Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Last week, “Freedom Song: The Musical” was performed at the JCC of MetroWest in West Orange and at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield. Freedom Song is a powerful, personal musical written and performed by recovering addicts who found their recovery at Beit T’Shuvah, the only Jewish faith-based residential recovery facility in the United States, located in Los Angeles, California. The play brings to light the fact that addiction and mental health issues do affect our Jewish community.

In an effort to educate the community on this subject, three Jewish women embarked on a journey: one Jewish educator, one mother whose son found community and recovery at Beit T’Shuvah, and one mother who lost her son to the disease of depression. Each recognized that these issues are often shrouded in shame and denial in our community. We believed we needed to bring the issue to the fore and sought support to make it happen.

Although many that we approached could not help us, for a variety of reasons—some institutional, some political, some financial and some scheduling—ultimately, we found those who would and did say yes.

Proudly, 11 synagogues, four agencies, one foundation and several individual donors agreed to help fund and support the performances. We raised enough money to host two performances in our broad and geographically diverse community.

And then the magic happened. Over 225 people attended the performances. Each performance elicited tears, recognition, “aha” moments and demand for more attention to this very serious issue. During the Q&A sessions after each performance, audience members shared their personal connections to this issue and pleaded with us to do more.

Based on the incredible response, Eta Levenson, Joyce Litchman and I are strategizing together with Rebecca Wanatick, manager of community inclusion services at Greater MetroWest ABLE, to build greater community support and structure community initiatives that will address the problem of addiction in our community. We hope to build a consortium of partners with different skills within the Jewish community. And we hope to build a network to bring Freedom Song back to our community next year, with a louder voice and presence so that more people can be touched by this incredible and honest performance. We welcome the support and commitment of others within our Jewish world to work with us.

Please, if you know someone who needs support, if you are someone who can give support, or if you are a Jewish leader, educator, or member of the clergy who wants to learn how to support people struggling with this issue—reach out to us.

For more information, please contact us: Lisa Lisser at [email protected]; Eta Levenson at [email protected]; Joyce Litchman at [email protected]; or Rebecca Wanatick, manager, Community Inclusion and Program Services, at [email protected] or 973-929-3129.

By Lisa Lisser