People making a difference: Aryeh Sufrin
Nearly killed by terrorists, this rabbi dedicated himself to helping drug addicts, including Muslims.
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Dubbed "Joining the Loop," it provides advice in Bengali, Urdu, and Gujarati – three languages spoken by Southeast Asian Muslims – and crisis support to Muslim addicts and their concerned families with nowhere left to turn.Skip to next paragraph
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Several local mosques agreed to promote Drugsline's services – a step that itself was remarkable, given the enmity and mutual suspicion between the two faiths.
But taboo-busting is nothing new to Sufrin. His more than 18 years of drug rehabilitation work has been showered with criticism from sections of the Jewish community – which even bestowed him with the not entirely playful moniker of the "Drugs Rabbi."
But Sufrin remains sanguine in the face of his doubters. "Nobody from a 'good Jewish family' talked about drug addiction," he explains. "It happened to someone else's kids.
"That picture has changed quickly, and more and more teenagers are at risk of falling into drug use, even from the ultra-Orthodox families – whether they choose to see it or not. I hope we are softening attitudes with our work."
Each year about 1,000 drug users and their families contact Drugsline for advice on how to handle addiction. Most are Jewish and drawn by Drugsline's reputation for compassion.
How drugs wriggled their way into these close-knit, self-reliant communities has not been widely explored. But the rabbi speculates that large families, restrictive traditions, and a ghettolike mind-set have contributed to deep identity tensions among some youngsters.
"They live in a very different modern world [from] their parents and struggle to define themselves," he says.
The use of cocaine, in particular, has grown in that uncertainty. Drugsline's weekly Cocaine Anonymous group therapy sessions draw between 15 and 20 youngsters at a time.
Recognizing the risks facing pupils, dozens of local schools have taken up drug-prevention courses and hosted talks by Drugsline's outreach workers. Last year the charity spoke to more than 42,000 pupils across east London.
That's an impressive statistic for a self-funded charity started in the back office of a local synagogue.
"What he has achieved is nothing less than remarkable," says Lee Scott, a member of Parliament for the neighboring constituency of Ilford North. "It's been humbling to watch Aryeh's energy, charisma, and dedication to tackling drug addiction, often against great opposition. He is an extraordinary man."
Last June, those energies were rewarded by Queen Elizabeth II, who honored Sufrin with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire), given annually to outstanding community leaders.
Still, much more needs to be done, he adds. He wants to build on the center's interfaith drug-fighting work and extend its services across London.
His bold vision may be tempered by financial realities. A smile peeks through his wiry beard as Sufrin tips his kippah back on his head and reflects on the difficulties of fundraising during a recession.
"People are feeling poor, and that effects our finances," he says. "But who said the world was supposed to be easy?"