HOLY COWAN! A Jewish beer maker looks to Judaism for inspiration.
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Semyon Bychkov conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra. PAGE 24
OCTOBER 10, 2013 / 6 CHESHVAN 5774
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RAVAGED BY ADDICTION Following Heroin Death, Bucks Launches Recovery Group
Evangelicals Revel in Support of Jewish State Christians United for Israel raise their voices. Page 12
BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN | JE STAFF
as upbeat, self-possessed and r eflective. And it wasn’t all that long ago. Leventhal is a recovering addict who, bit by bit, is reclaiming her life, her future and her faith — though, as she explained, an addict is never free from the fear of relapse. She’s successfully pushed to create a
THE DEATH of a 19-year-old from an overdose of heroin — just days after he was last in synagogue for Yom Kippur — has badly shaken a Buc ks County syna gogue and called attention to a problem that many say is being overlooked in the Jewish world. “This must be a wake-up call to the Jewish community in Pennsylvania, New Jersey — and the entir e country,” Brandon Wind, the current co-president of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Newtown, wrote in the synagogue’s newsletter. “Too many families refuse to acknowledge that their child, their father, their mother or their spouse has a problem.” In the tragedy’s wake, the congregation, and its new rabbi, Aaron Philmus, are struggling to process the loss and to figure out how best to move forward. Synagogue leaders ar e spreading the word about a new Jewish recovery support group that was already in the works before the young man’s death. It was started at the behest of another recovering addict who grew up at the same synagogue, 20-year-old
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Legendary Israeli Rabbi Mourned Ovadia Yosef hailed as a sage, astute leader. Page 18 OPINION
Pew’s Troubling Findings Debated How do we deal with increasing assimilation? Pages 22-23
Volume 235 Number 2 Published Weekly Since 1887
▲ Emily Leventhal (center) a recovering addict, has leaned heavily on her parents, Bari Wolfson and Jeff Leventhal, for support as she’s pieced her life back together. Photo by Gregory Bezanis
It Was the ‘Love’ of Her Life, and It Nearly Destroyed Her BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN | JE STAFF
IT’S HARD TO IMA GINE the person Emily Leventhal describes: someone whose eyes lack any life, someone in such despair that she can’t bear the thought of God, someone utterly powerless over her drug addiction. But that was the world of this 20-yearold from Langhorne who now comes across
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Mother Words A RANT ON RANTING
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WHEN JEREMY COWAN, the founder of Shmaltz Br ewing Company, says there is biblical inspiration behind his David’s Slingshot Hoppy Summer Lager, you think he must have visions of his brewery slaying his larger competitors. But that’s not the case. “The inspiration came from stories a bout King David in his y outh,” said Cowan.“when he wasn’t the king and he was just a punk, loud-mouthed shepherd.” Or in Cowan’s case, a relatively small craft brewer. In Philadelphia last week for a pubcrawl to celebrate the opening of the company’s new brewery in Upstate New York, Cowan acknowledged that there is no stone large enough to take down Budweiser or Miller — the Goliaths of the beer world. He said his compan y, which makes kosher He’Brew beers and has been ar ound since 1996, is still about merging his interest in Judaism with beer. “We’re not going to conquer anybody,” said Cowan, 44. “Craft beer is not about domination. It’s about giving people something special tha t’s delicious and unique, and if they star t thinking that that is a better life, then so be it.” Cowan, who a few years ago wrote Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah about his first 13 y ears in the business, appears sincere in his effort to stay true to his initial mission. He still researches the Torah and other sources in writing the descriptions for his beers — but he also acknowledges that “it’s supposed to be lighthearted.” “So many people, you watch them at synagogues, they lose JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
their connections to the Jewish experience because they don’t feel it’s as compelling to them. The point of this is to mak e something that is very relevant and compelling and delicious,” said Cowan, who comes from a Reform Jewish background and spent half a year in Israel. The biggest recent change for the company happened in May, when after years of contracting with other brewers to use their facilities to make Shmaltz’s beer, the company opened its own production facility in Clifton Park, N.Y. Also, before the Philadelphia pub cra wl, Cowan played on a recent trend among craft brewers and let some of his beer age in a few tequila barrels rather than the usual stainless steel containers. At Tequila, a Mexican restaurant at 16th and Locust Str eets that makes the liquor and provided the barrels, the Siembra Azul Tequila Barrel Aged Albino Python had a zing that made y ou check to see whether you had mistakenly picked up someone’s shot glass ra ther than your beer. But whether Shmaltz’s beer sits next to the tequilas a t a Mexican restaurant or Belgian beers at Monk’s Cafe — the second stop on the pub-crawl — the Jewish connection remains the constant. He said his time with Livnot U’Lehibanot, a volunteer program in Israel, “g ave me the tools to explore a deeper relationship with my own sense of Jewish history, and it gave me a reason to celebrate and be excited about so many things from Jewish tradition.” He has since brewed beers like the Hop Manna India Pale Ale, which on the br ewery’s website states that “all ye who are wandering the vast macro beer desert, thirst no more!” ●
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Another breakthrough in heart care.
