Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
The Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T’Shuvah (EBI) strives to make Jewish leaders more empathetic and knowledgeable about the suffering of their congregants/students – to help them see within themselves their own brokenness and use it to meet people in pain and begin the process of helping them heal. EBI offers educational seminars to help them recognize the symptoms of addiction in their patients and clients – and themselves. The shortest versions run from 90 minutes to a half or full day. The longest involves an immersion experience that lasts for three, or even five, days.
Jewish Wisdom is the foundation of our Elaine Breslow Institute Immersion Experience. Our premise is that Living Jewish Wisdom is the best path to preventing addiction to behaviors and substances as well as the best path to living well-adjusted lives of joy. Some examples are:
1) Learning Torah through a deeply personal lens. Seeing myself in each Chapter.
2) Rabbi Heschel’s many teachings- especially the Interview with Carl Stern
3) Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Heschel
4) God In Search of Man by Rabbi Heschel
5) Essential Writings, edited by Dr. Susannah Heschel
6) Daily Prayer Book
7) Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Soleveitchik
8) 13 Petaled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
9) Talmudic Teachings
10) Hasidic Wisdom
11) Al Chet, Sins of the Marketplace by Meir Tamari
12) 12 Jewish Steps by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky
13) Finding Recovery and Yourself through Torah by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
14) Recovery, the 12 Steps and Jewish Spirituality by Rabbi Paul Steinberg
15) The Chutzpah Imperative by Rabbi Edward Feinstein
16) Tough Questions Jew Ask by Rabbi Edward Feinstein
17) For those who Cannot Believe by Rabbi Harold Shulweis
18) Ein Yakov
Research demonstrates that teens are prone to high rates of depression and anxiety, and turn to substance abuse and certain delinquent behaviors to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. Many of those struggling with addiction, and other destructive behaviors, are from affluent families; they wither under the pressure of unattainable expectations, they are “bored” by their privilege, and, yet, failure seems to never be an option. Drugs, alcohol, and even eating disorders, numb the pain of low self-esteem and self-worth. For others, the desire to mask the pain of abuse becomes the first drug, and the subsequent attitude of apathy leads to the next. There are very few resources from which Jewish educators can learn approaches to deal with this reality, and few resources for community.
Two years ago we launched the Elaine Breslow Institute (EBI) to educate medical professionals to identify and manage the addiction issues they will inevitably confront in their patients. We quickly expanded this program to create our Clergy & Educator Division in order to educate leaders who need the information just as much, but resist it more. Too many clergy and Jewish Educators fail to recognize the spiritual voids that exist in the people who are coming to them, and lack the tools to provide the spiritual counseling that would help alleviate that pain. Too many educators – people on the ground working with youth – fail to see the early warning signs of disenfranchisement, and don’t know how to penetrate the resistance to confronting these issues. The EBI enables leaders to become aware of the disease and its causes, removes the stigma of shame that surrounds it, and educates as to spiritual remedies and other available resources. Spiritual connection is critical when misery leads people to addiction.
EBI offers educational seminars for clergy and educators to help them recognize the symptoms of addiction in their patients and clients – and themselves. The shortest versions run from 90 minutes to a half or full day. The longest involves an immersion experience that lasts for three, or even five, days. Programs begin with lessons about the nature of addiction and recovery philosophy, highlighting the spiritual aspect of addiction and how religion provides a healthy response. BTS residents contribute, sharing their personal stories, thus helping to humanize addicts and show how we are all at risk. Participants learn to look at their communities, themselves and their own beliefs as a means to becoming more aware of addiction in all its forms, and to respond to it with confidence and skill. The immersion experiences deepen this understanding considerably, adding seminars, both experiential and didactic, for cohorts of ten. Too, each morning, trainees participate as members of residents’ therapy groups conducted by BTS counselors (participants work with the same group each day for the duration of the series) to learn about the depth of suffering in addiction, and the lengths to which addicts must go to survive the day – every day. Each afternoon, participants process the experience with a professional facilitator to help them understand the high “moral stress” that is an inevitable occupational hazard, and address the malignant shame they experience when they understand their inadequacy but still fail to do anything. Late afternoons offer lectures and discussions, and, after dinner, participants attend 12-Step meetings in the community, or, if they prefer, Torah Studies at BTS.
With over 30 years of experience as the only residential center for Jewish spiritual growth and healing, Beit T’Shuvah has established a highly successful model of self-development, leadership and community engagement which responds to all kinds of addiction. In concert with the Leadership Institute, we will mentor a national cohort of Jewish educators to access training and develop programs that can potentially change a culture of shame and stigma to a culture that promotes openness and resilience. The goal is to develop an open mind set in which to discuss the impact of drugs and alcohol within the Jewish community. In addition, the goal of this project is to provide programs and strategies that support teens and their families as they navigate the existing challenges.
This program will teach Jewish leaders to recognize their own brokenness, so that they will be able to use that vulnerability to relate to their congregants/students with real empathy and create a profound connection. It will explain to them how to share the ways in which the wisdom and practice of Judaism helps us all heal from the broken-ness of being human. This will bring the safety of sanctuary back to more of our synagogues, and expand their relevance in a world that is increasingly unaffiliated.
The Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T'Shuvah is currently being studied by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and is set to have the first report done by the beginning of October. The Luskin School has been collecting data through surveys completed by our workshop and immersion participants throughout the last year. Currently, we have multiple testimonials that help describe the impact of the program. They can be found in the supporting material section below. More information and testimonials can be found at our program website: www.btsinstitute.org
We have learned that applied Jewish Wisdom makes everyone feel whole. Our approach and learning helps Jewish Educators, Rabbis and Rabbinical Students synthesize their experience and find new and deeper meanings in our texts. This brings them to understand themselves and the people they serve with new meaning, excitement and permission to interpret and use Jewish Wisdom in the way it was meant to be used:
1) Enhancing our life’s experiences
2) Healing of old wounds
3) Coming together by finding similarities rather than separating through the few differences
4) How to help the people they serve raise up from misery to joy
5) New and different practical applications of Jewish Wisdom
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