Monday, January 24, 2005

Encino Yeshiva Boy Overdoses On Heroin

Related stories here and here about the death of Eric Siegel.
From the Mashgiach of Neve Tzion:

I am writing these lines before Shabbos Shira. Theres been an overflow of sympathetic emails, faxes and calls. Many calls never got through. I apologize. If you would know what had to be done in the past few days you would understand. Our priority was first to the niftar and his mother. Much time was spent in Court successfully preventing an unnecessary autopsy and arranging for a proper funeral. The second priority was our talmidim. We pray and believe that our efforts to assure that they would learn and grow from this tragedy will succeed. Now, is the time for the third priority. Connect with the alumni, parents and friends and set the record straight. I am sure that the publicity was harmful and much was inaccurate. The media has no respect for human dignity, and no commitment for the truth.

Lets relate the nightmare as it was. An 18 year old boy, who had joined the yeshiva after a stay on kibbutz just six weeks ago, overdosed on heroin. He had used drugs in the past and was using now, but he was certainly not an addict. Not of that drug, nor any other. There was no indication or cause to suspect suicide (contrary to the first internet JP report). This fellow was happy, intellectual and well liked and respected. His mother who visited Neveh recently, told us that he never
had been happier. This was his first experience with Orthodox Judaism. At the beautiful chasuna of one of our talmidim last week, he asked Rav Slavin to tell him a dvar Torah. He was excited about learning. He thought that Rav Nachmans writings were cool (and deep). Tragically, he made a mistake. The drug was not sold to him in the yeshiva but rather in Lod. The dorm counselor suspected (correctly) that another boy had used heroin that evening, searched his room and tried to get him to admit to it and to tell him where it came from and who else had the drug. Without success. This boy is already back in the States. All boys who we find out that they have used heroin are either sent immediately to detox and return to the yeshiva only after they have been tested clean for a considerable time dorming outside the yeshiva, or are sent home.

We accept this tragedy as a message from Above. Ive already shared with many of you my concerns for the present situation. Nevehs policy was to give anyone who was ready to try a second chance. The emergence of new yeshivas and institutions pushed us to the bottom of the barrel. Don't misunderstand. At the bottom there are neshamas and intellects that can and have become bnei Torah of whom we are proud. But in recent years it has become even more difficult. It starts now in eighth grade, not senior year in yeshiva high school. By the time they reach Neveh, many
are already living on the street and not in yeshiva. I was the first to admit that we were not equipped to do a proper job, but this year we added a social worker, an alumnus, to the staff and he is amazing. But we need a few more. We need more counselors for the dorm and more supervision, even during daylight hours. We started a business course and are trying to begin an EMS program. But we need more programs, tiyulim. Shabbatonim, field trips and guest speakers. The talmidim must be kept busy and active. We started a group therapy program to help talmidim stay clean. But we need more and the truth is that we dont have the funds for these programs. There are organizations in the States that think that their conferences in expensive hotels and hotlines have solved the at risk youth problem and give no help to us in the trenches. A noted educator commented, The Chareidim are still in
denial as they were twenty years ago when they told me that the drug problem belonged to the modern Orthodox and not to the Chareidim.

Neveh has no choice. After many sessions of open discussion and private consultation we told our talmidim that only those who commit themselves in writing to refrain from all drugs including marijuana will be able to continue in the yeshiva. They will be tested as well. Some have already left, but most want to try to be clean. Henceforth, we will accept only those talmidim that are ready to remain clean from all drugs including marijuana.

What about the hundreds of kids who are on the street and need a place with the approach and Rabbeim of Neveh? If the community can find funding for such a project we will start a yeshiva rehab outside of Telshestone.

With tears in my eyes I thank all those alumni who have expressed their support of the yeshiva. Its a known fact that our alumni are the greatest and the only proof we need of our success. Weve received beautiful and meaningful letters from parents. We are grateful.

Last weeks email contained the statement of one of our alumni that he wrote at his chatans tisch that doctors save lives but Neveh saves generations. With help from Above we hope that somehow this can continue to be true.