• Shimon came to the meeting at Retorno accompanied by his son, a young officer in uniform. ?Shimon?s wife did not attend because she doesn?t believe in him anymore. Her faith in her husband?s ability to get rid of his drinking problem drowned long ago in that same bottle.

    ?I am here because of my wife? declared Shimon ?She threatened me with divorce and this time she was serious because she sent me a summons for the rabbinical courts?

    Rabbi Eckstein was surprised by the courageous move on the part of this woman.

    Shimon has worked for years as a Bible teacher and is an ordained Rabbi. He is a kind man and learned torah scholar. His heavy aftershave and the mint he sucks on do not hide the fact that this happy, good-hearted Jewish man is absolutely inebriated, as we say during Purim, ?ad d?lo yada? (So drunk that he is unable to differentiate between Mordechai and Haman).

    Two months later, when he was already 30 days off the bottle, he sat with Rabbi Eckstein and spoke to him seriously about his situation. ?How will the rest of the program help me?? He asked, ?What can I learn from it??

    Shimon continued, ?The counselor that runs our sessions reminds me of students that I taught when I just started teaching at the Yeshiva. They all of a sudden have discovered God. I lived with God for 50 years, I prayed to Him, screamed at Him, laughed at Him and He guided me wherever I went. I was so close to Him that I would even drink at his house?the synagogue where I would recite a hundred blessings just so I could get more shots of vodka??

    The people of Israel, while on the amazing journey through the desert to the Promised Land had all they needed. A cloud protected them during the day and a pillar of fire made light for them during the night. The Mana, the Godly food, nourished them unendingly. All of a sudden, ?? the mixed multitude that was among them felt a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ?Would that we were given flesh to eat! We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for free; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nothing save this manna to look to.? (Numbers 11:4-6)

    A person, who is a guest at the Hilton Hotel and has all he needs, craves a falafel from the stand in the old neighborhood. There is no explanation for the power of this yearning. Only an addict lusts after these things in an illogical, addictive and negative way. The addict paints everything pink ?and the food was consumed for free? (Who gave them food for free?) They want to eat meat and they remember their yearning for onions and garlic- total insanity!

    It could be said that a sinner is one who is still in control, he still knows the difference between good and evil, he is still sane, despite the fact that at this or that moment in time, he chooses evil. An addict on the other hand has lost control; he will do anything to get his fix, which for him is a solution to his deep emotional pain. This is not a sin, it is a disease. A sin is a controlled, conscious act, addiction is an unruly illness.

    If once we believed that addiction to psychoactive drugs was more common in disadvantaged neighborhoods, it is now known that there is no difference between a poor neighborhood and a wealthy suburb, when it comes to addiction to drugs. The difference will only be in the quality and price of the drug.

    (-excerpts from Rabbi Eckstein, Director of Retorno)

    Retorno is the International Jewish Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Addictions based in Beit Shemesh. Since 1990, hundreds of addicts have been treated at Retorno, more than half of whom are from the religious community. Individuals with drug, alcohol, sex and gambling addictions have sought help from Retorno?s treatment program. 70 % of Retorno alumnae continue to lead successful, healthy lives. Using a new Jewish spiritual path that integrates the well known 12 step program for addiction, participants fight addiction and seek to get well.

    Memizrach Shemesh?s Rabbinic Program for Social Leadership (Merhav) visited Retorno recently. The 12 Merhav participants, many of them community Rabbis, learned about different aspects of addiction. They had sessions that discussed the difference between good and evil in relation to addiction, and they participated in a seminar to give them tools to grapple with these challenges of addiction within their communities.

    The group also learned about the 12 step program where the individual is led through a spiritual process of introspection and self understanding. The rabbis also heard some ex-addicts speak about the processes they went through as part of their recovery.

    It was emphasized to the group that addiction is not a disease but instead a medicine; a medicine for a deeper problem that the addict is trying to solve in the wrong way. The process of searching for the root of the pain and distress is how they begin to solve the problem of addiction. The Merhav rabbis learned about this deep emotional misery that can sometimes go unseen by rabbis and community leaders. Through discussion and learning, the rabbis understood the important role they can play by being sensitive about such personal challenges before they develop into an addiction.

    The visit to Retorno touched our Merhav participant rabbis. The sessions they experienced discussed sensitivity, pain, successes and failures during work with addicts and their families. This gave Merhav rabbis the opportunity to look at those around them, their community members, through a different prism.

    This process that deals with a person?s?midot (attributes) and moral-spiritual work is part of several seminars that Memizrach Shemesh?s Merhav rabbis participate in throughout the course of the two year Rabbinic Leadership for Social Change program. The rabbis also participated in training on the topic of couples counseling. The aim is to expand the horizons of these rabbis and to improve their practice as a way of strengthening them as both religious and social activists within their communities.


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