DESTROYED BY GAMBLING ADDICTION
The Jewish Community Struggles to Fight
the Devastation of Pathological Gambling
by Annie Mueller for Casino Watch
December 4th, the first day of Hanukkah, inaugurates an annual season of sacred traditions, family, and festivities for most of the Jewish community. The Festival of Lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees, incorporates holiday traditions from food, such as latkes and doughnuts, to family activities and dreidl games, to more serious observances, such as the lighting of the Menorah candles. The traditions and method of celebrating the traditions vary from one family to another just as Christmas and Kwanzaa traditions and celebrations vary. The celebration of the season is the point, not the method in which it is celebrated.
Some among the Jewish community, however, find no reason to celebrate at all. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, in a video entitled "The Truth About Gambling in the Jewish Community," says that "the problem of compulsive gambling... has become essentially an epidemic problem. When I pick up the telephone... I know what is coming, it is a gambling problem. Legal gambling brings in $300 billion a year. For every single dollar of gambling, there is $4 of illegal gambling. Meaning that the gambling industry is $1.5 trillion a year. It far exceeds the automotive industry, the entertainment industry, the health industry. And Jews are not immune... the greatest increase has been in youngsters and senior citizens. Senior citizens finding themselves with nothing to do, finding a way to the casinos if they can make it, and they lose their social security checks" (1).
Twerski points out that people often seem to think that Jewish husbands are ideal husbands, and that problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence, and gambling addiction do not exist within the Jewish community. But those who deal with the devastation caused by such problems know that, just as with any people-group, Jews are not immune to the temptations and troubles of the world around them. Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, D. Min., is the Director of Religious and Educational Activities for United Jewish Communities. In his article "Everyone Knows Jews Don't Drink... And Other Myths About Addiction," Lankin tells of a young man whose brother, a pathological gambler, had lost "thousands, if not close to a million dollars on bets," in the sports betting arena. The young man's parents had "bailed him out countless times, taking at face value his promise that he would not bet again" (2). The example is not an isolated one, and the devastation caused during a time that should be both joyful and sacred is extreme.
How can a family commemorate the restoration of the Temple when their own lives are being torn apart, brick by brick? How can children understand the sanctity of the celebration when their hearts are filled with uncertainty, guilt, and hopelessness as their parents struggle to survive the disease of gambling addiction? Even small, cherished traditions like spinning the dreidl become painful reminders of what has been lost to gambling in its more extreme forms.
Gambling addiction devastates every community it touches, and it will touch every community within its reach. The beauty of the holiday season can only be preserved by refusing to allow the insatiable beast of gambling to enter our communities and our homes at any time.