“Freedom Song” lifts the shroud of denial on Jews and addiction

“Freedom Song” lifts the shroud of denial on Jews and addiction

Now’s the time to build communal initiatives to support recovery

Freedom Song” was performed early November at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange and at Temple Emanu-El of Westfield. “The musical is written and acted by recovering addicts who found their recovery at Beit T’Shuvah, the first, and until recently the only, Jewish faith-based residential recovery facility in the United States, located in Los Angeles, Calif. 

Make no mistake about it: Addiction is an issue for our Jewish community. We are losing young adults at the cusp of their lives, and we are losing more people at every stage of life because addiction is a creeping and hidden disease that we want to pretend doesn’t affect Jews. But it does, and “Freedom Song” brings that issue to light in a powerful, personal, and accessible way.

Armed with the commitment to make this show happen, three Jewish women embarked on a journey to bring “Freedom Song” to our local community. The group included myself, Eta Levenson, and Joyce Litchman. We each have experienced loss in different ways related to addiction or mental health challenges, and recognized that the issue is often shrouded in shame and denial. We needed to bring it front and center. Addiction and mental health challenges are weighty and important subjects that must be addressed, not avoided. 

So we pounded the pavement. I have been a lay leader in the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ for the last 17 years. Because of the relationships that I built in that time, I was able to meet with and talk to a variety of people. Many declined to assist in bringing the show to Greater MetroWest. They couldn’t or wouldn’t help for a variety of reasons — some institutional, some political, some financial, and some for scheduling reasons. These were difficult “no’s” to take. But I have learned that if you want to make change in the world, you have to lean in to your discomfort, your failures, and your obstacles. This is also the path toward recovery. Ultimately, my relationships led me to those who would, and did, say “yes.” 

Eleven synagogues, four agencies, one foundation, and several individual donors across the Greater MetroWest community proudly agreed to help fund and support the performances. We raised enough money for two shows. 

And then the magic happened.

More than 200 people attended the remarkable shows. Each performance elicited tears, recognition, “aha” moments, and demand for more attention to this very serious issue. During the Q&A sessions that followed each performance, audience members stood up, shared their personal connections to this issue, and pleaded with us to do more. Some asked why they hadn’t heard about the performance sooner. Where was the publicity? Why don’t we know where to find this uniquely Jewish path toward recovery through Beit T’Shuvah? The answer is that sometimes you don’t know there is a problem until it is too late. 

We want to ensure that it will not be too late for more people in our community. Based on the incredible response, we are strategizing with Rebecca Wanatick, community inclusion manager at Greater MetroWest ABLE, on how to build more support and initiatives to address the problem of addiction. 

We hope to build a consortium of partners with different skills within the Jewish community, as well as a network to bring “Freedom Song” back next year, with a louder voice and presence so that more people can be affected by this incredible and honest performance. 

If you know someone who needs support, if you are someone who can give support, and if you are a Jewish leader, educator, or clergy member who wants to learn how to aid people struggling with these issues, please reach out to us. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Now we know there is a problem. Now is the time to do the right thing.

Contact info: Lisa Lisser, lisazlisser@gmail.com; Eta Levenson, jeserichad@gmail.com; Joyce Litchman, jlitchman6@gmail.com; Rebecca Wanatick, Rwanatick@jfedgmw.org or 973-929-3129.

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