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For teens, a ‘seder’ about personal bondage
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For teens, a ‘seder’ about personal bondage

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Four years ago, 50 local kids attended a New York performance of Freedom Song, a play about addiction performed by recovering addicts. Three of the teens acknowledged, in a conversation with the actors, that they too had addiction problems and weren’t sure where to turn.

At that same performance, several of the cast members identified themselves as having grown up in West Orange and Scotch Plains.

“I was stunned,” said Rabbi Shmuel Greene, director of teen initiatives at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life — and he was moved to action. This year, he decided to bring Freedom Song to the local area.

“The beginning of any solution is awareness of the problem, especially in the Jewish community,” said Greene in a conversation with NJJN.

On Monday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m., Freedom Song will be performed locally, for free, at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown. The play is presented by residents and alumni of Beit T’Shuvah, a Los Angeles-based residential treatment and prevention center for Jews struggling to overcome addictions, established in 1987. Greene hopes at least 400 teens will attend.

The performance, structured around the Passover seder, draws a parallel between the personal bondage of drug addiction and the oppression of slavery endured by the Jews in Egypt. The stories in Freedom Song are derived from the personal experiences of the actors, in a contemporary style influenced by the Broadway musical Rent. The original production was written by Stu Robinson, Cantor Rebekah Mirsky, and James Fuchs and produced by Craig Taubman, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, and Harriet Rossetto. It has been touring since it opened in 2007.

The evening, which will include a facilitated discussion, will provide an opportunity for parents and teens to delve further into the problem of addiction, consider how they may be personally affected, and access further help.

For some families, with the stigma removed for the moment, it will be an opportunity privately to acknowledge this struggle within their own families, said Greene, adding that it will allow people to consider that addiction can happen in any family, despite a facade of “normalcy.”

“This play puts the seder in the context of real life — what it means to be a slave to something and then to get out of it,” said Greene. “Now teens will sit at a seder and read the Haggada in a totally new way, not as just a story that happened a long time ago.”

The presentation is not only for teens. Already, Greene said, he is getting calls from parents who want tickets for the show, both for themselves and their children. One Livingston mother called and asked for several tickets. “My son is a resident of Beit T’Shuvah. It saved his life,” she said. Another, a professional in the community, bought tickets for herself only. She has already raised her children but needs a way out of her own addiction, Greene said she told him.

“If I can help one or two or three kids, or adults,” he said, “it’s worth it to bring the show here.”

The performance is being sponsored by the Healthcare Foundation of NJ, with additional support from The Hilda and Gerald Jaffe Family Fund, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, and Temple B’nai Or.

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