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Getting sober in the Jewish community

Like the term teetotaler, the notion that Jews can’t be alcoholics is a bit quaint.

It’s also a myth that can be an obstacle on the often painful but ultimately exhilarating path to recovery.

“I think it can make it more difficult,” says a Camden County businessman and Reform Jew who, at 51, has been sober “for seven years, two months, and three weeks.”

“But who’s counting?” he quips.

To encourage other alcoholics and the families of alcoholics to explore recovery – especially its key element, spirituality – the Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service (SJFCS) will host Jewish Recovery and Wellness Day on Sunday. Included in the event, at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, will be a faith-based healing service, yoga, drumming, and chanting.

“There’s so much denial and stigma in the Jewish community about alcoholism,” says Meira Itzkowitz, a social worker with the service, who is coordinating Wellness Day.

Attitudes have changed – the SJFCS runs two support groups – but many Jews still have “an especially difficult time admitting problems of an addictive nature,” Itzkowitz says.

In addition, meetings for 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous often are held in churches and may include the Lord’s Prayer, which Itzkowitz notes “can feel foreign” to Jews.

“For me, going into the basement of a church wasn’t an option,” says a Jewish mother of two whose ex-husband is an addict. (Like the names of all the group members interviewed for this story, hers has been withheld to protect her privacy.)

The Gloucester County resident attends a SJFCS support group for relatives – “it brings me comfort,” she says – and is looking forward to Sunday’s event.

Also planning to attend is a retired Burlington County woman who is active in her Conservative synagogue. Her 26-year-old son has been in three rehabs and lives in a halfway house.

“I thought . . . addiction was not something that happens to educated, professional Jewish families. Unfortunately, I was wrong,” she said by e-mail. “It’s been a rocky road.”

Recovery is often difficult, especially in the beginning. But for those who successfully abstain, spirituality is a common denominator – whether it involves a traditional god, AA’s “higher power,” or another concept.

“Look at the root of the word addiction, which means to give oneself over to something that controls your life. Spirituality is the exact counterbalance,” says Rabbi Yaacov J. Kravitz, the keynote speaker Sunday.

To recover, addicts “make a commitment to change their entire lives,” and spirituality offers “a moral compass,” adds Kravitz, a psychologist and founder of the Kabbalah-based Center for Spiritual Intelligence in Elkins Park.

A shared religious heritage offers addicts – who may be isolated, angry, and afraid – a bond. “They can be part of a community that will support them,” Kravitz says.

The Camden County businessman says that while 12-step programs are the “core” of his recovery, his Judaism has been reinvigorated.

“Before, that relationship was detached and certainly ambivalent,” he says. “Now, it’s connected and growing strongly.”

source: Philadelphia Inquirer

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