PEABODY – Aimed at creating a welcoming environment to discuss the issue of addiction, the Jewish Support Anonymous group will hold a “Quieting the Silence” event at Chabad of Peabody, 682 Lowell St., at 7:30 p.m. on April 20.
The event is free and open to the community. Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman, the cofounder of Jewish Support Anonymous, said the purpose of the event is to bring awareness and remove stigma around the topic of mental health and addiction.
“At this point, it’s really like a pandemic, a crisis,” Schusterman said. “Anyone living on this earth is either directly [affected] or has no more than one or two degrees of separation from being directly affected by someone, or knows someone, a close family member, dealing with some form of mental health or addiction crisis.”
The issue has affected Schusterman’s own family. As detailed in a recent Journal article (“A space for Jews to take it one day at a time,” Dec. 8, 2022), his eldest son battled substance use disorder before making a recovery, which ultimately led the rabbi and his wife, Raizel, to cofound Jewish Support Anonymous (JSA).
As the article explained, while the Schustermans found a supportive atmosphere in Al-Anon in dealing with their son’s difficulties, the rabbi felt there was a lack of such programming in the Jewish community. Learning about a support group for Orthodox men proved a galvanizing moment. Although JSA is a nondenominational group, the rabbi incorporates Judaism into his approach.
“In the Jewish community, certain things are expected from children and family members,” the rabbi said. “It’s kind of like a cultural thing. We want our kids to be doctors, lawyers, not 40 years old and living at home. As a Jew, it’s not just a child having failure to thrive, failure to launch; it’s the added stigma of things like this.
“If someone is struggling emotionally, we shove it under the carpet, we don’t talk about it.”
In contrast, he said that the “Quieting the Silence” event will offer a chance for everyone to “share their own journey.”
The event will feature an active listening session, as well as an open dialogue where participants can share personal experiences, including both struggles and triumphs.
The rabbi listed many reasons for people to come – “if you’re struggling, if a loved one’s struggling, if you have a friend [who’s struggling], if you’re just curious.”
“People thought the program was for people who have addictions,” Schusterman said. “It’s a lot broader.”
He said that addictions and mental health issues each have many types. The former can include substance abuse, gambling, and sex addiction, while the latter can include anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Schusterman urged people to come to the event and “get educated with us, be part of the conversation, rather than outside looking in. Be part of the solution.”
The event is copresented by the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project and the Atlanta-based Blue Dove Foundation. Although it is hosted by Chabad of Peabody, it is not a Chabad event.
“The more we can talk about things in an open way, without feeling fear, we recognize that to struggle is to be human,” Schusterman said. “We kind of connect that both to a Jewish audience and through a Jewish lens. The subject is incredibly important. It’s always been important. It’s only [becoming] more important as more and more people are struggling.” Θ
Anyone interested in Jewish Support Anonymous, which will meet bi-weekly, should email their first name and email address to: email@example.com, or visit Jewishpeabody.com/JSA to be added to a confidential email list.