If Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, outgoing director of the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, had known how difficult his job was going to be, he would not have taken it. Now, he is grateful that he did not pass up the opportunity.
Many members of the local Jewish recovery community, which is estimated to include about 500 recovering addicts and their families, have come to regard Pinson as a mentor and Friendship House as a second home. Yarden Blumstein has taken Pinson's place.
“Coming here has helped strengthen my recovery and my Judaism,” said one participant who has been sober for seven years at an event to welcome Blumstein last week. “The friends I’ve made here are more like family, and I don’t feel alone like I did when I was drinking.”
The Friendship House program began 17 years ago, when Rabbi Levi Shemtov and his wife, Bassie, came to Detroit as emissaries of the Lubavitch movement. They met Sam and Carol Sobel, former Detroiters now living in Florida, who wanted to honor the memory of their late son, Daniel, who died in 1993 at the age of 28. Their vision was to create a place where those struggling with addiction or other isolating conditions could find support and companionship. Pinson was recruited from his native country of France to direct the new program, and the Shemtovs devoted themselves to building the which serves children with special needs and their families.
Part of Pinson’s mission was to abolish the stigma associated with alcoholism and drug addiction by building a community based on acceptance and mutual support.
Many describe the program as a literal lifesaver. One man came to Friendship House after serving a jail sentence for causing a car accident while intoxicated.
“I had lost everything, and I felt so much guilt and shame,” he said. “I never imagined my life would come to that. But I met other people who helped me work the 12 steps and gave me strength and faith.”
The program provides a Jewish component for those involved in traditional 12-step recovery programs. There are special holiday programs, monthly Friday night dinners, social events, and a weekly dinner-and-learn session followed by a Jewish recovery meeting. A variety of fellowships including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) hold meetings throughout the week. Two Jewish Recovery Homes provide supportive living for men and women making the transition back into society. Special issues such as gambling and shopping addiction are also addressed.
“We believe that recovery involves professional help, and, most importantly, community. That’s what Friendship House provides,” said Ellen Yashinsky Chute, Chief Community Outreach Officer for .
One mother expressed gratitude for the fact that her son recently celebrated five years of sobriety.
“It’s truly a miracle,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
Pinson intends to stay involved in the recovery community through projects such as www.jewishrecovery.org, one of the first and largest Jewish recovery websites, which he founded. He is also starting a new organization called Jewish Recovery International, which helps leaders in other parts of the country and overseas establish programs similar to Friendship House.
“I have a lot of projects in the works,” Pinson said. “Once we’re attached to this mission, this mission becomes part of who we are.”
Pinson developed an interest and expertise in social networking, earning recognition by the as one of the “five top tweeters.” He plans to use this knowledge in his new position as part of the development and strategic planning team of the Friendship Circle, parent organization and next-door neighbor to Friendship House, located on the Meer Family Friendship Campus in West Bloomfield.
Blumstein, one of the volunteer coordinators for Friendship Circle, jumped at the chance to work with the recovery community when he heard about the opportunity. He plans to continue the current programs and introduce new ones, such as a weekly breakfast-and-learn and a basketball league, based on interest and need.
“I’ve been settling in, doing a lot of reading, and attending Al-Anon meetings,” he said. “I don’t have the experience, but I have a lot of good support.”