On April 22, 2018, my husband, Etiel, and I, along with Rabbi Zvi Gluck from Amudim, a not-for-profit organization in New York that provides support and referrals for individuals and families affected by addiction, organized an awareness and education meeting in Teaneck on the issues of addiction and substance abuse.
Rabbi Gluck explained that he and others would speak at the event, and that he would like our family to talk about our own personal experience with addiction. Our daughter, Elana, had revealed to us the prior year her struggles with addiction, for which she ultimately went into treatment. We had found it isolating and frustrating that in the time since Elana made us aware of her struggles with the disease, we did not know of anyone else in our community dealing with these issues. We knew that it was statistically impossible that this was the case, and made the difficult decision to discuss our personal struggles and pain in a very public way, after asking all five of our children, especially Elana, for their blessing.
It was Elana who most influenced our decision by saying that we could do this on the condition that her name and contact information be disseminated so that she could help other people suffering with the same issues. Little did we know how many people would come forward after the event with their own stories, situations, and challenges. It was daunting but reassuring to know that we were not alone. I won’t reiterate the absolute shock we felt the night of the event, when more than 700 people crowded into a room meant for a maximum of 500 people, but we knew, especially after that night, that this was just the beginning for our entire community.
People’s reactions in the months to come were amazingly supportive, encouraging, and grateful. It was overwhelming to us in many ways, but we also felt empowered to take on future initiatives in response to the feedback we received from those in attendance at the event. The reactions to it made clear that the community wanted to see so much more after that evening. The three major areas identified for further action were: (1) support for sufferers and their families; (2) more education and consistent programming in the schools; and (3) more community events.
With the help of a local addiction psychiatrist, who volunteers his time to moderate the group, we formed a family support group for loved ones of those suffering from addiction. The group has met every other week since May; there is a core group who comes to every meeting, and we are still getting newcomers. It has been successful; people tell us they feel that it really helps them. In cooperation with the local day and high schools, and with the clear support of communal leaders and educators, we successfully applied for and received a grant from a state-based program funded by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), which provides technical support in the areas of establishing prevention curricula, programming, faculty education, and other assistance. Through the grant, our local schools are working on a unified approach to these issues starting in sixth grade, when our children already are at risk.
In terms of community programming, several people wanted more information about addiction and substance abuse. Members of the community approached me after the April event and offered to help us with future efforts. Thanks to their time and hard work, we organized an education event to take place on November 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck. It will include a panel of experts in the field (a DEA agent, a prevention expert, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction) as well as communal leaders and educators, who will share their perspectives and help our community understand more about current drug trends, addiction, and its impact on us. It is an opportunity for members of our community to ask questions of these panelists and to learn more about the issues we are facing and what we can do.
You can learn more about the panel here, and you can email questions to Time2TalkAddiction@gmail.com.
In addition to the results we are clearly seeing in our community, Rabbi Gluck reported to us that Amudim now has more than 100 active cases and more than 300 requests for information and resources stemming directly from the April event, and that other communities have contacted the organization to conduct their own awareness events given the incredible success of the one held in Teaneck.
I will be honest. When Etiel stood in front of a room of hundreds of people in April and revealed our very private struggles, we had no idea where it would lead or how much it would change our lives, but we are truly awed and thankful for the amazing community we live in. The unwavering support we have experienced since that evening, the encouragement to move forward with these initiatives, the people who have stepped up, and the ways in which our community bonded together and accomplished so much in such a short time is inspiring. We have done so much together, and we are so excited to do much more in the future. Most importantly, no one in our community should ever feel they are alone in their struggles again.
Lianne Forman of Teaneck, a lawyer, and her husband, Etiel, are the proud parents of five children (and grandparents of one grandson), including their daughter Elana, a recovering addict. Through their family’s struggles they have channeled their efforts toward creating community awareness and education about addiction issues and enhancing resources for sufferers and their families in the Jewish community, including organizing public events on addiction and establishing a local support group for loved ones.