Let ‘Freedom’ ring
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Let ‘Freedom’ ring

The players

Each actor in “Freedom Song” has a story.

“¢ Laura Bagish, Beit T’Shuvah’s music director, plays one of the narrators.

Even as a teenager, “I was probably always anesthetizing myself,” she said. She’s from Los Angeles, and went to an alternative high school in the druggy 1970s. “I started smoking pot very early,” she said. Her mother committed suicide when Bagish was in her 30s, and “that sort of took me slowly down the well,” she said. “I used methamphetamine, which really makes you crazy. I ended up going crazy. Part of my story is that I let police dogs free out of their cages. I was really crazy.”

She was in and out of prison, and eventually was sent to Beit T’Shuvah. “That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. She was 40 years old then; now, at 50, she has been sober for a full decade.

She stayed at Beit T’Shuvah for 21/2 years. “Those 30-day programs don’t work,” she said. “Once you stop doing the drugs, you realize that it wasn’t the drugs that was the problem. It was your life. “It’s really a long process. It really never ends.”

Beit T’Shuvah offers Torah study every morning, and there are religious services on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. “Torah study is great,” Bagish said. “We integrate our lives into the Torah. It brought me back in touch with my Judaism.”

“¢ Michael Soter, who is 24 and from Los Angeles, plays another ghost, and he also leads the prevention discussion after the play.

“I was raised in a Reform/Conservative Jewish family, was bar mitzvaed, was really against drugs and alcohol, and then in 11th and 12th grade I smoked weed for the first time, because it was there,” he said. “And it quickly caught up with me.”

He went to NYU; his friends did drugs and he did too; “I tried to escape, did a couple of semesters abroad – but then I went back to New York, and my friends were into heroin, so I started shooting heroin every day.”

He went to “fancy treatment centers” that did not help him, and at one point he lived in his car. Then he found Beit T’Shuvah. He has been sober for 21/2 years.

He works for Beit T’Shuvah full time in its prevention department, traveling the country working with young people. Next year, he plans to go to law school at night while keeping his day job.

“¢ Gini Holtzman, 37, tells part of her own story in “Freedom Song.”

“I came to Beit T’Shuvah with a hardcore addiction to speed – crystal meth,” she said. “I had been using for over 10 years.

“The way it started was that I had really bad body imaging issues, and I learned that if I used speed I would be able to lose weight.

“I started when I was a teenager. I tried it and I loved it. I was able to drop weight like crazy. I was killing my insides, but on the outside I lost weight.”

She didn’t see what other people saw, but now she knows the truth. “Of course, I looked like I was dying.”

Holtzman had two children, who were removed from her care. Once that happened, she allowed her father to bring her to Beit T’Shuvah. It was her second stay there. The first time, she said, she hadn’t been ready, but the second time she was. She entered in 2008 and stayed for 14 months.

“I did some acting as a child, and I always had a passion for being on stage, and acting and singing,” she said. “I was not really great at any of those things, but I was able to do them anyway because of ‘Freedom Song.'”

She joined the cast when she had been sober for four months. “I had no idea at the time that I would be addressing my eating disorder,” she said. But the part in which she was cast was on the meeting side, and she was allowed to write her story. “I just sat down and started writing, and it all came out.”

She had thought of herself “as just a drug addict, and I hated myself,” she said. “But I was able to deal with these issues that I’ve been dealing with forever; it took my sobriety and my honesty with myself to be able to take it to another level.

“I won’t tell you that I do things perfectly – I don’t – but it’s amazing, when I’m speaking my truth and I look out and I see these young girls and old men and they’re crying, wiping the tears. It’s touching them.

“It gave me something to look forward to; somewhere to put my energy and passion; something to show up for every week. I showed up every week for rehearsal. I couldn’t commit for anything else, but I commit to rehearsal.”

Holtzman’s daughters were returned to her. One of them, who is 15, “kind of went down a rocky road as well,” Holtzman said. She also had an addiction problem; she was under 18 so she did not quality for Beit T’Shuvah’s residential program, but the prevention program “helped her turn her life around.” She plays the younger daughter in the play. “I know that we’re the first mother and daughter to be in ‘Freedom Seder’ together,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman and some Beit T’Shuvah friends opened a web development business, and she still is part of “Freedom Song.”

“I’m so grateful that they let me still be part of it,” she said. “Even today, when things don’t go right, I know that I have it. I know that there are going to be people whose lives are directly affected by me, and this helps me on the days when I don’t think that I can do it.”

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