MAY 2002
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• August 2001
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• April 2002



Beware: Narcotics

From Bukharian Times
1 April 2002

By Rafael Nektalov

Until recently, it seemed the drug problem wasn't more serious in the Bukharian Jewish community than in any other community. Immigrants from the Central Asian republics, as is well-known, come from conditions which closely resemble Colombia. Afghanistanˆs narco-traffic and traditional culture of growing tobacco and preparing hashish, were common knowledge. But worried Bukharian Jewish parents successfully guarded their children from the influence of eager distributors. The thinking was that resistance to drugs was at a sufficiently high level. Long centuries of Jewish values, a strong foundation and upbringing, and the examples of elders all served to protect the Buhkarian Jewish families from the "opium haze." But preventative action has turned out to be insufficient. What is the reason?

Before fighting an illness, doctors recommend diagnosing its character. In our case, we must identify the source of the threat that is becoming a reality among Bukharian Jews.

I wish to note that I do not share the view that an immigrant people assume the new society's vices. An immigrant community draws on its strengths, its cultural and spiritual traditions. Bukharian Jews are not the only ones proud of their heritage. At the same time, it's no secret that drug use, and smoking dope specifically are part of 20th century civilization. Each community, independent of its social or religious orientation, will sooner or later have to reckon with drugs. Though consciousness of the struggle with the disease is growing, it is at times not effective enough.

The mass culture industry struggles with this evil; the problem has been romanticized. In the mass media, society's struggle against drug abuse is portrayed as intense, and very black and white: the police battle drugs with dedication. Of course, there's a lot more shooting and blood in reality, and unlike what we see on TV, the shooting and blood are real, and have real consequences. The point is that in the grand scheme of things, the number of those on drugs isnˆt decreasing, but on the contrary, is going up.

Evidence of the problem can be found in the constantly expanding network of special clinics and government and social centers for prevention and treatment of drug addiction.

Queens--in particular Lefrak City--has long been considered a drug center. It's not accidental that in the songs of popular rappers, this place has become famous as a heavenly corner of New York. Lefrak City is quite close to Corona, where many of our community reside.

Until comparatively recent times, the inexpensive prices for apartments in Corona brought around 600 Bukharian Jewish families and almost 300 Russian and Ukrainian Jews to this neighborhood. Almost 1000 immigrant families from the former Soviet Union wound up living in this, now Jewish region of Queens, which, under the liberal administration of African-American Mayor Dinkins, had become a Black and Hispanic neighborhood. Particularly because of the Bukharian Jews, a Jewish life began to thrive in Corona--a new social center (which publishes this newspaper) appeared, the doors of a 100-year-old synagogue on 108th Street reopened. For those invested in the religious life of the community, existence of a Lefrak City drug scene wasn't that much of an issue: their paths didn't cross. The synagogue, Shabbat, Jewish holidays; there was enough spiritual care, they thought.

Today, Jewish community activists from Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Lefrak City are alarmed because police have begun arresting no small number of young people from the Bukharian Jewish and Georgian Jewish communities, primarily children from successful and well-established families. While some may have tried to comfort themselves that their sons (and daughters too, by the way) were merely spoiled, they now also have to admit that their children's drug use is no joke.

The Chief Rabbi of our community, Yitzhak Jeshua, said that the problem is a real one, and maintained that among drug addicts there are a significant number of Bukharian Jews, a number which, unfortunately, is confirmed. The Rabbi refers to arrest rosters in the affected police district, in which given and family names with Jewish roots and endings in "ov" have begun to abound. "You'll find quite a few ...Bergov,...Shteinov, Shvili... on that list," summarized the rabbi.

At the present time, many rabbis are working with families that have narcotic-dependent members. Some are achieving positive results. But these numbers aren't yet impressive, though when it comes to human life, each saved person is a triumph.

Lyuba Pilosova, a playwright and actress at the "Bukhara on the Hudson"theater and the mother of two sons, gives all her spare time to the theater and to work with young people, has formulated her own solution to the problem.

Pilosova created a small talk show, with scenes drawn from the lives of immigrants struggling with difficult fates. It began to reveal the violence that comes from drug abuse. Young girls began to share with Lyuba, telling stories about how their boyfriends/fiances/husbands changed after they began using drugs.

In Pilosovaˆs opinion, efforts directed by several organizations in the Bukharian-Jewish community to deal with drug abuse thus far are ineffective "because those who get involved are barely acquainted with the community, don't know the young people, and donˆt establish contact with those who need it the most."

It is said that one should just count how many doctors and engineers arrive in the community, and keep quiet about the negative side of modern reality. On the one hand, indifference; on the other, panic§neither are good ways to deal with the problem. Here I can't help agreeing with T. Aronova, who justly notes that biased attitudes about illegality exacerbate the problem. "It creates the impression,"she says, "that after being processed at Kennedy Airport, all of our young people can be divided into three groups, bound for the streets, smoking drugs, or occupying themselves with criminal activities."This, of course, is not the case, but the problem still exists!

Zoe Pilosova, a psychotherapist who works in a drug clinic at New York Association of New Americans (NYANA), speaks with great alarm about the proliferation of drug addicts among Russian-speaking immigrants. "I'm convinced that many donˆt know how to begin to struggle with this illness, parents don't have the addresses of such clinics. I think that such centers need to be opened in Queens and Brooklyn, in places where there are concentrated populations of Russian-speaking immigrants."

Helen Kagan, director of the drug-abuse-prevention program H.E.L.P., which operates in Manhattan, believes that of the overall number of Russian-speaking drug addicts who turn to them for help, 10¡15 percent are Bukharian Jews. Given the percent we constitute of all Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants, appears that the drug abuse situation in our community is similar to others. Our community now reflects this calamity, which, as one feature of modern reality, must number among the first of our concerns.

Dear readers, to continue the conversation about this difficult and complex theme, we ask you to write to us. How did you personally, or your loved ones, help someone free themselves from the hold of narcotics? What, in your view, must be done in society order to prevent the "opium haze"from clouding the lives of our young people?

NYANA, 17 Battery Place, Manhattan
Zoe Pilosova, Psychotherapist: 212-425-5051, ext 1313

Program HELP, 371 East 10th Street (near Union Square), Manhattan
Director Helen Kagan, 212-780-2332

Translated from Russian by Liz Vladeck. Courtesy of Voices That Must Be Heard

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