Temple Chai

At Temple Chai, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell has helped families struggling with the threat of drug addiction, and she’s seen the tragic consequences of substance abuse. 

“We regularly, in our own little Temple Chai family, have had multiple losses from overdoses,” Koppell said. “I don’t imagine we’re the only ones.”

On Nov. 19, as part of its ongoing efforts to help people struggling with addiction, the Shalom Center at Temple Chai is partnering with the Jewish Addiction Awareness Network and Jewish Family & Children’s Service to host two events on addiction, mental illness and recovery. The daytime program, “It Happens Here: Addiction and Mental Health Issues in the Jewish Community,” is directed toward educators, clergy and mental health professionals, while the evening program, “There Is No Them; There Is Only Us,” is free and open to members of the public.

With these events, JFCS Jewish Social Services Manager Kathy Rood said “We want to shine a light on addiction. We want the community to know that this is a disease just like cancer or diabetes, this affects the whole person. There is no shame in this whatsoever.”

The daytime program for educators and mental health professionals will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Temple Chai. Speakers will include Marla Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Addiction Awareness Network; Jory Hanselman, director of BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy; and Rabbi Paul Steinberg, author of “Recovery, the 12 Steps and Jewish Spirituality.”

Koppel hopes attendees of the daytime program will come away more informed and feeling more connected with other professionals. “We want them, first of all, to understand the local and national statistics, local and national resources and Jewish perspectives,” Koppell said. “And also to form a community of professionals who work together to support each other as we support addicts and their families.”

The evening program, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m., will include talks on Judaism and addiction, national and local resources for recovery, addiction statistics and personal experiences with addiction. The goal, Rood said, is not just to help people find practical resources, but also to raise awareness and “to let the community know that we are all here for one another.”

“There’s not one of us that doesn’t know someone that’s affected by addiction or mental health issues, not one of us,” Rood said. “So for us to know how we can best help friends and family … It’s a huge deal.”

“It Happens Here: Addiction and Mental Health Issues in the Jewish Community” is an event developed by the California-based Jewish Addiction Awareness Network. When Koppell heard about the program, she immediately knew that JAAN would be able to address concerns about addiction in her own local community.

According to Koppell and Rood, the shame and denial surrounding addiction makes it harder for addicts to seek treatment and find support in their community.

“Within the Jewish community, some people still believe that this is not a big problem, when in fact it touches the Jewish community just as much as any other segment of the population,” Rood said.

“There is a prevailing myth that Jews are not alcoholics or that Jews are not addicts,” Koppell added. “There’s a tremendous amount of shame that comes with addiction, which leads to a lack of awareness and a lack of treatment, and that has had tragic consequences.”

The program on Nov. 19 is part of the Shalom Center’s ongoing efforts to support recovery from addiction. The center also sponsors a local chapter of support group Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others, which meets every first and third Wednesday at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

“We do everything that we can at the Shalom Center to keep JACS going and just to maintain awareness in the community, to not shy away from talking about it,” Koppell said.

In addition to combating silence and shame around addiction, Koppell noted that there is a parallel concern about suicide in the community. Her congregation’s Yom Kippur service focused on breaking down the stigma around the word ‘suicide.’

“I think there is a lot of overlap of undertreatment of mental illness that leads both to problems with addiction and suicidal ideation,” Koppell said. “And we just have to be unafraid to say these words.”

Ultimately, Rood said, the goal of the two programs, “It Happens Here” and “There is No Them; There is Only Us,” is both to raise awareness and to let those struggling with addiction know that there is a community ready to help.

“We want them to know that they have a community that cares about them, that wants to envelop them and help them through the healing process,” Rood said. JN

For more information, or to register for the event, contact Kathy Rood at kathy.rood@jfcsaz.org or 602-452-4627.

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