Yiddish is not the richest of languages. It has been argued that a language will pilfer or borrow any words that it needs to help its speakers be understood. In other words if a language does not have a word for something then you can assume that that object or concept is not very important to speakers of that language. The fact then, that Yiddish is missing many vital words, is a reflection of an attitude rather than a lack a verbal alacrity. If you need any proof of that, count how many synonyms there are in Yiddish for all those naughty things you mustn’t do.
There is no word for illegal drug use. That is to say there are certain terms that are used to describe drug abuse, ‘nemen smekkediks’ (taking things that smell), ‘reicheren di maases’ (smoking those things), but there is not even a word for drugs, let alone the actions and objects associated with their use.
The lack of knowledge about these matters, once a proud manifestation of the absence of drug abuse in the OJ community, can also become a problem. One that is beginning to raise its head as the loosening of soft-dug use in Europe and the States becomes more and more of a reality. Many of us know that in certain places in Stamford Hill young men with the beginnings of beards are hiding little illicit joints (I would call a joint a mechaber) in that special little pocket in their long coats (like an inside breast pocket but hip height) that were designed for them to hide their cigarettes in. The fact that many of them are American, where soft-drug use among bochurim is much more widespread, just goes to prove that that in this global gefilte-fish village physical borders no longer apply and we can expect more of the same in the future.
Not that I am really bothered by the fact that the occasional young man in our society has the occasional joint. On the contrary in fact. With the amount of pleasures and activities that are deliberately and arbitrarily denied these young oaks, I am glad to see that at least some are taking their puffin’ on the run.
The danger that does apply, and this is serious for a moment, is that because we have no culture of understanding regarding the use of cannabis and THC’s we tend to exacerbate our vocabularian handicap and lump together all users of illegal substances. Therefore a bochur who is caught tokin’ is likely to be ostracized by the entire community as a ‘nemer’, the English equivalent of calling him a junkie. Apart from the fact that some perfectly fine specimens of Satmar, Belz, Viznitz, Bobov etc are being lost to the bums for the lack of some words and a little modern understanding of how the youth thinks, we are also missing out on the medicinal properties that the whole world understands and knows.
I had a small boy whom I treated. He suffered from dystonia, a debilitating disease. When I first met him I knew he was going to die within the next 3 to 4 years. Some of the medication that he was given to stop his muscular spasms (and allow him to sit quietly in his wheelchair) also causes appetite loss. The kid looked like skin and bone and his bones stuck out to be made sore by hours of sitting in his chair. The best hope for restoring his appetite (short term) was for him to smoke or eat cannabis.
As there is as no prescription drug (yet) doctors will often advise patients to buy it illegally and administer it at home. It has become an accepted part of chemotherapy treatment and police officers I have spoken to have assured me that if they found a small amount of grass or hash on a chemo patient they would not even take it away.
This child’s parents however were flabbergasted when I suggested it. “Main kint gait nisht veren kain nemer!” (My child will not become a user). No amount of explaining could clear away the negative image that the word hashish conjured up in their minds. Main kind a Hashishnik? I could not convince them, either that cannabis in not addictive or that the child would not live long enough to suffer even if it were. The child is dead now and there is little I can do to help him. He died weighing 27kg at 14 years old. But he didn’t take drugs. His mother, to help her through the ordeal of watching him waste away, took bottles of valium and the father would smoke 40 cigarettes a day and sink into an alcoholic stupor at any chance, but their son B"H died drug free and emaciated.