What enters and exits my body is just about all I can control in my life these days. I juggle three jobs, three kids, and a challenging ex-husband. I often feel powerless. I refuse to give up more of my freedom by undergoing a drug test for work, especially when the job is as a part-time Hebrew school teacher in a synagogue.
I was eating my bagel and sipping coffee with the other teachers in a classroom before my class one Sunday morning when I overheard several teachers discussing the matter. My initial reaction was how dare they insist on drug testing! I am a 40-something-year-old mom. I don’t get high. The implication was insulting, to say the least.
Drug testing is un-Jewish in my opinion. Jews stand for justice, righteousness, and freedom…a freedom we celebrate at this season each year as we retell our Exodus story for Passover. We are not a people of condemnation and accusation.
I have worked in Jewish education for almost two decades in numerous synagogues and schools across the religious spectrum. Until now, I have never once been asked to submit to a drug test for employment. While I have absolutely no problem undergoing a criminal background check, as someone who works regularly with kids, I am truly bothered by this particular synagogue board’s misguided decision to require drug testing for all their teachers.
There are many arguments as to why drug testing should be discontinued in the workplace. These tests punish individuals for the choices they make during their personal time. Drug testing is invasive and may also reveal much more than illegal drugs, including a variety of personal, medical conditions. Results are not always accurate. And finally, there are many ways in which the information gathered from such tests may be misused, abused, and shared.
But it isn’t my civil liberties, my principles, or the unwelcoming feeling I now have at this house of worship that has me so frustrated. The truth is that drugs are very personal to me. My family has been hit hard by addiction, and it wasn’t crack or heroine, but prescription drugs prescribed by professionals in white coats with degrees on their walls that wreaked havoc.
What good is drug testing when the individual with the drug dependence or addiction holds a prescription from a medical doctor? I have no doubt that there are many congregants battling addiction in every synagogue, but I am sure they are highly functioning professionals and parents who mask it well until their dosage reaches a limit and their doctor cuts them off. At that point, they must seek illegal means to satisfy their body’s needs, or difficult treatment in a facility that one can only hope is covered by medical insurance.
It happens at every level of our society, and even to members of our synagogue boards.
We do have a serious drug problem in our synagogues, but it isn’t Hebrew school teachers smoking pot before class on Sundays. If a synagogue board were really serious about helping their community and safeguarding its youth against drug abuse, they wouldn’t be screening their teachers. Instead they would educate their community about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. They would encourage their congregants to routinely clean out their bathroom cabinets and surrender old prescriptions to their local police departments. They would be arranging for guest speakers to address their college-aged students about the dangers of buying prescription drugs on campus. They would also be counseling families, who through no fault of their own are struggling with an addiction problem as the result of a medical system that is quick to distribute painkillers and other dangerous drugs without enough proper care.
I will miss the synagogue and the people I work with each Sunday, but I must do what I feel is right as a Jew, an educator, and a parent. Drug testing is degrading and intrusive and it casts doubt on the innocent. It is also antithetical to the Judaism I know and love.
If I have learned anything by losing a loved one to drugs, it is that drug testing serves no purpose when the addict holds a prescription from a doctor. Change is needed in our medical system, and we should be talking about it within our synagogues. Not shaming the people who are just trying to teach our kids.