‘How did my son, product of an Orthodox family, educated in a yeshiva, become an addict?’
When I was trying to figure out what I would say tonight, many well meaning friends and family strongly suggested that I speak from my heart. Most who have attended different functions at my home as well as Ari’s funeral have heard me speak and know that I always speak from my heart. But how do you speak from the heart when the heart is shattered to pieces?
Aryeh Natan, born June 12, 1988, died May 15, 2016. Ari died of a heroin overdose. I will no longer see the face that lit up my heart, the twinkling blue eyes and that magnificent smile.
Heroin took his life.
I could stand here and tell you all about Ari, how well-rounded he was, how talented and smart he was. I could tell you about what a great friend he was, how each of his friends considered themselves to be his best friend because they knew that he would always have their backs no matter what. I could tell you about how he shut down our street on the weekend with his organized hockey games … how much Ari loved to read … how much he enjoyed playing the piano, jamming with friends and even alone on the keyboard in his room. I could share with you Ari’s love of cooking and how he used to drive me crazy asking for different recipes. I could tell you how much Ari adored his younger sister and brother, and they him. But really, what would be the point of any of this. Ari is gone and the pain of his loss is immense.
Ari was brought up in an Orthodox home, not unlike many of the people here. He attended yeshiva from nursery aleph as a three year old, through the twelfth grade. He was given all of the things that parents give their kids including love and emotional support. He was cherished from the time he was born even through adulthood and through his addiction.
But here’s where I have a problem. How did my son, the product of an Orthodox family, educated in a yeshiva, become an addict? After all, doesn’t drug abuse only exist in the outside world? How can this happen to us? As far as I was concerned, drug addicts came from public schools and the inner cities, broken homes, and homes where there is abuse. Drugs were found in poverty stricken areas like the slums, and areas where there is a lack of education.
We know that drug use has become rampant among the yeshiva students. I was told by several mothers that they were aware that students were leaving school during lunch breaks to use drugs and somehow no one was the wiser. Why weren’t the teachers, administrators and parents on top of this?
Drug addiction does not discriminate between the races, religions or genders. It affects us all in one way or another.
Many in the Orthodox community don’t believe it could happen to them. Sadly, my family is an example of the fact that it can.
I was told, that in the last year within the Orthodox community, we have lost 60 young men and women to drug overdoses. My heart breaks for the families of these children.
My Ari suffered from the disease of addiction. The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy wrote that “addiction is a chronic brain disease that has the potential for both recurrence (relapse) and recovery.”
Addiction is in fact a deadly disease. We need to take charge of it by saying we have a problem and not sweeping it under the rug. We need to understand that it is a disease not unlike cancer or diabetes. Would anyone deny that cancer or diabetes exists? Would we deny our children medical treatment for those illnesses? Absolutely not! So then why are we ashamed to say that the disease of drug addiction exists in our communities and in our schools? Our kids need help and there is help out there if we just reach out and ask for it.
Unfortunately, while Ari had been in many rehab programs, he could not get out of his own way and accept the help that was offered. …
Ari did however, choose to help others, while he was sober and in rehab.
After he died I received several messages from people who were residents with him in the various programs. They told me that if it hadn’t been for Ari’s encouragement, and insistence that they stay in rehab, they would have definitely relapsed or worse. One young man told me that he had been clean and sober for several years now, and was shocked when he heard about Ari’s death. It warms my heart to hear these stories because it confirms what I knew all along. Drug addiction was a disease that Ari battled with, but it did not define him as a human being. He was a kind and generous person who was ill.
I would like to help prevent what happened to Ari from happening to others. People need to wake up and understand that there is work to be done when it comes to drug abuse. And if the work starts now, we can hopefully save more children instead of watching them die. There have been too many deaths.
Education and programming within the schools for students, teachers, administrators as well as parents, is necessary for prevention. It is also necessary to have the tools to deal with those who are already unfortunately addicted.
Tomorrow it will be seven months since Ari died. … I firmly believe that he would want us to continue on this journey of life. Part of Ari’s legacy are the years that he should have lived. So now, we go on and live them for him. We cherish those years and make them count. Ari always wanted to help people. To that end I am addressing this crowd in his memory, in the hope that I can help even one person who is struggling.
Finally, I was reading through some chapters in Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book, Consolation, the follow up book to The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. There is a paragraph that I would like to share with all of you that gave me some comfort:
“As we separate and ‘die’ from the womb, only to be born to life, so we separate and die from our world, only to be reborn to life eternal. The exit from the womb is the birth of the body. The exit from the body is the birth of the soul.
“As the womb requires a gestation period of nine months, the world requires a residence of decades. As the womb is ‘prozdor’ (an anteroom) for the preparation of life, so our present existence is prozdor to the world beyond.”
Ari had almost three decades of residence in this world as preparation for the world beyond. I would like to think that maybe he was extra special to Hashem, as he didn’t need as much time as the rest of us do to prepare for the world to come.
Ari struggled so much in this world and even through his struggles he tried to help others. Ari was a gift that we received and gift that was taken back earlier than anticipated. …
In Ari’s memory I hope that we can work together on getting the information about addiction out there, both on the level of prevention as well as assisting those who are in the midst of fighting the disease.
May Ari’s neshama have an aliyah. And may the neshamas of all of the beautiful children that we have lost to addiction have an aliyah.