▲ State Rep. Brian Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia, announced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania on Oct. 3 at Love Park in Center City.
Marriage Equality Bill Elicits Mixed Reaction LOCAL ERIC BERGER | JE STAFF
RABBI PETER RIGLER, as recently as a year ago, said he thought that there was little chance of marriage equality being achieved anytime soon in Pennsylvania. But after State Reps. Brian Sims and Steve McCarter announced last week at Love Park in Center City a new bill to legalize same-sex marriage, Rigler, of Temple Sholom, a Reform congregation in Broomall, said he thinks the prospects of such legislation passing ha ve improved considerably. “I feel much more confident that the tide is changing,” said Rigler, who helped launc h a Facebook page last year, Marriage Equality in PA — NOW!, to help advance the cause. “A year ago, I think ther e was a sense of ‘We shouldn’t even talk about this issue; it’s not going to go anywhere.’ ” The legislators, both Democrats from the Philadelphia area, spoke optimistically about the legalization of same-sex marriage in spite of opposition from Gov. Tom Corbett and members of the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. Sims, a civil rights attorney who last year became the first openly gay candidate elected to the state legislature, said he was “100 percent” certain such legislation would pass. It was just JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
a matter of how and when. “This is not innovative legislation,” Sims said, referring to the 13 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay couples to marry. There are 35 co-sponsors of the bill thus far, including Rep. Chris Ross, a Republican from Chester County. State Sen. Daylin Leach first introduced a same-sex mar riage bill in 2009 in the sta te Senate but received little support. Leach, who is running for the U.S. Congress, has continued to introduce his own marriage equality bill during the past three legislative sessions. “Talk to young people, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans — they disagree on many issues but almost none of them have any interest in perpetuating a policy of discrimination,” Leach said at the Love Park event. “This is a polic y that is a dead-man-walking policy. It’s on its way out.” “There is no reasonable, rational, fact-based argument against marriage equality,” Leach said. “It’s simply a religious argument or some people are uncomfortable with it.” Shelley Kapnek Rosenberg, an ally of the LGBTQ community, said it’s “overdue and past time” for same-sex marriage to be legalized. “My daughter and her partner ought to have the same right to get married as any other per-
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OCTOBER 10, 2013
HEADLINES /ravaged by addiction
Recovery Continued from Page 1 Emily Leventhal [see accompanying story]. The group, which appears to be the only one of its kind in the Philadelphia area, is holding meetings every Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Glazier Jewish Center in Ne wtown, which is r un by Chabad. The effort represents a rare instance of collaboration between a Conservative synagogue and a Lubavitch center. The hope is that the new group will help recovering addicts find fellowship and build connections in a safe Jewish space. Meetings will be informal and run by the participants, rather than professionals. The gatherings are meant to supplement, and not replace, a more traditional 12-step fellowship. Rabbi Yudi Shemtov, director of Lubavitch of Bucks County, said his movement “has been successful in many different communities to deal with recovery issues. Our motto is: Help every Jew, whatever their need.” It’s nearly impossible to quantify the degree to which American Jews suffer from substance abuse. But as American Jews have begun to behave more and more like Americans as a whole, addiction issues have become more prevalent, according to Rabbi Kerry Olitzsky, author of Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery. There are a handful of Jewish institutions nationally — such as the New York-based JACS: Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others — solely devoted to helping Jews battle addiction, Olitzsky pointed out. And many social service agencies, including Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, run prevention classes and refer clients battling addictions to other agencies.
