For some years, interest in withdrawal programs with a Jewish orientation has been growing.
Eric Miller remembers exactly the day eleven years ago when he knew his life with drugs and alcohol was over. An acquaintance, also addicted to illness, had collapsed on Miller's terrace. In addition to the emergency department, the police came and searched his house. She found nothing, but the shock was deep.
Miller was determined to overcome his dependence on crystal meth and alcohol with the Twelve-Step Program. The program was developed in the 1930s by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and has a strong spiritual component.
When Miller - 55, athletic, auburn hair and pervasive laughter - first went to a self-help group meeting in his hometown of Atlanta, he felt out of place. "I could not find my god there," he says. Miller, who has a degree in psychology, grew up in a conservative Jewish family, attended a Torah school and continues to attend the synagogue regularly. He questioned his rabbi. He assured him, "There is nothing un-Jewish about the twelve steps."
Miller went on to the meetings of AA and the Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the anonymous drug addict. With success: He has been clean for eleven years. A few months ago, he founded the charitable organization Jewish Path to Recovery. The network aims to bring Jewish addicts together with like-minded people, doctors, drug counselors and rabbis to help them incorporate Jewish values and thinking into deprivation.
APPROACHES The Twelve-Step Program is still the most prevalent model in the United States for the treatment of addictions. It ranks ahead of the drug therapy and psychosocial approaches.
Critics point out that the program with its spiritual superstructure resembles a religious - and especially Christian - conversion. In fact, it has its roots in Protestantism, but defines itself, at least formally, as supra-denominational, always speaking of "a power greater than oneself" and of "God as everyone understands Himself".
Various studies suggest that alcohol and drug addiction is as prevalent among Jews as among non-Jews. However, there is little overall data on Jews and addiction.
No wonder, says Harriet Rossetto. The former social worker founded Beit T'Shuvah 31 years ago, one of the few inpatient treatment centers for addicts in the US, which has a specifically Jewish orientation. "Addiction was and is still afflicted with shame and stigma among Jews," says Rossetto. The Jewish culture was trimmed for performance, strength and success. "Addiction only hits the others. Addiction is repressed. "As proof, she quotes an old Yiddish rhyme that ridicules drunken non-Jews:" Oj oj oj, fancier is the goy ".
When she founded Beit T'Shuvah, it had been a modest house in a suburb of Los Angeles. Today it is a world-renowned and modern addiction clinic with 140 beds and a connected synagogue.
Rossetto, daughter of a middle-class Jewish family, struggled as a young woman with depression and drug addiction. Her husband, Mark Borovitz, a former fraudster, drinker and criminal inmate, is now the lead Rabbi of Beit T'Shuvah - and an icon in the world of addiction. His autobiography The Holy Thief became a bestseller, the film rights have already been sold.
Beit T'Shuvah also works on the basis of the Twelve-Step Program. »It can easily be transferred to Jewish thinking and values,« emphasizes Rossetto. As an example, she refers to those steps that involve a thorough self-inventory, apology to those who have been harmed by the addict - and to relying on a higher power in the process. "That's exactly what we Jews call Teshuvah, penance and return to a life with God," says Rossetto.
TORAH STUDYReligion also plays a central role in the Chabad Therapy Center in Los Angeles. The 70-bed facility opened in 1972 and is based on the values of Chabad, a Hasidic trend in Orthodox Judaism. Only men are allowed here, all meals are strictly kosher, and Torah study is an integral part of the Twelve-Step program.
"We want to help our patients free themselves from their addictions and, at the same time, spiritually re-establish themselves," says program director Kovi Blauner.
Most patients in the Chabad Center are from the East Coast, many from New York, where most Orthodox Jews live in the United States.
If you have a withdrawal therapy, it's best to be "away from family and friends for a while," says Blauner. But conversely, families are often inclined to send their sons, brothers, fathers or husbands to the other end of the country in order to control their addiction, apart from the scrutiny of the neighbors.
The drug epidemic, which has raged in the US for some years and claimed just under 50,000 deaths in 2017, has also roused Jewish communities. "Everyone knows someone who is affected," says Blauner. "There can be nothing more sweep under the carpet."
OVERDOSEFor a number of years, Hamsa, a nonprofit Jewish addiction treatment organization in Atlanta, has provided training for non-specialists on naloxone, a fast-acting opioid antagonist used in an overdose. »The opioid crisis was a turning point in how Jewish communities dealt with addiction,« says Hamsa Information Officer Leslie Lubell.
In the southern United States, the so-called Bible Belt, there are no specific Jewish therapy centers. Here, most AA and NA meetings have "a Christian touch," says Lubell, who fought for years against alcohol and drug addiction. Here, self-help group sessions often end with the Lord's Prayer.
"When I took my 14-year-old son to a meeting, he said, 'Mama, you ended up in a sect,'" says Lubell. That's not true, "but as a Jew I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable."
That is why Hamsa offers "non-Jewish therapy facilities" a "Jewish sensitization training", trains doctors, therapists and social workers in dealing with Jewish patients. For example, there are the Jewish holidays, says Lubell - Purim, Passover or Sukkot. There is plenty of drinking, and in part the consumption of alcohol is even prescribed. "That's a problem for addicted, devout Jews."
Enlightenment and spirituality - these are currently the strongest cornerstones of Jewish addiction therapy initiatives in the US. Most of her patients have a more distant relationship to religion, says Beit T'Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto. But addiction is not just a physical illness, she says, "but also a void in the soul." With which spiritual concept one finds to recovery, with God or meditation or an abstract idea, that does not matter, she says.
Eric Miller has another explanation that should be obvious to any addicted person. "There is no magic pill for dependency," he says. "If there were, I'd ask for a second immediately."