Monday, April 20, 2009
Rehab for Orthodox Jews Opens It's Doors in North Miami Beach
I can’t even begin to say how important such a program can be. There are far too many people in our communities who desperately need rehab and who cannot attend many of the rehab centers available because they are either based upon xtian principles, or they are without religion at all.
I keep thinking of the hundreds of youth who find themselves addicted to some substance after getting high in Yeshiva, or the older person who makes the mistake of drinking a bit too much wine a bit too often until he or she cannot function properly in their community or in their family.
Without the basics of kosher food and a kosher living environment, and without the knowledge of someone who is well-versed in Torah and who doesn’t think religious devotion is a mental disorder, many of these people who desperately need help would go without it.
G-d bless Rabbi Burns, and may his program reach those who need it most.
Orthodox Jews get special rehab care for addictions in North Miami Beach
By Lisa J. Huriash | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 20, 2009
NORTH MIAMI BEACH - The demons that plague these addicts are common — abusive backgrounds, constant cravings, profound desperation. But the way they deal with the demons is a South Florida first: Orthodox Jewish rehab.
Torah and the Twelve Steps is only the second rehab center in the country for Orthodox Jews, following one in Los Angeles. It is the first to serve women as well as men. Other rehab centers define themselves as Jewish, but not Orthodox, including the Techiya program at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, which has two facilities in Palm Beach County.
Most of the North Miami Beach clients are struggling with addiction to heroin or crack cocaine. There's been one gambler and one woman with an eating disorder. About nine people have graduated from the three-month program since it began in November. It started in two single-family houses in Hollywood and moved to an apartment complex in North Miami Beach three months ago.
The director of the program, Rabbi Israel Burns, said it attracts secular Jews who want to learn more about their religion, and the observant who feel most comfortable in a faith-based group. Burns charges $4,800 a month for the program, including room and board, most meals and therapy six days a week—never on Sabbath.
"They can see in their recovery how Judaism applies in their lives. That is the source of getting better," Burns said. "Behavior modification is like a Band-Aid for cancer, it's too superficial. There are core personality issues to change."
There are no studies to show the prevalence of addiction among Jews, although it's thought to be the same as the general population, about one in 10, said Lew Abrams, a substance abuse expert in New York.
"It's a stigma in the Jewish community," he noted. "It's lessening slightly, but it's a problem in that people are embarrassed, people are ashamed, people don't want to talk about it.
"The more treatment there is out there, it's less of a mystery, less of a stigma, more normalized," he said.
And that will help Jews, especially religious Jews, come forward. "They need help like any other disease," he said.
Bill, 53, tried five rehab centers before coming to Torah and the Twelve Steps.
The Baltimore man said he used cocaine for 30 years, spending thousands per binge. He asked for anonymity because of the stigma of addiction.
"In the '70s it was fun, in the '80s it was fun, in the '90s it was fun and consequences like lost marriage, lost employment, and then it's not fun and I couldn't stop," he said.
He graduated from the program this month and said he needs to practice the final steps for the rest of his life. "When you discover your painful experiences can be turned around, it puts you in a pretty good mood," he said.
To the strictly Orthodox Jew, an addiction is a character blemish that makes the addict and even the addict's relatives poor marriage prospects. Because of that, Burns said, he advertises in national Jewish publications, knowing he will get mostly out-of-towners seeking anonymity.
It's a small program — just four men since Bill graduated — but Burns said he can expand. His wife, Ruth, helps by preparing lavish Sabbath dinners (all the food is kosher) and even picking out blue Ralph Lauren bedding for the men.
"I want to make them comfortable," she said. "They have a long journey."
The program is Jewish not only because of who attends, but how they work to get better.
For example, Step Four of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps is to make "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
To do that, clients here pore over Ways of the Tzaddikim: Orchos Tzaddikim, an influential Judaic ethics book. Chapters deal with pride, love, joy, anger, zeal and laziness.
"Enjoy it and feel the values of change," Burns said.
The Jewish version of Step Nine, the one about making amends, is to follow the advice of Rambam, the 12th-century Jewish sage. Rambam taught that seeking forgiveness requires three tries, if necessary, to show sincerity.
Celebrating the Jewish holidays is optional.
"We are not emphasizing religion, we are emphasizing spirituality," Burns said. "First be a mensch [good person]. Then we can talk about the next steps."
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@SunSentinel.com or 954-572-2008.