Her Life Continued from Page 1 new Jewish recovery group that launched last week and plans to meet every Tuesday at the Glazier J ewish Center in Newtown, Bucks County. The Jewish Recovery Community will function as a support group and is not meant to replace other, more formal recovery programs. She plans to go every week. Leventhal sat down recently at Congregation Brothers of Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Newtown, in the office of her former Hebrew school principal, to tell her story to the Jewish Exponent. The Neshaminy High School gradu8
OCTOBER 10, 2013
Unless you are an addict, or unless you have a person in your family that is an addict, you wouldn’t really understand that this is a disease that can bubble up at any moment and that is terrifying.” RABBI AARON PHILMUS, SHOWN AT RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS SYNAGOGUE
IF YOU NEED HELP JEVS Addiction Services Call 215-609-6040, or visit jevshumanservices.org Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia Education and Outreach Call 267-256-2050, or visit jfcsphilly.org Jewish Recovery Community Weekly 12-step meeting at Glazier Jewish Center 25 N. State St., Newtown, PA Call Bari at 215-702-0918, or email email@example.com Taglit-Birthright Israel sober trip Contact Sharon Darack, director of Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others, at 212-632-4727, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Considering the scope of the problem, the number of Jewish groups nationally dedicated to working on the issue is woefully small, said Olitzsky, the director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York. “Some people do not want the Jewish community to hang their dirty laundry out in public,” he said. Part of the issue, he said, is that congregations have been reticent to invite drug addicts and alcoholics into their
spaces. At the same time, he said, recovery group meetings, most notably Alcoholics Anonymous, are so ubiquitous in churches that many Jews associate them with Christianity. The same is true of the 12step method — originally developed in the 1930s by A.A. — which emphasizes that those in r ecovery must put their faith in a higher power to help them live a sober, responsible life. “The 12 ste ps themselves are reli-
giously neutral,” he said. The job of Jewish clergy, he stressed, is to “put Jewish flesh on the bones of a religiously neutral paradigm.” The parents of the Buc ks County young man who died last month asked that their names not appear in the article. That’s perhaps in itself an indication of the stigma that exists. The young man had been ba ttling
ate said she is sharing her deeply personal saga in part because she believes the problem of addiction has been largely overlooked in the Jewish community, that too many people consider drug addiction a character defect rather than a disease of the brain. There’s a sense, she said, that “there’s no Jewish addicts — it doesn’t happen in our community. People are dying over that. People need to know that they are not alone in this. There are other Jews going through this.” Leventhal said she had a happy childhood and that addiction doesn’t run in her family. A close friend suggested she try her first drink. It was right about the time she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at Broth-
ers of Israel. “I felt like, ‘Wow, this is amazing, I have arrived,’ ” she said. Beer, wine and hard liquor were easy to come by. She and her friends would often raid their parents’ cabinets, rarely getting caught. Throughout high school, she drank regularly and experimented with some so-called recreational drugs, but she was able to function academically and socially, she said. Things came apart for her in the fall of 2011, during her first semester at the University of Massachusetts at Am herst. She be gan using har d drugs, which were readily accessible. She declined to discuss specifically what she was using, instead describing it as
