I am flipping through one of my social media outlets, as I lie on my bed, cuddling my 7-month-old baby to sleep. A picture catches my eye. Garbage strewn in front of a restaurant. I look closer, puzzled as to why someone would post a picture of garbage. Then I see. Discarded needles littered amongst the garbage. I read the accompanying message. The poster says that we need to relocate addicts to a secured facility in the north. Provide them with drugs and food and medical care, but we need to get them off of our streets.
I scroll through the comments. I cringe as I read them. I see posts such as, “These people,” “Get them off of our streets,” “Decided to act against societal norms,” “Until they wish to act like proper citizens,” “Undesirables” and so much worse.
The poster is Jewish. Many of the people commenting are Jewish.
My mouth drops open. I take a sharp breath and feel a pain deep inside of me. My heart hurts. I want to cry. My hands shake. It takes all the strength I have not to respond. I am hurt and angry. I shake my head in pain.
I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I haven’t had a drink or a drug in a little over 20 years.
Yes, I am one of those undesirables. So is my husband. My mother and some of my best, most cherished friends.
I was 25 years old when I found recovery. I am one of the lucky ones. I never lived on the street. I didn’t do needles. I didn’t have to experience that kind of bottom, but what being in recovery has taught me is that I am no different than those who live on the streets, than those who inject themselves with needles. Because I am an addict. Once I use, I can’t stop.
The American Psychiatric Association classifies addiction as a complex brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. I have a brain disease. I will drink and drug even though it causes harm to me and those close to me. Once I use, I don’t care about anything else. I have a disease that I have to live with and battle for the rest of my life. It is painful. It is a struggle. Some days are easier than others, but the fact of the matter is, I have to live with a disease that can return at any moment. Like a person in remission from cancer.
Does the Jewish community not want me or my children because I am an addict? Am I less of a worthy Jew because of my disease? What about my children? Even as I write this, my heart is beating fast, my breathing is shaky. I think of v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha. I think of how we, as Jews, are commanded to love the stranger who dwells among us, to have one law for the stranger and the citizen, to never embarrass our fellow human beings in public, and to guard our tongues and speak no evil.
Where is the love of humankind when we classify human beings as undesirables? Where is the humanity in suggesting that we take human beings and put them into remote locations, away from civilization? Is this starting to sound familiar? Perhaps like the Shoah? When Hitler classified us Jews as undesirables? Did those Jews have a choice as to whether or not they were classified as Jews even?
I have a disease. I did not choose to be an addict. I did not know, when I drank my first drink and smoked my first joint that I would end up addicted. I was a kid. I did what almost every other teenager did. I experimented. None of my friends from high school are addicts. I am. I got it.
Addicts come from all walks of life. They are your teachers, your lawyers, your doctors, heads of companies, celebrities. They are also those living on the street and leaving their dirty needles behind. Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on your ethnicity, your socioeconomic status or your religion, yet we, as a community, want to believe that addiction doesn’t happen among our tribe. I can tell you that it does. I can also tell you that there are many Jewish addicts and their families who are afraid to come forward precisely because they are afraid that they will be looked down upon and judged as morally impaired. As undesirables.
This, to me, is morally reprehensible. We, as a community, need to act with love. Let’s help repair the world that we live in so that we can love and support all people, even when they are sick with a disease that we don’t understand. It is our duty as Jews. V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha and tikkun olam. Love your fellow as yourself and help repair what is broken.
Amanda Haymond Malul is a JACS (Jewish Addiction Community Service) Vancouver supporter.