Below is a text version of the brief remarks I will deliver tonight at a special program we are hosting at my synagogue called Freedom Song. The program was created by Beit Tshuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in the LA area, and explores the issue of addiction in the Jewish community. The stage setting is in and of itself a symbol both powerful and provocative – half the stage is set as a Passover seder table, where the generations of a Jewish family gather to tell the story of our people. The other half is a 12 step meeting, where addicts gather to tell their personal stories of struggle and salvation.
The program tonight begins at 6:45 with a performance by the Helping Up Mission Choir, to be followed by a performance of Freedom Song. It promises to be a moving evening.
During my now more than two decades in the rabbinate I have become intimately familiar with the terrible struggle that families face when a loved one becomes an addict. All of the emotions – the fear, the guilt, the sense of shame, the bewilderment, the worry, the sleepless nights, the pervasive sense of pain, and sometimes despair, and always, always, the desperate search for a solution.
For too long the Jewish community has either ignored the issue of substance abuse in our midst, swept it under the rug, or talked about it only in hushed whispers and behind closed doors. The old myths of ‘this can’t happen in a Jewish family,’ or ‘Jewish children don’t do such things,’ or ‘Jews don’t drink or use drugs’ have been perpetuated for too long in our community – and that has hurt our families, and made it harder for them to find the help they need, and the support from their community that they deserve.
That is precisely why we are gathered together in a synagogue tonight. The synagogue is the public face of Jewish life, it is the place where Jews gather to celebrate and mourn, to mark sacred time, to learn and study, and to grow in soul. It is the public square of the Jewish community. And so tonight, we are gathered together as Jewish community, in our public square, in a public setting thinking about addiction, acknowledging its pain and its presence, but also, I hope, letting our families know that we are there for them, and that they are not alone in their journey, or their struggle.