Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl tells a story about a former congregant whose life was destroyed by gambling.
In an unheard-of political gesture, two dozen local faith leaders showed up at Toronto City Hall on Thursday to hold a press conference voicing very strong opposition to the expansion of gambling in the GTA. They brought with them an emphatic petition signed by 268 leaders reprenting various branches of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Their statement was made available in English, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Portuguese, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, and Hindi.
It was a broad coalition.
Yes, some of their disapproval was rooted in scripture, tradition, or culture. But far more convincing and affecting were their moral and ethical objections rooted in having seen the effects of gambling addiction with their own eyes.
A significant role of religious leaders is counselling: serving as a person to whom their congregants and other community members can turn in times of trouble. And it seems that, based on their comments yesterday, gambling is a recurring theme in the grief that causes people to turn to them. (Further, a cursory scan of Gamblers Anonymous Toronto's website shows churches - Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal - as common venues for meetings.)
Here are excerpts from some of the statements made at the press conference, followed by a video of same:
Suffragan Bishop Philip Poole, Anglican Diocese of Toronto: "We gather as representatives of faith communities across the GTA, united in our opposition to the proposal to locate a casino somewhere within this city. Members of our faith communities, citizens of this great community, are very clear in their opposition to casinos. You see, they know people whose lives have been damaged by addiction to gambling. They have seen the pain of family breakup, of financial ruin caused by gambling. They have watched money set aside for mortgages find their way into slot machines. We, as leaders of faith communities, know that as well. As faith leaders, we develop personal relationship with our members, which allows us into their lives in a very deep way. Our members share with us the pain, the anxiety, and the anger gambling brings, and we are there to help them pick up the pieces of their shattered lives."
Shaikh Habeeb Alli, the Canadian Council of Imams: "As a chaplain, every day in my first-hand experience, people who have suffered and have been victims of this type of gambling come to my office. As a matter of fact, when people say to us that this casino is an investment, I ask the question, 'Is this an ethical, green, and socially responsible investment?' Ladies and gentlemen, I know for a fact that faith communities and their social services would be downloaded with these programs to take care of the victims of gambling and addictions of gambling. When it's all over, faith leaders will have to pick up the pieces and to give faith and to give trust and to give support again to these broken families, destroyed lives, and the very fabric of our society that is the ethical principle of honesty and hard work will be attacked."
Pandit Suraj Persad, Hindu Dharma Mission of Canada: "The well-known Mahabharat War, which took place in India over 5000 years ago, was due to the direct result of gambling. The result of this war was massive despair and hopelessness for individuals and families. It was the spiritual and religious leaders who intervened to care for these helpless individuals in order to rehabilitate them. Today, many individuals and families are fighting small battles to overcome this gambling addiction and its negative consequences, as mentioned in the opening press statement. Again, it is the duty of the spiritual religious leaders to step in and provide counselling and support to the affected members of our congregation and our community."
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Toronto Board of Rabbis: "And we speak out of deep personal experience, of individuals in our own congregations and community, who have been deeply affected by excess, by addictive gambling. Kalman, formerly in my congregation, was somebody married with three children. He robbed his wife. He robbed from his family heritage. He left his children penniless. He himself was on the street on Passover, because he had no place to go. He doesn't speak with his family. They have cut off all ties with him, because of what he did to them. This is what gambling in excess, in addictive behaviour can do. And our concern as rabbis, as community leaders - shared with faith leaders throughout this community - is not that any gambling should be prohibited, but that the expansion of gambling should be prohibited. It is a cheap way to try to get money, and in the end, it will be an expensive burden on individuals and society."