Monday, June 20, 2011

Alcoholism: Do we avoid knowing about it?

We had a program Sunday night on Alcoholism in the Jewish Community [audio available here]. The speakers were credentialed, the flyer was attractive, but the turnout was not great (25-30 people).

Let me re-phrase: Those who turned out were great. But not many turned out.

There are many 'external' reasons we didn't have a strong showing, including:
* Father's Day
* Dinnertime
* Nice weather on a Sunday evening in June
* The program was not announced in many shuls [although it was Facebooked and tweeted, and there were flyers in many shuls]

In truth, I knew about the logistical challenges with our date and our publicity in advance, but the subject is important to me. I fear that Jewish communities enable addiction to alcohol. We provide wine and liquor at our tables and in our synagogues, we make people uncomfortable in refusing it, we often glorify it. We provide a convenient and comfortable place for people to drink, and we do all of that around our children. So I wanted this program, and I couldn't get any other date/time, so this was it.

But was it really just a case of bad timing, or weak PR? Given that JACS Toronto hosts programs serving hundreds of people each week, shouldn't we have been able to attract more attendees?

Might we be ducking the issue?

Might it be that:
* The topic is frightening?
* We think that by showing up at this sort of program, we might be broadcasting that we have a problem ourselves, or in our families?
* We want to think alcholism is someone else's problem, and so we dismiss anything with the word 'alcoholism' like we dismiss anything with the words 'Bosnia-Herzegovina'?

Do your communities get a better showing for this sort of program - and other than immediately after a specific, addiction-related catastrophe takes place?


  1. Just because a program is run on an important topic does not mean that people think they will gain anything from it. We all know alcoholism is bad, and we have a problem in the Orthodox community. From the material provided, it didn't seem that there was going to be a call to action. Bring out someone like R' Moshe Tendler or R' Yaakov Horowitz where anyone who knows them will KNOW they will be "entertained" by hearing the Orthodox Rabbis actually addressing the issues that we always skirt around, and you'll get people out.

    As well, I'm not sure if the marketing techniques used (facebook/twitter/email/flyers) is the most successful way to get people out to programs.

  2. Russell-
    Thanks for commenting. I hear what you are saying regarding Name speakers, although I don't see why anyone would be any more confident that they would speak about the issues normally skirted.
    Re: Marketing - I believe that person-to-person is the best marketing, but the facebook/twitter/email/flyers usually do get a turnout better than this one, even for a shiur with a bland topic.

  3. JACS participants pretty much know about the topic. I suspect that everyone else still lives with the old notion that there aren't any Jewish alcoholics (drug addicts, etc.).

  4. It is called the river "DeNile"-denial.
    And in fact those who are learned use rationalizations from Tanach and Chazal ,like 'veyayin yesamach levav enosh."The more the better.
    Over the years I have seen a serious increase in the misuse of alcohol.

  5. I think a reason some (including myself) have some trouble taking the issue seriously is because the main solution that is often propossed is the complete banning of and abstention from alcohol which is something most people do not support. Most evidence has been that among the frum community, alcoholism has approximately doubled, from about 5% of the population to about 10%. While it is sad and tragic that Orthodox alcoholism is on the rise, I think we could approach a solution better if we weren't hearing alarmists freaking out and demanding that every simcha/kiddush/Purim be dry and automatically equating drinking any amount with addiction.