Saturday, February 22, 2020

This past summer, three Jewish women in Essex County got together to shine a light on the issues of substance abuse, addiction and mental health within the Jewish community.

With the support of a number of Jewish community agencies, foundations and individuals, we were able to expose our community to the human face of addiction. We hosted two productions of “Freedom Song,” a powerful and moving play written, directed and acted by recovering addicts, who found their way to recovery at Beit T’shuva, a Jewish faith-based residential addiction recovery facility in Los Angeles.

Following record attendance at both presentations, Greater MetroWest ABLE, a department of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, hosted a round-table discussion to explore and develop resources within the Jewish community dedicated specifically to the issues of substance abuse and addiction. Sixteen professionals, including clergy, social workers, Jewish educators and lay leaders met to discuss and plan future programming. Each person sitting around the table sees the overwhelming need in our community and the lack of a coordinated response.

By acknowledging the existence of the problem, these leaders are taking the first, second and third steps towards de-stigmatizing this illness, recognizing it as a disease and not a life choice, and making the commitment to fight this problem, head on.

The articles we have published in local Jewish newspapers have encouraged many to reach out to us with personal stories of their journeys—their fights, successes and failures. Each of these stories, and so many more, matters.

And so, we realized we needed to develop this column, with the strong support and encouragement of the leadership of The Jewish Link, in order to share these personal stories with the readers of this publication. It is our hope that through these personal and real stories, along with substantive articles from professionals and clergy, individuals and their families who are suffering in silence will feel safer speaking out, seeking help and treatment, and accessing their own help and recovery. We are grateful to the publishers of The Jewish Link, who recognized the importance of speaking out, and have given us this space to be heard.

As our Jewish tradition tells us, if we can save one life, it is like saving a whole world.

We look forward to hearing from you, the readers—share your stories, reach out for help and help us pay it forward. God bless.

By Lisa Lisser and Eta Levenson

 Lisa Lisser is a Jewish educator who recently participated in an immersive training program for Jewish educators and clergy at Beit T’Shuva, a Jewish faith-based residential rehab facility in LA. This experience fine-tuned the space in which Lisa wants to connect and teach.  She is committed to addressing addiction in the Jewish community and helping to lessen the stigma and shame associated with it, along with providing resources so that parents and family members of those struggling can find their own sources of resilience.

Eta Levenson is a clinical social worker who lives in West Orange. Eta is currently running a free peer support group for parents with teens and young adult children with mental health challenges, and is now looking to develop a support/bereavement group for parents who have lost children. She can be reached at [email protected].