“what you read about in the newspaper,” a substance that “turns someone into an evil person.” For the next three months, she virtually never left her dor m. She ne ver picked up the textbooks she’d ordered online. When she ran out of money, she called her parents and, once they understood how far things had deteriorated, they brought her home and enrolled her in a 28-day rehabilitation program. Once that was finished and she was back in her parents’ house, she began going to a 12-ste p support fellowship group. “They say in the 12-step fellowships, stick with the winners, stick with the
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See Page 10 JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
HEADLINES /ravaged by addiction
Recovery Continued from Previous Page heroin addiction — and had been in and out of rehab — for about two years. By all accounts, he had turned a corner. In addition to seeing professionals, he had met several times with Philmus to explore the spiritual dimension of recovery. The two of them studied passages from Olitzsky’s book. According to his father, his son had been clean for several months and had passed multiple drug tests. He’d had dinner at his parents home the night of his death before returning to the halfway house where he’d been staying. His parents got the call at 2 a.m. from a hospital emergency room that their son had overdosed. “It is a sickness that affects the whole family,” said the father, a former president of the synagogue. “All you can do is try to help the person seek recovery — but you can’t force him. We didn’t disown him. We didn’t thr ow him out in the street. We tried as best as we could to get him the recovery that he needed. “This is not a Jewish issue,” he added. “This is a universal issue that affects all
people in all walks of life.” Bari Wolfson, Emily Leventhal’s mother, has worked alongside her 20-year-old daughter to establish and publicize the new Bucks County group they have called the Jewish Recovery Community. She stressed that while it is being held at the Lubavitch house, it is a community-wide program. Leventhal is also meeting with Philmus and knew the y oung man who died since c hildhood. Wolfson long ago realized that any of the drugs her daughter had used over the years could have killed her. “Once you face that, you never sleep again,” said Wolfson. “You never live a day again where you cannot worry about that. There are no words.” She added that many in the community have a sense that addiction is something that befalls people from “trailer parks” and not from affluent, suburban
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communities, but that just isn’t the case. The loss of one of their own students hit the synagogue’s professional leadership particularly hard. Joan Hersch, the education director for 30 years, knew him well, as she has known Emily Leventhal. Hersch said her former student “was trying to find a spiritual space to help him get over these demons. There was so muc h goodness in him. But we couldn’t save him. “I don’t want that to happen to any other kids,” said Hersch, whose husband, Howard Hersch, is the synagogue’s rabbi emeritus. “The synagogue,” she added, “should be a place that is sheltering, it should be a holy spot for them. It should be a place where they don’t feel that they are a pariah.” Philmus is in his second year as the shul’s rabbi. He’d never before had to eu-
logize such a young congregant and the incident has clearly shaken him. He acknowledged how scary it is to continue working with recovering addicts like Leventhal, because now he really knows how quickly he can lose them. He’s also thought a bout the amount of drinking that happened on the Taglit-Birthright Israel trips he’s staffed and wondered what more can be done about it. He even considered banning alcohol in the synagogue on Simchat Torah, but decided that such a move wouldn’t really accomplish anything. Abstinence for everyone, he said, isn’t the answer. “Unless you are an addict, or unless you have a person in your family that is an addict, you wouldn’t really understand that this is a disease that can bubble up at any moment and that is terrifying,” he said. “I am convinced that he didn’t want to die . When I met with him, he had such a sense of gratitude for having another c hance in life . I could tell that he was such a good person, so kind, so sweet, and that he wanted to recover.” ● Contact: email@example.com (215-832-0743).
