Home / Community / Lifestyle featuresRSS Feed
Friendship House Fellowship brings Jewish perspective to addiction
August 31st, 2012
September is National Recovery Month, promoted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To mark this occasion, The Chronicle is running the following article provided by Tara Clark, director of marketing and communications at Milwaukee’s Jewish Family Services, about the Friendship House Fellowship, which meets at JFS.
“The scouts were not afraid that they could not conquer the land. They were afraid of what their lives would be like after they did,” reads Jim Meldman from the week’s Torah portion.
At this week’s meeting, the lesson is “On Life’s Terms.” Meldman, along with the ten other adults sitting around the table, discuss how this portion reading relates to the long road to recovery from addiction.
This is no ordinary support group. This is the Friendship House Fellowship.
According to Meldman, one of the founders of the group, the idea of putting together a support group for those struggling with addiction started about 5-7 years ago when he started studying privately with a local rabbi. Two other men became involved, and they started working out the protocol.
“I’ve been in recovery since Oct. 31, 1989, and [the rabbi] wanted someone with long-term sobriety, who is Jewish. What he wanted to do was — through our Jewish faith — work through the 12 steps of recovery and create a support group for Jewish men and women who have addiction issues,” said Meldman.
Meetings were held at various locations — even at Meldman’s office when there was no other alternative — until the Fellowship found a more permanent home at Jewish Family Services. The group welcomes “people from all walks of life” to join them every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Power in numbers
“We will take anyone. They’ll see some hope and a glimmer of ‘There is a solution.’ I sponsor people and work them through the steps all the way. All of us [current members of the group] have been in sobriety for six months or more,” explained Meldman. “And here’s why it [the Fellowship] works: There’s power in numbers. You’ll hear 12 different people sharing what you’ve experienced.”
Artie, co-chair of the Fellowship, agrees. “This is a big deal for someone who’s been sober for two weeks, and he comes in and looks at Jim...who’s been sober for over 20 years.
“If you follow the program, it works. We say this is a rational solution to an irrational disease.”
Living free from addiction can be particularly hard during certain times of the year. For example, in Judaism and many other religions, drinking wine is considered to be a tradition, or even part of a holiday, holy day, or religious ceremony.
Meldman emphasized that being sober requires a commitment for all 365 days a year. There are no exceptions.
“This meeting is all about abstinence. 100 percent. Most rabbis are willing to help by changing out wine for grape juice. That’s the part about helping each other through experience, strength and hope,” said Meldman.
Besides the portion reading and working through the 12 Steps, a Fellowship meeting also includes a celebration for reaching milestones. Members are presented with coins labeled with the number of days or years that they have been sober.
However, someone walking into the meeting for the first time gets extra-special treatment.
“The newcomer that comes in is the most important person in the room. At first, yes, you may feel some fear and anxiety of admitting these issues in front of other men and women. But after a few meetings, that feeling is gone,” said Meldman.
Down the road, Meldman hopes to expand the group to make it more convenient for others to join. The Fellowship has bigger plans for their future.
“Our goal is to get the Fellowship spread out throughout Milwaukee. We have core people who could spider out. Our hope is that we would be able to have meetings at different times, days and locations for other Fellowship groups around the area,” said Meldman.
“When you’re ripe, you’re ready,” said Jim of the Fellowship. “And we’re here with open arms — when you’re ready.”
For more information, contact JFS, 414-390-5800 or www.jfsmilw.org.