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Listen to the VJ Radio "Newsmakers" interview about the ATID Substance Abuse Conference
Part 1
Part 2

Substance Abuse in Yeshivot
Panel II: Educational Views
Summary

Mrs. Shonny Solow, Dean of Machon Gold, chaired the second session, which focused on educational and policy aspects of substance abuse. In her opening remarks she emphasized her concerns of drinking on Purim, often to the point of danger, at both the high school and post high school levels. There, alcohol is consumed with the consent, and even under the supervision, of school staff.

 

L.to R.: R. Blumenfeld,  R. Ebner (hidden), Dr. Peyser, Mrs. Solow. Dr. Carolyn Peiser, faculty member at Midreshet Lindenbaum and a psychologist in private practice, began her presntation by distinguished between men and women. Alcohol use is much more prevalent among men, both in the general and religious populations.  This alters the psychological meaning of drinking in each group, and when a young woman drinks, this may be indicative of much more 
severe problems than when a man of the same age does the same thing.  Often, she continued, within the context of our students in yeshivot, problems of alcohol abuse stem from psychological issues, which are rooted in the student's first experience away from home. They are given greater independence from home, while they still carry with them whatever concerns and problems they face in their homes, be it an illness, parental marital problems, or anything else. Dr. Peiser distinguished between three categories of drinking. Some students drink innocently, perhaps buying one beer with friends to celebrate a birthday. There may be no psychological problem of any kind, and only a discipline concern. The school should treat this as it would treat any other student who broke a school rule. Other students may drink regularly in order to protest against authority, although this may not represent a medical or psychological danger. The current trend in which it is de rigeur for Orthodox students from the Diaspora to spend at least a year in Israel is a factor. Increasingly, some students come to Israel, even though they don't want to. They arrange to be expelled by breaking such serious rules, so that they can go back to America, or to another school, where they would actually prefer to be. Finally, some students drink in excess regularly, even to the point to danger to their lives. This is the manifestation of a serious psychological problem, and should be treated as such. Educators should respond with treatment, rather than punitive punishment. This must be done in tandem with mental health professionals. A student should be sent home if he is likely to get better treatment together with his family, but not as a punishment. In particular, schools must create an atmosphere in which the friends of at-risk students will feel comfortable approaching school staff, without fear of reprisal.

Rabbi David Ebner, Mashgiah Ruhani at Yeshivat HaMivtar in Efrat, spoke of the need to establish trust between the problem student and the teacher or administration. Often, substance abuse is a cry for help. The educators must reach out and speak to the student, take an honest interest in his well-being. A zero tolerance approach can not work, because not all schools will implement it equally, and some schools attract students with problems, and are more equipped to handle it. Furthermore, yeshivot often prefer not to find out about drinking, because such a problem works against the school's economic and educational best interest. R . Ebner asked if these kids are bad kids, per se, who deserve to be punished, or if they are victims? He called for a sociological study to examine the extent of the problem in high school, post high school, and beyond. This study may discover that the problem is more prevalent than previously suspect. It may also discover that less problematic students simply work out their problems with time. Finally, R. Ebner cited R. Moshe Feinstein's responsa (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De'ah III, #35) prohibiting marijuana use, which links drug use to issues of ben sorer umoreh and larger issues of kedoshim tihiyu. Education, if it is to tackle substance abuse, can not ignore the more global difficulty of education toward a sanctified life.

R. Yisroel Blumenfeld, Mashgiah Ruhani at Yeshivat Neve Tzion in Telzstone, spoke of the differences between his yeshiva and other programs. Neve caters to students who are already at risk, who feel rejected by parents, teachers, and the system as a whole. Many of them turn to substance abuse due to anger and low self esteem. They need love, unconditional love, from rebbeim who care about them deeply on a personal level, and who will accept them as individuals (even though rebbeim do not condone those problematic behaviors). The rebbe has to find what is special about each individual student, and use that to build trust between the rebbe and the student, and to help build up the student's self-image. If all the yeshivot continue to become more and more elitist, implying that each student must fit into the same intellectualist mold, then there will be no appropriate place for students who do not fit that mold. Neve has met with great success in helping a majority of its students get control of their lives, while nearly a third continue in yeshiva for a longer period of time, becoming genuine Bnei Torah. Finally, he emphasized the need for educational institutions to be in constant contact with professionals, who should serve as an integral part of the school's abuse policy.

A spirited discussion in the audience ensued following the initial presentations of the panelists. This will be included in the full transcript of the session.

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This summary was prepared by Yoel Finkelman.

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