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HEADLINES /ravaged by addiction
Her Life Continued from Page 8
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OCTOBER 10, 2013
people who want to stay clean, who want to stay sober. That was the opposite of what I was doing,” she said. She fell back into drug abuse. One time, nearly two years ago, a friend overdosed on heroin. “He had a seizure, then his lips turned blue and he stopped breathing. I was just pounding on his chest over and over and pouring water on him and slapping him,” she said. She managed to resuscitate him and call an ambulance. Later, she picked him up from the hospital, “and we went and got more drugs. You know, the only logical thing to do.” That’s when it hit her ho w bad things had gotten. She told her parents, who felt they had little choice but to try something drastic. “My parents, they w ere so miserable,” she said. “Later, I found out that my mom would come into my room every night and check if I was breathing.” In February 2012, Leventhal went to live in a drug treatment facility in souther n Florida. Once, during a visit, her mother took her to a Chabad-run Shabbat dinner f or recovering addicts in Boca Raton. It was a difficult experience. “At this point, I had completely lost all m y faith,” she said. “Throughout my active addiction, I was so miserable. If there was a God, why would he make me this way? I thought it would be less painful to be an a theist and not believe in God at all.” But things be gan to tur n around for her. After se veral months of living in the facility, she moved to a halfway house where she held a part-time job and eventually was asked to be a house mother. She tried in earnest to tackle the 12-step approach to sobriety, which among other things involves serious introspection and self-evaluation. She found deep connections with other recovering addicts waging similar battles, but still struggled to fill the space that drugs had occupied in her world. “It was the love of my life. It will always be the lo ve of my life. Once you lose something
that you love, it kind of leaves a void there,” she said. But she said she is optimistic she can fill this void “with something greater than me.” She started growing more interested in Judaism and began going on her own to Chabad dinners. Earlier this year, she went on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip for recovering addicts, which she described as a transformative, spiritual experience. But there was an ugly side to the experience. Several other Birthright groups were in Israel at the same time, she said, and “they found somehow that we were in recovery. To say they mocked us would be an understatement. They asked us to go out and drink with them,” she said, adding that she took it in stride. “People are always going to think what they think.” Four months a go, after a year and a half in Florida, Leventhal returned home. She has started taking classes at Bucks County Community Colle ge and is talking about returning to a four-year school and studying bioethics. She’s been attending services regularly at Brothers of Israel and is meeting w eekly with the congregation’s rabbi, Aaron Philmus, who also went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She’s still active in a 12-step fellowship and her parents have been attending a support group for families. But she said that addiction is a lifelong disease that could resurface at any time. She was particularly hit hard by the recent death of a 19-year-old former Hebrew school classmate, who suffered a drug overdose a few days after Yom Kippur. “I don’t want this to happen again. I want people to have a place to come and be able to talk about these things,” she said, referring to the Jewish-centered recovery group she has helped start in Bucks County. More than ever, she feels a deep bond with other J ews. “And since I have been in recovery,” she added, “I felt the same connection with other people in recovery. So the two things together — it’s indescribable.” ● Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org (215-832-0743). JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
Marriage Continued from Page 7 son,” said R osenberg, whose daughter is a rabbinical student. But Rosenberg, who is the co-chair of a program that provides mentorship to families of members of the LGBTQ community, said legalizing same-sex marriage is just one piece in the larger fight for equality. She is also involved with legislative efforts, such as the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to ensure that people are not discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of their sexual orientation. Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of Mekor Habracha, an Orthodox shul in Center City, declined to say whether he suppor ted or opposed the bill but referred to the history of Jews being persecuted for their r eligious beliefs. While most Jews support gay marriage, many Orthodox Jews oppose it because they sa y it goes against Jewish law. “We, of all people,” Hirsch said, “should be sensitive to ensure that no one’s rights ar e curbed by the religious beliefs of others.” Rabbi Yonah Gross of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, an Orthodox shul in Wynnewood, has expressed misgivings about the changing nature of marriage in America but said taking a stand against the legislation was not high on his priority list. “The reason I would not be very invested in it is because I don’t think” the legalization of same-sex marriage is “relevant to my synagogue and m y job here,” he said. Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in Wynnewood, said the Jewish community’s response needs to be “a nonjudgmental kind of embrace.” But he declined to say whether he would officiate at a samesex marriage should the legislation become law. “I think that people have a right to get married and they should be a ble to mar ry who they want,” Cooper said. “But from a perspective of Jewish tradition, there is a question of how Judaism can accept and incorporate same-sex couples into a traditional community.” ● JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
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OCTOBER 10, 2013