Tackling Addiction In The Orthodox Jewish Community

A few brave individuals are breaking down the taboo of substance use disorder in the famously insular Orthodox Jewish community.

Rabbi Zvi Gluck is at the forefront of these efforts. As the founder of Amudim, a crisis support organization, the rabbi regularly meets people in the Jewish community who are struggling with substance use disorder.

While the Orthodox Jewish community “likes to remain in their bubble,” Gluck says, these days things are changing, especially among the younger generation of spiritual leaders.

“It went from everything being hush-hush under the carpet to people finally saying, ‘This is real. Let’s get people the help that they need,’” the rabbi told NBC News.

Amudim has helped over 5,000 people from the Jewish community, ranging in age from 13 to 71 years old. “At the end of the day, every time we lose somebody, no matter how old or young, you’re not just losing that person. If we can even just save one life, as the Talmud says, you’ve saved an entire world,” said Gluck.

Amudim’s awareness events draw standing room-only crowds. At a recent event in Bergen County, New Jersey, the Forman family shared their story.

Elana “Ellie” Forman was raised Orthodox Jewish in Teaneck, New Jersey, but as a young woman she said she “felt no connection” to the traditions, which “felt constricting to me.”

She turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. “I was looking for whatever else there was in this life that would fill that hole that I felt,” she said.

Ellie went from her insular upbringing in Teaneck to ending up in Palm Beach, Florida, where she hit “rock bottom.”

More than a year-and-a-half later, Ellie has become a vocal advocate within the orthodox community, helping raise awareness of substance use disorder with the help of her parents.

“I think inadvertently we’ve become the face of parents dealing with somebody suffering from addiction,” said Lianne Forman, Ellie’s mother. The family says the community has had a positive reaction to their message, which has encouraged more people to feel less ashamed of their own situations.

Drugs are “not something that really coincides at all with the picture of what a Jewish Orthodox person should look like,” says Ellie. “So it’s not something that’s talked about in the community because people shouldn’t be struggling with it.”