I was reading tonight about the rabbi who wrote a letter of apology to her congregation after being busted for driving under the influence. Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Temple Israel in Duluth, Minnesota had apparently shared a bottle of wine with a few people and then was speeding home in hopes of arriving before her daughter's bedtime when she was pulled over for going about 75 in a 55 mph zone on an icy night with a .11 percent blood-alcohol level.
There are some cringe worthy factors in her situation– drinking and driving, icy weather, speeding– at .11 she wasn't sober but she likely wasn't completely wasted, either, and it's not uncommon to drive over the speed limit, and certainly not unusual in the least for a parent to step on the gas a little in anticipation of time with their children. Fair enough. And, Rabbi Bernstein wrote a very humble and, I thought, beautiful letter to her congregation stating, “We have got to be really attentive to our own inner lives and our own best practices and the need to slow down in general — the need to stay centered and whole so that we don’t get careless. Because that’s what happened — I got careless. Those of us who teach about that need to take our own advice.’’ Rabbi Bernstein, who has been planning to take a three-month sabbatical in Israel since before this incident then wrote, "“This incident has shocked me into awareness that there are several important things that need my careful attention right now. I promise to make my time in Israel a time of real inner work and careful reflection on the meaning and direction of my life.’’
I like her letter. Her congregation is standing behind her, and I think that's honorable and I would hope I would and could do to same if my own rabbi was in Rabbi Bernstein's shoes. Also in her letter, she wrote, “… This has been a traumatic wake-up call for me and I can only beg your forgiveness and promise that it will, of course, not happen again.”
Personally, I hope she means what she wrote, which I'm sure she does. I'm sure she's a fine person, a wonderful person, even, and I don't think she's a bad person for what she did. But more than anything else, I hope her congregation was listening, and I hope with everything I have that her congregation took her words personally, and took them in and will think very hard about their own actions.
You see, that is my hope because, I have a little bit different perspective on DUI. I lost a beloved family member to a drunk driver when she was only twenty-four years old. The driver responsible for her death was, like Rabbi Bernstein, driving with honorable intentions, eager to reach family on the other side of his drive. He was certainly a fine enough and well-liked person in the community, certainly not meaning to hurt anyone and, I honestly believe, absolutely not intending to kill anyone, but, in his case, tragically and quite accidentally, did.
If you have a problem with alcohol and you are ready, please consider talking to your Rabbi or family, or whoever, or maybe touching base with JACS, or checking out many of the meetings that are starting to be held in shuls now, instead of just churches. A lot of us, and I'll be the first to admit I've caught myself thinking this, have this thinking that we, Jews, because of reverential feelings for kiddush or for whatever reason, are somehow exempt from alcohol-related issues, but it's just not true and I've got to think that we're doing ourselves a major disservice by not recognizing members of our community who need our support.
But, let me be completely clear. I only mention substance dependency because we're talking about booze, but I do not, under any circumstances, think that people who are driving under the influence are alcoholics. Some probably are, but, honestly, I worry more about the casual drinkers. We all keep our eyes on the big boozers in the circles we run in and we know not to let them drive under any circumstances. But, the casual drinkers who just catch a nice buzz then decide to head home seem like they're not doing too terrible of a thing, as if surely the "don't drink and drive" slogans aren't talking about them, surely not, but let me tell you under no uncertain terms that it only take a moment of lapsed judgment or a second of delayed reaction to make everything horribly different. And, let's be honest, we've all probably, at one time or another in our lives, driven or started to drive and only then realized we maybe were a little in the cups. We've probably all driven at one point when we probably should have not.
So, it's my hope that we all really think very carefully of Rabbi Bernstein's words, not only on this issue, but in many areas of our lives, and that we take them very personally and really hear them:
"We have got to be really attentive to our own inner lives and our own best practices and the need to slow down in general — the need to stay centered and whole so that we don’t get careless."