My name is George and I’m a Jewish alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous
A startling, four-color advertising poster appeared some time ago in the New York subways. Staring at the viewer was a “typical Irish cop” about to eat a luscious delicatessen sandwich on Levy’s rye bread, and the legend was “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levy’s.”
As countless subway stations flew by, and as the rusty gears in my head meshed, the whole idea of that Irish cop (and by now in my mind’s eye he had become a Catholic-Irish cop named O’Toole, with a thick brogue, 14 children, and a grandmother in Kilkenny) had turned itself upside down.
One evening, while talking to my closest friend in A.A. (whose name is so Irish I can preserve his anonymity only by omitting his initials here) and after having attended an open A.A. meeting where the one female and two male speakers all sounded like characters from an Abbey Theater production of a play by Lady Gregory, I had a brainstorm.
“At my own expense,” I told my friend, “I shall have the same advertising agency responsible for that Irish cop make up a poster for distribution to all A.A. groups in this area. It will feature a photograph of me in full color, and I shall be clearly drunk, sucking on a bottle of Scotch. Underneath this photograph of my Levantine features (once described by a friend as `the face of Abraham’), I shall have inscribed: `You don’t have to be Irish to be an alcoholic.’”
The myth that there are few Jewish alcoholics is, as far as my experience is my guide, sheer bunk. With many more Jews residing in the city in which I live than in the entire state of Israel, Jewish attendance at A.A. meetings is what you might expect. A good number of groups in this part of the country have Jewish memberships of up to 50%. Jews abound in other groups as well, and you will even find handfuls of us at meetings in areas where few Jews live.
Another myth is that the tradition of social and heavy drinking has never existed among the Hebrews, and therefore Jews lack that special extra “something” that turns the social drinker into the alcoholic. Nonsense! The Yiddish language has a perfectly satisfactory word for drunk — shicker — and when it is used as a noun (as in “a shicker”), any Jew in town will know what you are talking about!
I think, seriously now, that we Jewish alcoholics often display a tendency to be oversensitive about our Jewishness. Therefore, we cover this raw spot with a patina of indifference — the famous Semitic shrug of the shoulders. This attitude may keep many a miserable Jewish alcoholic out of our Fellowship, to his or her misery and our loss.
I am thinking now of a young woman I know, deep in the self-torture of progressive drinking. Both my wife (also in A.A.) and I have tried for nearly two years to bring her to the A.A. program. All her rationalizations against us boil down to one sentence: “Nice Jewish girls aren’t alcoholics.”
Maybe, Ruth, many nice Jewish girls aren’t alcoholics. But neither are “nice Jewish boys,” “nice Lutheran girls,” “nice Methodist girls,” “nice Italian girls,” “nice Vassar girls,” or just “nice girls” or “nice boys.”
There is nothing “nice” about any alcoholic in the throes of this ailment. In A.A., we don’t care how “nice” you think you are, or whether you are Jewish, Christian, Moslem, or nothing. True, we end most of our meetings with the Lord’s Prayer, but even the atheists in the program do not often object to this formality. The speaker usually says, “Will all those who care to join me in the Lord’s Prayer?”
When I was on the sauce, I wasn’t a Jew, I wasn’t an American, and I wasn’t a man. I was just a drunk, loveless and unloving, respectful of no one and nothing, least of all myself.
No, Ruth, “You don’t have to be Jewish.” But maybe it helps. I think that it helped me accept the truth that I am a member of more than one minority group, and today a sober one, thanks to the God of my fathers, and thanks to the people of all kinds who are Alcoholics Anonymous.