What Is Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others (JACS)?
Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others (JACS) is a mutual support network to help individuals of the Jewish faith that are struggling with substance abuse overcome addiction in conjunction with Judaism. The organization is a sector of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York City. The JACS office holds recovery meetings and provides rehabilitation referrals for addicts, alcoholics, and their families. JACS serves Jews in the metropolitan New York area, the U.S., and around the world.
The main objectives of JACS are as follows:
- Encourage and assist Jewish alcoholics or chemically dependent persons and their families, friends, and associates to explore addiction recovery in a nurturing Jewish environment.
- Promote knowledge and understanding of the disease of addiction as it involves the Jewish community.
- Act as a resource center and information clearinghouse on the effects of alcoholism and drug dependency on Jewish family life.
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JACS additionally sponsors retreat weekends to provide opportunities for intense spiritual meetings, chances to enjoy Shabbat with like-minded individuals, and forums for discussions about issues of recovery and Judaism with rabbis and rabbinical students. In many communities, local JACS affiliates have developed to promote community awareness, provide information and resources, and create a supportive and understanding network for those in recovery and their families.
In addition to running retreats across America, JACS also sponsors Spiritual Days on occasional Sundays throughout the year and runs recovery workshops around high holiday times. JACS members also come together to celebrate Sukkot, Chanukah, and Purim with the shared goal of sobriety.
The Story of JACS
JACS was founded in 1979 by a small group of Jewish individuals who, understanding the struggles of addiction first-hand, wanted to create a safe environment for Jewish people to connect to their faith while undergoing addiction treatment. The founders realized that while as helpful as 12-step groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and PA (Pills Anonymous) were, it was difficult for Jews to reconcile addiction with their Jewish affiliation during these meetings. JACS then was born out of the necessity for an organization that combined aspects of self-help, spiritual guidance, and the congruence of traditional support groups and Jewish tradition.
Co-founder David Buchholz describes JACS’s role in addiction recovery as “a before and after” to programs like AA, NA, and PA. JACS was created to help suffering Jews find their way to rehabilitation programs such as AA, NA, and PA, and then once in the programs, to help them find Jewish spiritual resources to strengthen their recovery. In addition to opening up meetings and acting as the main resource center for Jews seeking addiction treatment in those early years, JACS started to hold two annual weekend retreats for recovering persons and their family members to focus on Jewish spiritual issues in connection to addiction. From there, programs were added in between retreats to encourage long-term sobriety.
The organization also started to give courses that connected the 12-steps of AA, NA, and PA to the Jewish faith, such as “Stepping thru Judaism” and “Stepping through Jewish Spirituality.” The JACS founders also helped develop the Jewish Spiritual Dictionary – a reference that gives Jewish backgrounds to AA, NA, and PA program concepts. Since then, the organization has grown into a multi-national conglomerate for information and guidance regarding Jewish drug and alcohol dependency.
The Stigma of Addiction in the Jewish Faith
For many generations, there has been a stigma against addiction in the Jewish community. Many members adhere to the false belief that substance abuse simply does not affect people of the Jewish faith. This denial of addiction has led to a lack of support for many Jews struggling with drug and alcohol problems.
Other common misconceptions regarding addiction include:
- The Jewish faith protects its followers from addiction.
- Observant Jews don’t drink alcohol or abuse illicit drugs.
- Jews who do abuse drugs or alcohol do so because they have been alienated from their religious heritage or because they have lost their faith.
- Substance abuse is a sign of moral failure, and people who abuse drugs or alcohol should feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior.
- Because addiction is not a problem for Jews, there is no need for faith-based recovery services for members of this community.
In order to dispel these false beliefs, JACS advocates for all individuals involved in Jewish communal life to learn how to recognize the problem of chemical dependency, and become familiar and comfortable with common addiction treatment resources such as detoxification, rehabilitation, counseling, and self-help programs. Generally speaking, Jews have a tendency to be secretive about emotional disturbances within their families, and often avoid seeking help for substance abuse due to fear of exposure and shame. Whether it be to alcohol, narcotics, or pills, JACS wants the Jewish community to understand that addiction is a disease that can only be overcome with the help of professional treatment.
One of the biggest accomplishments of JACS as an organization has been the de-stigmatization of addiction amongst Jews and the replacement of these negative views with more realistic and positive approaches.
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The JACS Congruence of 12-Step Groups and Jewish Tradition
The religious doctrines and spiritual traditions of Judaism provide a structure that supports rehab and recovery. Some people mistakenly believe that programs such as AA, NA, and PA have a Christian orientation and are “off limits” to those of the Jewish faith. However, that is simply not true. JACS works hard to show fellow Jews that none of these 12-step programs focuses on a single religion, but rather a “higher power” that can be applied to any religious background, including Judaism. Members of these groups are free to pray to whatever God they hold dear; while other people recite prayers of their own liturgy during the meetings, Jews can recite any prayer from the siddur (Jewish prayer book).
The 12 Steps of the anonymous fellowships are very compatible with Judaism and the paradigm of self-growth presented in Jewish scripture. The Jewish paradigm is founded on growth in three main areas of life: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Each of these areas can be nurtured and developed through observance, worship, and prayer in the Jewish tradition, as well as participation in 12-Step fellowships.
Judaism also teaches that a person has three ongoing relationships at which he or she must excel: with himself, with others, and with God. All of which is the basic foundation of programs like AA, NA, and PA and is taught during the 12-step sessions. JACS has made strides by holding more and more of these types of fellowship meetings in synagogues as opposed to Christian churches in an effort to normalize the practice and provide a network for Jews attending these services.
What to Expect From a JACS Retreat
JACS retreats are not treatment programs, nor do they promote or endorse any single institution in the treatment of the disease of addiction. JACS retreats are instead designed to help members of the Jewish community identify possible treatment options and explore the resources within Judaism that can strengthen their continuing recovery. JACS retreats are planned and led by JACS members and rabbis and are intended for recovering alcoholics, chemically dependent persons, and their significant others and family members. Rabbis and participants play an equal role at the retreat to enhance the relationship between 12- step programs and Jewish spiritual concepts.
The retreats provide an experience where Jews of all denominations can celebrate their faith and shared goal of sobriety. Throughout the course of the weekend, members will participate in prayer services, workshops, recovery meetings, and fun-filled activities such as kumzitz. Additionally, each retreat offers a Torah class that links the text to the unique issues of recovery. Opportunities also exist for participants to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, and receive one-on-one time with rabbis that understand the complex issue of addiction. JACS places an emphasis on informality and personal sharing, allowing all attendees to feel comfortable and heal in a safe space.
Get Help Today
Addiction is a disease that affects people of all religious and spiritual backgrounds, including Judaism. Some Jewish individuals may find that in order to fully recover from substance abuse, they need a support system rooted in religion. A JACS support group can provide guidance, referrals to treatment, and mentors for those of the Jewish faith struggling with addiction. To find a JACS affiliate or an addiction treatment center, contact a treatment provider today.