I went to my first JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others) meeting Sunday evening. I’ve counseled addicts before, I’ve read up on addiction, but I’d never been to a JACS meeting.
I won't discuss the meeting, of course; anonymity is a core principle. But I do want to say one thing about JACS, rabbinic participation and my own participation.
Our shul has been hosting these meetings on a weekly basis for several months, and this is the first time I answered their persistent invitation to join in. I’m glad I did. I’m sorry it took me so long.
I do know why it took me so long: Fear.
It’s not odd or unusual that I was afraid; any rabbi would be afraid:
• Here is a group of people who have their own rituals and language, and who are reputed to be highly sensitive to inappropriate behavior and language.
• Those who don’t know you may not like you. Those who do know you may not be happy you are there.
• You are afraid of being judged for your clothing, your profession, your life. You worry: Will I be rejected?
(Hmmm… sounds a lot like the reasons people are afraid to come into shul, actually.)
• And, of course, I had all sorts of other commitments for the meeting times. We started hosting JACS at the time I started getting involved in launching the Toronto beit midrash, so I’ve been busy with the shul and community here as well as the new venture there… lots of things competing for my time…
(Yes, sounds a lot like the reasons people give for not coming to shul, come to think of it.)
But I went, finally, on what was likely my last Sunday night in Allentown, and I’m glad I did.
I wouldn’t say it was an earth-shattering experience; I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the experience. I wasn’t. It was moving, yes, and in many ways, but the main thing is that it broke a barrier for me, letting me see that I could participate and not be rejected and survive.
I was stunned afterward to learn that other communities, much larger than ours, don’t have regular JACS meetings. I don’t understand why. But I know that I’ve found another way to serve (one of the first things I did when I got home was to look up the JACS Toronto website), and I hope that other rabbis will soon find it, and broaden their comfort zones, too.
[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here!]