A Jewish response to the Crisis of Addiction

Fifty years ago, when my brother began abusing Alcohol, the American Jewish community did not see Drug and Alcohol abuse as “Jewish” problems that needed a place on our communal agenda. When my sister in law, Harriet Rossetto, opened Beit Tshuvah in LA, 32 years ago, it was a homeless shelter for Jews coming out of jail who had nowhere else to go. Today, The Diseases of Alcohol and Drug abuse are issues that thankfully are being recognized by American Jews, both individually, and by our American Jewish Community. Many people today are “talking the talk” of dealing with the disease of addiction. However, far too few communities have “walked the walk”, of providing opportunity and space, for a Jewish residential treatment center on the model of Beit Tshuvah. The beds in Los Angeles are always full and Beit Tshuvah receives hundreds of calls of inquiry every month.

I am therefore very excited to inform our community that 5779 is the year when that is changing. With the generosity of anonymous donors and the support of UJA Federation of New York and of Beit Tshuvah Los Angeles, The Tshuvah Center of New York has been created and will be opening its doors in 5779 to new residents. Similar to Beit Tshuvah, The Tshuvah Center of New York will not only provide residential treatment but also be involved in community outreach and prevention programs in the New York metropolitan area.

The Inaugural program of the Tshuvah Center of New York will be held on October 10th at The Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan 334 Amsterdam Avenue in New York City (located between 75th and 76th streets) from 8:30am to noon.
The theme of the half day symposium is The Jewish Response to Addiction:
The program will be led by Harriet Rossetto, the founder of Beit Tshuvah, my brother Rabbi Mark Borovitz and by Rabbi Igael Gurin-Malous who will be the founding director of The Tshuvah Center of New York. Igael has worked with Mark and Harriet for a number of years at Beit Tshuvah LA.

The Torah reading for this week, Shabbat Chol haMoed Sukot, includes Exodus chapter 34, where we learn of Moses’ second ascent of Mt Sinai. To me, the underlying message of this chapter is that a Merciful God gives us second chances. The two most powerful verses in this Torah reading 34:6-7 which convey the 13 Attributes of God, were core to our prayers for Forgiveness and Atonement of Yom Kippur.

The Jewish Response to Addiction begins with an admission that we are all imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Each of us has within us the Divine Gift of both a Yetzer ha-Ra and a Yetzer ha Tov; a good and an evil inclination. In two weeks when we read the story of Noah we will learn in the opening verse that Noah was “a righteous wholehearted man of his generation”. Later in chapter 9: 20-23 we will learn that Noah was the world’s first drunk and that his sons Shem and Japheth were the first people who attempted to cover up their loved one’s addiction.

As the brother of a recovering alcoholic, I confess, that in the spirit of Shem and Japheth, I spent years covering up, excusing and denying that my brother was addicted to alcohol. I know the pain and shame that often leads people to enable loved ones and friends to continue abusive and addictive behavior. It is rather homiletically convenient that we Jews, who trace our lineage from Noah, through Shem, are noted for our Shem-like approach to the problems of alcohol and drug addiction in our community. We try to cover up the addictive behavior of our loved ones and do our best not to face the problems of addiction. Jewish alcoholics or drug addicts are marginalized and hidden.

​I also know the joy of, after having lost my brother Mark to his drunkenness, of having had him restored to me, our family and to the Jewish community. Today, after being sober for over 30 years Mark serves as the Rabbi of Beit Tshuvah in Los Angeles, a Jewish residential treatment center founded by his wife Harriet. Together with the support of the Los Angeles Jewish community and many others across our nation, Beit Tshuvah has helped thousands find a path to recovery by using a potent mixture of Judaism, 12 steps and Psychotherapy. Over the course of my tenure in Northern New Jersey, many people have asked me why Beit Tshuvah has never expanded to other communities. My response has been that Mark and Harriet have always been motivated to share their treatment program with others, but, have lacked the means to do so.

The Jewish Response to Addiction: on the morning of October 10th is geared to help all of us understand the issue of addiction, and to formally open the programming of The Tshuvah Center, New York. Breakout sessions are planned to meet the specific needs of families facing the disease of addiction in their homes, to help healthcare professionals and clergy who are often the first responders for addicts and their loved ones. Moreover, this half day of learning is for all of us, Jews who care about the Crisis of Addiction that plagues our society and want to understand more about how we can help.

While there is no cost to participate, for both programming and JCC security requirements registration is requested. To register for The Jewish Response to Addiction on October 10th at The Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan 334 Amsterdam Avenue in New York City (between 75th and 76th streets) from 8:30am to noon, please go online http://BIT.LY/TSHUVAH
For more information on the program you can also email ABBY@FRIEDMANPRODUCTIONS.COM or check out www.Tshuvahcenter.org

About the Author
Rabbi Borovitz was elected the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge in June 2013 after serving the synagogue as rabbi for the previous 25 years. Prior to assuming his position in River Edge in the summer of 1988 Rabbi Borovitz served as Hillel Rabbi and Instructor in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Texas in Austin (1975-82), the Executive Director of the Labor Zionist Alliance on the United States, (1982-83) and as the Rabbi of Union Temple in Brooklyn, New York (1983-88). Rabbi Borovitz, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, received his B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 1970, his M.A. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religious (HUC-JIR) in 1973 and was ordained at HUC-JIR in June 1975. In March of 2000, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR. Rabbi Borovitz is an active leader in community affairs. He has been a member of the Bergen County Interfaith Brotherhood Sisterhood committee for 25 years. He is the immediate past chair of Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and has also served on the Jewish Federation Board. He currently serves on the National Board of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Rabbinic cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America and on the Foundation Board of Bergen Regional Medical Center, the county hospital in Bergen County NJ. He is past President of the Bergen County Board of Rabbis and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis as well as the founding chairman of the Jewish Learning Project of Bergen County Rabbi Borovitz is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Standard and the Bergen Record and a frequent lecturer on Judaism; The Middle East and Interfaith cooperation.
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