Talking about Addiction Prevention in Los Angeles


Talking about Addiction Prevention in Los Angeles

Yehudis Litvak

The YULA Girls auditorium quickly filled to standing-room only as about 300 community members gathered together to address and prevent addiction and substance abuse among teenagers in the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Eleven speakers, several video presentations, and a panel discussion addressed the questions that came from the audience. All the participants left the event inspired to help struggling teens and armed with the information and tools for more effective parenting and with resources to turn to when additional help is needed.

The event was organized by Project Tikvah, a branch of Aleph Institute and a recipient of a cutting edge grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, in partnership with MASK (Mothers and Fathers Aligned Saving Kids International) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The goal of the event was “to start a conversation in the community with parents, schools, rabbis,” says Leah Perl, co-director of Project Tikvah. “So that if they see a problem they can pick up the phone and call.”

Mrs. Perl emphasized the importance of early intervention. “Don’t wait,” she urges parents and other concerned individuals. “Try to catch it early. You can save a kid.”

The attendees learned about drug overdose and how to recognize it. They also learned about a life-saving medication, Narcon, that acts as an antidote to drug overdose. Project Tikvah is currently training community members in administering Narcon.

The common theme of the evening was that addiction and other mental health conditions are chronic diseases just like any other, and not the fault of the sufferer. Anyone struggling with addiction or a mental health issue cannot be blamed for their condition. They need and deserve our help and support.

Ruchama Bistrizky-Clapman, Founder and Director of MASK, introduced the program, and Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Head of YULA Girls’ High School, made opening remarks.

Jimmy Delshad, former mayor of Beverly Hills and current Vice President of Aleph Institute, spoke passionately about the important work of Aleph Institute, urging the participants to bring the difficult topics into the open.

Dr. Ron Nagel, a beloved pediatrician serving our community since 1986, spoke about the importance of role modeling, especially in the parents’ own responsible use of technology, as well as alcohol and prescription medications. He demonstrated how little it takes to overdose on drugs, explaining that children don’t know that a small difference in dosage can be fatal.

Ari Stark, Vice President of Destinations, a teen treatment program, said that in order to address the issues our community needs to “open the conversation, get it out of the shadows.” Addiction and mental illness, he explained, is a problem in the United States as a whole, and the Jewish community is not immune to it. “As a community, we shield ourselves from what is going on,” he said. “This results in higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.” He explained that in most cases, suffering teens show clear signs of distress, and as parents and community members, we have the responsibility to “never turn away,” to provide suffering teens with the support and help they need.

Asher Gottesman, Founder and CEO of Transcend Recovery, spoke about creating an environment of unconditional love that allows teenagers to talk freely to their parents about their struggles. “None of us are at fault, yet all of us are at fault,” he said, explaining that there is no direct correlation between pain felt and pain inflicted. The same trauma can trigger addiction in one teen and yet leave another teen unscathed. As pain is subjective, it is important to listen to the person in pain without any judgment.

A recovering addict who received help and support from Project Tikvah shared her experience with the audience. “The stigma makes it very hard to seek help,” she said. “This is a disease, not a morality issue. Please don’t put off getting help. Addicts who do not get help end up incarcerated, institutionalized, or dead.”

Bob Shapiro, Esq., internationally renowned litigator and senior partner at Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP, and founder of the Brent Shapiro Foundation, spoke about losing his son to a drug overdose. The tragedy spurred Mr. Shapiro to work tirelessly on prevention of overdose-related deaths, and of substance addiction in general. “Be aware – it’s everywhere,” he said. “If there is a problem, talk about it. Face it head on, don’t run away from it. If there is no problem, do everything you can to prevent it.”

Addressing the subject of prevention, Donna Miller, LMFT, Director of Chabad Treatment Center, spoke about vulnerability to addiction. She advised parents of children who are experiencing any kind of crisis, “As long as you are addressing the problem and there is progress, you significantly decrease vulnerability.” Ms. Miller emphasized the importance of communication with children.

Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, Director of Aleph Institute’s West Coast Branch, stressed our communal responsibility to help those among us who are struggling. “If we collectively keep our radar on the max, we can together save lives,” he said.

Rabbi Yekusiel Kalmanson, Executive Director of Sanctuary Treatment Center and Renewal Recovery Center, spoke about the danger of drugs. “Young people are more vulnerable to risks because their brains have not yet matured,” he said.

Ruchama Bistrizky-Clapman moderated the panel discussion that concluded the event. The participants of the panel were Asher Gottesman, Dr. Sharon Dunas and Dr. Debbie Juster of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Health – an organization dedicated to supporting families dealing with mental illness), Tzvi Heber of YY House, Donna Miller, Ari Stark, Alana Yakovlev, Esq., and two representatives of the LAPD.

The organizers feel that the event was successful. Rabbi Boyarsky says, “There’s always more to be accomplished but, B”H, we got very positive feedback from participants.”

Aleph Institute was founded by Rabbi Sholom Lipskar at the directive of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Its motto is, “No one alone. No one forgotten.” Project Tikvah’s mission is to provide “hope and intervention for struggling youth” – young adults who find themselves in jail or facing trial due to mental health and/or addiction issues. MASK, founded in 1997, with headquarters in New York, strives to “ensure that all parents/caregivers in the Jewish community receive the resources necessary to help them raise emotionally healthy families.” MASK operates a confidential helpline, support groups, and prevention and awareness programs.

For more information, or for Narcon training, Project Tikvah can be contacted at or 310 598 2142, and MASK can be contacted at 718-758-0400.