Seventy-five years after an Akron, Ohio, recovering alcoholic doctor and a recovering alcoholic businessman launched an organization whose “12 Steps” have become synonymous with addiction recovery, a group of rabbis – armed with treatment centers, a blog on the popular Jewish website Chabad.org, and the tools of social media – are adding their contributions to a growing movement seeking to eradicate alcoholism from the Jewish community.

Long known as the organization whose meetings frequently take place in a church basement, Alcoholics Anonymous is officially non-sectarian and, according to statistics provided by the group, has helped more than 2 million people through various stages of recovery.

And according to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger, one of a group of “Recovery Rabbis” whose Jewish Recovery site on Chabad.org explores the 12 Steps through a Jewish lens, many can benefit by a Torah-based framework that complements the AA method.

Although segments of the Jewish community have longed realized that its members are no strangers to addiction – some community-based recovery centers have been in place for more than 20 years – some still approach the problem with denial or, even worse, apathy.

“A full 10 percent of any population struggles with addiction, in all its various forms,” said Bresinger, director of Montreal’s Project Pride-Centre Lifeline crisis addiction program. “So in addition to providing a forum and articles for the recovering addict, the Jewish Recovery site is also educating the community as a whole.”

Originally created in 2006, what would become a full-fledged site with audio classes, inspirational articles, and a forum for recovering addicts to share their experiences and hopes, the Jewish Recovery site first began as a blog. Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, director of the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House at the Meer Family Friendship Center in West Bloomfield, Mich., reached out to Bresinger after being contacted by another rabbi who struggled with addiction and was in the midst of recovery.

This third rabbi, known only as Rabbi Ben A., joined the team and the “Recovery Rabbis” were born.

Through their blog and website, the rabbis have reached people around the world. One addict, Jeff F., began downloading audio lessons and exchanged e-mails with Pinson, who lives a couple thousand miles away.

“I feel the Internet may give me the space to share with you things I have for years struggled with on a solitary basis for the most part,” Jeff F. told Pinson.

During their exchange, which included an insight comparing the book of Exodus with recovery, Jeff F. started his recovery from cocaine.

For some, having a place to go online has not only strengthened their recovery, but also their bond to Judaism.

One frequent blog reader sent a T-shirt to Pinson to thank him for being her only connection to her faith.

“We are all on a journey of spiritual growth, and Jewish people in recovery get the best of both worlds,” said Pinson. “Judaism enhances recovery and recovery enhances Judaism.”

In fact, during the e-mail exchange with Pinson, Jeff F. decided to start saying a traditional morning prayer upon waking each day, something he used to do with his five children when they were younger. Known as “Modeh Ani,” the prayer has been compared with AA’s Seventh Step, which asks G‑d to take away all of person’s defects and give him or strength to do His work.

Jeff F. was also relieved to learn how AA’s “Big Book” could be understood in the contexts of Judaism and Chasidic thought. Having seen the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on many occasions, Jeff F. said that this insight was “exactly what my soul needs to hear.”

Chabad Project Pride-Centre Lifeline focuses on providing spirituality to recovering addicts.
Chabad Project Pride-Centre Lifeline focuses on providing spirituality to recovering addicts.

Moving Forward

Look at the Jewish Recovery site’s “Voices of Recovery” forum, and you see the thoughts and difficulties of those struggling to overcome their addictions.

One contributor, who goes by the handle of Frummstepper, posted how trusting in G‑d helped her in her daily life.

“It is important for me to remember that whatever is happening to me and around me is meant for my good and the good of others,” she wrote. “If I truly trust, then I do not have to argue or resist these.”

Each week, Rabbi Ben A. posts a commentary on the weekly Torah portion informed by the 12 Steps and Chasidic teachings.

“The life-long task of moving ever closer to G‑d is based upon a commitment to abandoning one’s previous mode of conduct,” he wrote in one installment. “Hopefully, we are always moving forward, even to the extent of becoming a totally new person.”

For Pinson, the concept of Divine Providence – which is dealt with at length on the site – seems to sum up the project’s purpose.

“Sometimes we need outside help to face the reality of our life,” he said. “The point here is to stress the fact that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is not an excuse; not an excuse for G‑d, and not an excuse for being depressed. It is a call for humans to give it a reason, to make the pains of life worthy of going through.”