fall.  And not just a bit player.  I wondered how many signals I miss from the hundreds of teens I know now and the thousands who have come through my office over the years.  This is an enormous burden and a constant reminder to me that my own actions have enormous consequences.  But not just me.

All of us are role models, comforters, cajolers and boosters.  We need to think long and hard about all the decisions we make with regard to alcohol and other substances. Because we can be sure that somewhere, it will have an impact on a child.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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