Orthodox community steps up its anti-drugs campaign

By Simon Rocker, August 15, 2008

A strictly Orthodox charity is planning to step up its campaign over the next few weeks to educate its constituency about the risk of drugs.

Talking Matters, a Stamford Hill-based welfare agency specialising in mental-health issues, last autumn published a ground-breaking 128-page guide in Yiddish, Hebrew and English on understanding addictions, ranging from gambling, sugar and "shopaholism" to alcohol and drugs.

Now it is preparing to release the section on drugs as a package of separate, pocket-sized leaflets to ensure wider availability among Charedi organisations.

"I want to distribute [them] to all the rabbis, shuls and youth clubs before Rosh Hashanah," said José Martin, the national director of Talking Matters.

The issue of drug-taking within the strictly Orthodox community was last week highlighted by a coroner's revelation of traces of cocaine found in the system of a prominent philanthropist at the time of his death. Benzion Dunner, of Golders Green, North-West London, was killed in a car crash in March.

Ms Martin said that she had been planning for some time to produce the leaflets. "If everybody could understand the horrors of substance abuse, we might be able to save a life. If we can save one life, that's why we are here."

The original guide displays pictures of different drugs, with their effects and dangers spelt out in English, Yiddish and Hebrew.

Its publication followed research which demonstrated the potential susceptibility to drugs of some young, strictly Orthodox Jews, despite the protective nature of their communities.

Ms Martin herself co-authored a report last year on mental-health services for Charedi Jews, which found anecdotal evidence of drug use .

The authors wrote: "What has been quite shocking even for the researchers is the frankness with which some respondents said that ‘there are teenage girls and boys using drugs like marijuana, cocaine and speed'. This is alarming as it was always thought that the girls in particular of Stamford Hill were totally immune from such terrible things."

It was published under the auspices of the University of Central Lancashire's Centre for Ethnicity and Health.

Another report, overseen by the same centre and funded by the Department of Health in December 2004, found that cannabis was being used by some strictly Orthodox youngsters in Manchester.

It was produced for Binoh of Manchester, an agency which works with disaffected young strictly Orthodox Jews.

Of 82 young, local Charedim surveyed, three aged from 14 to 18 admitted to having used cannabis - although only one on a weekly basis.

However, 13 said that either they, their family or friends had used drugs or "witnessed or experienced drug misuse".

The same number knew that cannabis was colloquially known by names such as "hashish" and "weed".
According to the researchers, there existed a small "hard core" of drug-users among Charedi youth.

Although the problem was "still relatively small", they concluded that "the growing social acceptability of these substances and the ease of obtaining them would suggest that this has the danger of mushrooming into a far greater problem".

The Manchester study found no evidence of the use of harder and more expensive drugs such as cocaine.

But Essex-based Jewish charity Drugsline has reported a growing number of calls regarding cocaine, including "from the Jewish community".

Last updated: 1:53pm, August 14 2008


Helen Feld

Fri, 08/15/2008 - 11:20

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I thought I was the only reader surprised to read that Mr Benzion Dunner received semicha posthumously. His late grandfather Rav Josef Dunner was the Rav of Stamford Hill Adass Yisroel and the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations for about 60 years. Mr Benzion was an amazingly generous philantropist supporting many Jewish schools, yeshivahs etc. both in the UK and overseas. For that we will remember him with love and admiration and wish his dear grandmother Rebbetzen Dunner long life.