By Chaye Kohl
In 1979, a small group of Jews, honest about the concerns they faced with addiction, founded and fostered the growth of a self-help organization. They wanted to create a safe space where they could feel whole in recovery. These addicts and alcoholics in recovery had been attending meetings of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) in church basements in their communities. While the fellowship at these meetings helped them stay sober, it was nonetheless difficult for these Jews to reconcile their Jewish affiliation with their recovery selves. And so JACS was born.
JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically dependent persons, and Significant others) helps Jews strengthen their recovery in conjunction with their Judaism. JACS sponsors retreat weekends to provide opportunities for intense meetings, chances to enjoy Shabbat with like-minded individuals, and forums for discussions about issues of recovery and Judaism with rabbis and rabbinical students. JACS is under the umbrella of the Jewish Board in New York City. The JACS office holds recovery meetings and provides referrals for addicts, alcoholics, and their families.
Forty years later, there are numerous success stories from grateful families and individuals—JACS has literally saved lives! And this May 11–12, JACS will hold its 75th retreat. JACS welcomes the “old-timers” and “newcomers” to this year’s retreat, being held in the pastoral setting of the Block-Hexter Retreat Center, 31 Barry Watson Way in Lakewood, Pennsylvania.
Zev, a JACS member, shares, “I discovered JACS before joining AA and count them as game-changers in the course of my life. They introduced me to the world of recovery, that I am not alone as an alcoholic who is Jewish. The friendship and fellowship I established in JACS will last a lifetime. We all know each other like family. Coming into recovery, I have been able to … connect with G-d in a way that had eluded me from early childhood. I enjoy the retreats because there is nothing like spending a Shabbos away with people who are like-minded, in the world of recovery which is Jewish! I especially like “The Rabbis’ Forum” right after the midday Kiddush, where the entire group can ask all the rabbis any question! There is genuine spirituality in that room. I am looking forward to this year’s retreat and hope to meet many new and familiar faces.”
Lisa, a longtime JACS member, adds, “JACS has been a wonderful part of my life. My JACS family has stood by me at the most important moments of my life. JACS has brought me closer to my faith and has helped me in my recovery.”
The retreat provides an experience where Jews of all denominations can celebrate Shabbat in recovery. There are prayer services (Orthodox, “Carlebach Style,” and egalitarian) as well as a meeting titled: “Why I am Not in Services.” There are workshops, recovery meetings, and fun-filled activities. The kumzits on Saturday night is a favorite. The meetings are recovery themed. And there is a Torah class based on text and linked to issues of recovery. Opportunities exist for participants to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, and “Take a Rabbi for a Walk.”
Deena, who has been a member of JACS since 1992, explains why she never misses a retreat: “A JACS retreat gives me the chance to explore what is on my mind and connect with my Jewish recovery family.”
JACS, in addition to running retreats, sponsors “Spiritual Days” on occasional Sundays during the year. It runs recovery workshops in the evening around the High Holidays. JACS members also come together to celebrate Sukkot, Chanukah, and Purim.
Unfortunately, denial around issues of addiction has kept members of the Jewish community from seeking help for addictive behavior. Shame may have kept family members from dealing with the addiction of a loved one. JACS can provide guidance, referrals to treatment, and mentors (we call them sponsors). These are just a phone call or email away. Contact Shoshana Kirsch Nirenberg, MSW, program coordinator, at 212-632-4718 or email@example.com, or visit JewishBoard.org/JACSRetreat to learn more.