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
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
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?
DRUG TREATMENT CENTERS IN NEW YORK:
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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