This article was originally published as an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post (03 March 2023): https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-733221
The Hebrew month of Adar has arrived – a month of joy and happiness and the holiday of Purim. Many people in my neighborhood have been discussing the goings on during Purim. Yes, there is an obligation on Purim to drink some more wine than one regularly does. Still, Purim drinking must sensible and safe.
On Purim, people drink alcohol, and many become quite inebriated. This, in turn, leads to less than desirable behaviors. Rarely a year goes by that someone doesn’t get hurt — or worse. I know doctors who have worked emergency room shifts over Purim, and they tell me that it isn’t a pretty sight. People coming in are injured from falls or have trauma inflicted by other means. Sometimes, people have had so much to drink, they lose consciousness and must be monitored. Unfortunately, there have been tragedies on Purim both in Israel and abroad.
Overconsumption can be tragic
About 35 years ago, my community organized what was the first Hatzalah in Israel. I served in it for almost seven years. During that time, I saw it all. Resuscitations, births and everything in between. Perhaps my most memorable call from those days was one morning at 8:45 a.m.
I was out of the neighborhood, but not far away, when I heard on my radio that a girl at a local seminary wasn’t breathing. My first thoughts were that given the age of this person, perhaps her roommates were mistaken. Maybe it was just a seizure? Unfortunately, when I arrived, the young lady was indeed not breathing, and had no pulse. I joined the efforts to resuscitate her. Advanced life support was summoned and arrived quickly. Just as they got to the scene, we were able to restore a pulse, and we continued to assist her breathing. The girl was never to breath on her own again, and several weeks later, she passed away.
This was neither my first or last attempt at CPR, but it was the only time that I performed CPR because of the overconsumption of alcohol. Yes — this girl had been out the night before and had consumed more than half a bottle of whisky. She came back to her room that night and fell asleep. Her roommates checked on her before they went to eat breakfast the next morning. Although in a deep sleep, she seemed okay. While they were eating breakfast, their roommate vomited. Because she was drunk, she didn’t wake and she aspirated vomit into her lungs. A tragic ending.
There is no question that we have to be very careful. This is something that when it goes beyond the limits can create a danger of alcohol addiction.
A few years ago, several boys were “shalom zachor hopping” on a Friday night in a New York suburb. One of them found some very good single malt scotches and over consumed. He went to sleep Friday night, but like the girl we spoke about previously, he vomited, aspirated, and never woke up. Another very unfortunate tragedy that could have — and should have— been avoided.
Still a problem
Alcohol is potentially deadly, especially when used in excess. But even when used in modest amounts, damage can occur. We already know that people who are alcohol impaired have slower reaction times resulting in car accidents. We know the damage that alcohol does to the liver which can end in cirrhosis, needing a liver transplant, or liver cancer.
In a recent interview on The Exam Room podcast, Dr. Kim Williams, former president of the American College of Cardiology was speaking specifically about the downside of alcohol for heart health. Dr. Williams mentioned that cardiologist, oncologist, endocrinologist, and neurologist will all tell you about the very damaging effects of alcohol in their various fields. Yes, drinking alcohol ups your risk of most diseases.
Lets’ look at both the short and long-term negatives of alcohol consumption.
In the short term, symptoms of too much alcohol include:
- a sense of euphoria
- mood changes
- impulsive behavior
- slurred speech
- vomiting and diarrhea
- head pain
- changes perception
- loss of coordination
- trouble focusing and even loss of consciousness or gaps in memory
In the long term, consequences of overconsumption of alcohol result in:
- persistent changes in mood including anxiety
- a weakened immune system which leads to frequent illness
- changes in libido
- changes in appetite and weight
- problems with memory and concentration can become common
- maintaining relationships
- inability to focus are also common
How do we reconcile the potential dangers of alcohol consumption with our Jewish traditions and even Jewish law? After all, our Rabbis have told us there is no joy unless there is meat and wine. “Now that the Temple is not standing, there is no joy without wine, as it says (Psalms 104) ‘ And wine will rejoice the heart of man.'” (Tractate Pesachim 109).
How much wine do we need to bring joy to our hearts? Not as much as you think. We generally are using wine for Kiddush (sanctification) on Shabbat night and the following day. The same goes for every holiday. It’s also common to have a shot of whisky after gefilte fish on Shabbat or as part of celebrations such as engagements, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings. If all we are talking about is 4-5 ounces (around 120 ml) once or twice a week, harm would be negligible if at all.
How do we balance the use of alcohol as a celebratory tool with the inherent dangers that can be involved? It’s a strong question- especially with most recent research showing no health benefit to its consumption.
Knowing that even moderate consumption can cause harm, just keep it to the bare minimum. One thing I started doing is mixing my wine with grape juice. Keep in mind that grape juice has the same beneficial polyphenol – resveratrol – as wine. It was never the alcohol in dry red wine that provided health benefits.
And Purim? Yes, it’s only one day. So if you drink a little more, remember- a little more means, a LITTLE more.
Enjoy the day!
Let’s work together to make this Purim a day of happiness and joy that it is supposed to be. Have a glass of some special wine with your delicious Purim meal. Take your children dressed up for Purim to deliver MeShloach Manot. Enjoy the day! Do not drink too much, and certainly do not drive once you have consumed alcohol. Let’s give our emergency services and the doctors working in the emergency rooms a break so they can enjoy Purim as well. Keeping alcohol consumption to a bare minimum will “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”