The people JACS help, like its staff and volunteers, represent the full range of Jewish life in North America.
And that is a good thing, according to Susan, a recovered addict, who says it helps to have a specifically Jewish way to recover from it.
“I went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – this was about 32 years ago – and another woman and I were the only two Jews in the group. The group was incredibly loving and supportive, but it was in a church basement,” she said.
“They’d end the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, and people would cross themselves.
“It was fine, because that place gave me my life back. But then somebody came to me and said, ‘I have a place for you to go.’ He was ahead of me – he had about six months of sobriety – and it was a JACS retreat.”
JACS was brand new then; its retreats were small and groundbreaking.
“It took me about six months to get the retreat, and then I was hooked,” Susan said. “There was something about it, an honesty – I felt that I had walked into home. These people spoke my language. I learned a lot; I began to study in chavurah with people in JACS.
“One of the rabbis was Orthodox” – Susan is deeply Jewish, but she was not and still is not Orthodox; in fact, she does not practice religion at all fervently – “and very different from me. It enhanced my Jewish understanding of where I really come from.”
Program director Sharon Darack is clear, though, that although it is wonderful for Jews to have the opportunity to find meetings in shul basements rather than in churches, “still, most meetings still are in churches, and we encourage people to go to them. We support it. There are many rabbis who say that it’s okay. It’s pikuach nefesh – saving a life. Your life. It will help you. There is nothing wrong with it. You are there to save your life.”
“JACS is not a religious program,” Lisa Auerbach, the learning specialist, said. “It offers education and support for Jews in recovery, no matter what denomination they come from or pathway they are on. We deal with the ultra-Orthodox community, and with people who identify themselves as Jewish but who do not necessarily choose to go down a religiously Jewish path.
“We have wonderful rabbis, who have worked with us for 30 years. We have meetings in synagogues, because there are people who have difficulty going to churches. We jokingly say that if we ever made a movie about JACS, we’d call it ‘From Shtreimels to Miniskirts,’ because if you come to a retreat, you see someone who you can see from his dress is ultra-Orthodox talking to someone in jeans with nose-rings and piercings.
“It’s one of the few places in the Jewish community that reaches everyone, because here all Jews are equal. They’re all here for one purpose – and that purpose is recovery.”