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Is your teenager on drugs? Are you sure?

'Jewish parents prefer to think that the smell emanating from their kid's bedroom comes from an incense stick' Leah Pennisi-Glaser, 16, has a wake-up call for a complacent community

    Do you really know what's going on when your kid throws a party? (Picture posed by models)
    Do you really know what's going on when your kid throws a party? (Picture posed by models) Photo: Getty Images

    I’ve spent about £60 on weed through the dark web,” Joel tells me at the party he has thrown at his parents’ house in north Finchley.

    My mum seemed pleasantly surprised when I announced I was going to his party. Like many adults, she is of the opinion that Jewish adolescents are rather green, rule-obeying kids who rarely smoke, let alone do drugs, for whom sipping Smirnoff Ice constitutes the height of rebellion. Well, surveying the room, I reckon every stoned teen here is Jewish, so my mum couldn’t be more wrong.

    That said, until I went on Israel tour this summer, and met Jewish teens en masse for the first time, I agreed with my mum, and would cheerfully explain to my friends that my knee-jerk aversion to drugs and all things illicit was down to my Jewish genes.

    And we weren’t alone. Just the other week, Mum came back from a Jewish friend’s dinner party at which one woman explained that her son, a pupil at a mainstream Jewish school, was having a party and she wasn’t sure if she should stay upstairs while it was going on, or go out. When Mum asked if she was worried about the teenage guests taking drugs in her living room, the woman looked shocked and said: “Oh, I don’t think drugs are an issue at the school, but I am worried about underage drinking.”

    Ha! All the Jewish teenagers,  pupils at faith, selective and private schools, I spoke to for this article said that drugs were widely used, and half said that they had either dabbled with them, or were regular users.

    The users all have dealers. Londoners often meet them in Camden, and the dealers tend to corner a market in either working-class or middle-class teens: several people said that teenage Jews don’t mix with gang culture. Other Jewish teens, like Joel, buy their gear from the dark web. It arrives at their parents’ suburban homes via Royal Mail.

    They never tell their parents about their, or anyone else’s, substance abuse.  Their mobile phones are clearly too important to them for revelations of that kind.

    You could say this is standard teen behaviour. However, what sets the Jewish community apart, I think, is that we bury our heads in the sand over the issue. Instead of accepting that adolescence and drugs go hand in hand in 21st-century Britain, parents prefer to think that the smell emanating from their kid’s bedroom comes from an incense stick. 

    Ben, 15, reckons the average age to start experimenting is Year 10, with the most popular drug being weed, followed by ecstasy. Compared to pupils at my non-Jewish London state secondary, Year 10 is actually quite late. However, Ben assures me that Jewish teens quickly make up for lost time.

    “Doing drugs is all about status. It makes people feel grown-up. If anything we’re more reckless than non-Jews because it still feels new and alien. I means it’s not as if our parents have ever been high.” He says there is a lot of showing off about who has done what, tales of MDMA (Ecstasy) consumption at the Reading Festival and raves, and drug-induced temporary comas at parties. Some Jewish teens knowingly take dummy drugs to make them appear rough and edgy, he says.

    He spends around £200 a month on his habit. Where does he get the money, I ask. “Pocket money,” he replies, as if the answer is obvious. In fact, many Jewish parents unknowingly fund their kids’ drug addiction, because only one of the 10 I interviewed had a job. The average amount Jewish kids spend on drugs seemed to be around £50 a month.

    Talia, 16, says weed is the most popular drug used by her circle of friends. They generally smoke on Primrose Hill, in north London, or at parties to make them feel more confident. Like her friends’ parents, hers have no idea she takes drugs although their naivety was almost broken last month when Talia was caught by the police who threatened to call her parents. She spent the following week glued to her parents’ landline. Luckily for her, the coppers were bluffing. 

    However, it is not so easy for Jewish teens to bluff the mental health problems that some suffer as a result of their drug-taking. Depression, self-harm and a generally high anxiety levels are, I gather, all on the increase in Jewish circles and some of it is down to drugs. Slipped grades and short tempers are also consequences of too many joints and pills.

    Not that any of this is talked about openly, notes Jonny. “It’s not the done thing for a Jew to have a drug problem, so although we may show off about what drugs we have done and where, no one will admit to actually feeling out of control with it all.

    “We see it as having  a nice time. Most of us still want to go off to university and get a good job afterwards.”

    Privately, though, one Jewish teen admitted to me that she did feel her habit was spiralling out of control. “I started doing drugs to boost my confidence, but things have snowballed and I wish I had never started,” she says. “I feel I can’t stop now. I didn’t do very well in my GCSEs and I am sure there’s a connection.”

    There has been no official research on the numbers of British Jewish teens who do drugs, but it seems likely we underestimate the problem. In the past five years, Chabad and Norwood have both closed their drugs-lines. I contacted a Jewish school, where I know many students take drugs, but no one wanted to comment. It seems the Jewish community needs to wake up and take some action, unless they want to see a generation in recovery.

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