A Time For Action
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
About eight years ago, the Menahel (Dean) of a large, mainstream Yeshiva High School in the Metro New York area approached me. He asked me if he needed to be concerned about the possibility of drug use in his school. When I asked him what his thoughts were on the subject, he responded by telling me that it is inconceivable to him that any of his students were using substances of any form.
Politely – and with great respect – I asked him if he knew what a marijuana joint looked like or if he would recognize the distinct odor of marijuana being smoked. Did he know what an ecstasy pill looked like or how a teenager acted when he was coming off an ecstasy high? I questioned if he knew what types of readily available items ‘users’ might substitute for drugs. To up the ante a bit, I put my hands in my pockets and asked the Menahel if he would recognize a joint or an ecstasy pill if I were to pull one out of my pocket during our conversation.
There was an awkward silence for a moment, and he then silently waved his hands as if to say, “How in the world should I know?”
Well, how should he know? This wonderful, dedicated klei kodesh (public servant) who devoted his entire adult life to educating our children spent his formative years in the bliss and beauty of uninterrupted Torah learning. What is there in that background that would prepare him to know any of these things?
AN HONEST MAN – AND A CARING MECHANECH
After we had discussed the matter for a while, the Menahel asked me what I thought he ought to do. I suggested that he call the local police precinct, ask for the Youth Officer, and get a quick education. I told him that I certainly hoped that his assessment (that there were no ‘users’ in his Yeshiva) was correct, but I felt that he would be better equipped to lead his Yeshiva with an enhanced skill set of street smarts.
To his great credit, he looked at me and said, “Rabbi Horowitz, if that is what you recommend, I certainly will do it.”
Well, my dear readers, I propose that it is high time that some, many, or all educators in each of our High Schools and Beis Yakovs get some sort of training in these areas.
I will repeat what I noted last week. Assuming that our rebbeim and teachers need assistance is not a complaint, c’has v’shalom, leveled against these heroes of our schools. It is simply one of the many realities of our times. Spending years in the virtual Gan Eden of learning the Holy Torah of Abaya and Rava (two great Talmudic sages) creates an ideal role model, a talmid chacham, and a ba’al middos. It does not necessarily equip this wonderful Mesivta rebbi to properly acclimate himself to challenges that he will face as he teaches, guides and direct his talmidim. How should your son’s rebbi, or your daughter’s morah recognize symptoms of substance abuse? How should they know how to carefully look for signs of depression? Or eating disorders?
TRAINING OUR FIRST RESPONDERS
Properly training all the thousands of High School (and perhaps Middle School) rebbeim and teachers in our school system is a monumental task – one that, in all likelihood, cannot and will not be done in the short term. However, we must act now. We simply do not the luxury of time. Not while our precious children are vulnerable and in danger.
A VISION FOR A SMALL – BUT MEANINGFUL – FIRST STEP
Over the past few months, I have been exploring the possibility of convening a conference for High School educators on the subject of addressing the risks that are faced by all our children.
I would like to invite High Schools educators and expose them to the wisdom and experience of experts in the field of detecting and addressing substance abuse. There will be sessions on recognizing signs of depression and identifying girls who may have eating disorders. We will discuss effective programs to promote healthy living among our children and teens and how to keep kids away from hard-core alcohol use and abuse.
This is not intended by any means to be a comprehensive training program. This would be a small but meaningful first step to acclimate our klei kodesh to the realities they face every day. This will be exposure, not all-inclusive education. But it would help the attendees identify smoldering rags before they become full-blown fires. It would give each of them a wide range of resources to draw upon when they are confronted with significant issues in the future. It will allow them to interact and develop a common language with their colleagues in schools across town – and around the country.
WHO WILL COME?
The conference would be open to Yeshivos, Day Schools and Beis Yakovs across the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. Drug pushers don’t seem to care much about the various shades of white, gray and black in our community. They are selling poison to all our kids. Our response should be similarly color-blind.
Some schools may be best served by having key administration members attend. Others may wish to send one or two of their High School rebbeim or teachers who interact well with the students. Those schools that have guidance counselors may wish to send them – in place of, or in addition to – teachers or administrators. The collective learning of the conference participants should then be captured and disseminated to educators around the world.
WILL IT HAPPEN?
I sincerely hope that it will. It most certainly needs to happen – this summer or fall, not in a year or two.
What would it take to make it happen? Funding – plain and simple. What is needed is one individual or a group of people who have the vision and resources to invest in the future of our children and underwrite the cost of this conference.
Each week, The Jewish Press prints 100,000 copies of the paper you are reading. I am most certain that several of you reading this edition have the wherewithal to underwrite the entire cost of this vital project – and become part of the solution to this growing challenge to our children.
TRULY “A TIME FOR ACTION’
If you are looking to have a significant impact on the future of our children – indeed our collective future – please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Im lo achshav aimasai?” (If not now, when? – Avos, 1:14)
© 2004 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Postscript: Several months later, The Center for Jewish Family Life launched Awareness 3.0 – a series of workshops along the lines of the conference described above.
And, a generous donor underwrote the costs. YH/
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