The terrible chaos playing out in Israel and here at home are reminders of the challenges and the trauma we live with simply by being Jewish. This is part of our continuing narrative — our long, long history of being “othered” no matter where we have lived, again simply because we are Jewish.

To protect ourselves from even greater harms, our Jewish community has developed a distinct (and poor) strategy – to hide any and all of our problems from the outside world, for fear that we might attract negative attention and be harmed even more. As my grandmother (a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant) used to say, “God forbid people should know our problems!”

Unfortunately, that strategy has had a terrible cost within our own communities – generations of denial and secrecy (to the point of absurdity) of any and all mental health and addiction issues within our homes and in our community. We fear seeking help no matter how bad the damage within our families  – whether we are the ones dealing with addictions or are the loved ones who are being hurt as a result. We fear being “discovered” and “shamed,” and we duck under cover, choosing dysfunction and pain that cause even more harm.

This coming week is National Addictions Awareness Week and here in Winnipeg, we are choosing to turn the page and to say out loud what we all secretly know: We as Jews are not immune from any or all addictions, and that there is amazing Jewish wisdom as well as Jewish resources that we can all access.

I’m delighted that JCFS (Jewish Child & Family Service) approached Winnipeg’s synagogues and rabbis to host special Serenity Shabbat services next weekend (November 24 & 25). Better yet, we all said “Yes!” immediately. This is astonishing and a first in North America as far as we can tell—to have rabbis all across a city and all denominations say: “It’s okay to be Jewish and to be dealing with an addiction. Or a loved one who is hurting as a result. And that Judaism embraces you.”

These Serenity Shabbat services are for everyone, because we can all learn from each other. This is the time where we can bring forward the best of our Jewish values – to help each other rather than to judge, knowing that we create healthier communities when each get healthier.

I am honoured to lead Temple Shalom’s Serenity Shabbat service with David Vamos, and I encourage you to find your way to any of the five synagogue services next weekend (check out the poster below). Most importantly, let us set aside harmful stigmas, and find the courage to seek what you might need, and to encourage those near to you who are struggling.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Allan