‘Freedom Song’ coming to Temple Sinai: Weaves addiction recovery with Passover story 


‘Freedom Song’ coming to Temple Sinai: Weaves addiction recovery with Passover story

RABBI MICHAEL PERICE… shared his addiction story with his congregation last summer.

RABBI MICHAEL PERICE… shared his addiction story with his congregation last summer.

When Rabbi Michael Perice of Temple Sinai of Cinnaminson shared his addiction recovery story last summer, he was surprised at the degree to which his story spread. “It kind of blew up,” he told the Voice. “It just shows you the power of social media in today’s world.”

His unique story of overcoming a four-year battle with opioid addiction and his subsequent decision to share that with his congregation garnered local and international attention. As a result, Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish residential addiction treatment center based in Los Angeles, reached out to Perice about the possibility of coming to South Jersey to perform their musical, “Freedom Song.” Since 2006, recovering addicts in the Beit T’Shuvah program have formed the musical’s cast, touring in Jewish communities across the country.

Aiming to debunk the myth that Jews are immune to addiction, the musical infuses the story of Passover with true stories of addiction, from gambling to heroin. Originally written by Stuart K. Robinson, “Freedom Song” will be performed at Temple Sinai of Cinnaminson on Sunday, Apr. 3 at 2:30 p.m. It is free of charge. For more information call (856) 829-0658.

“We have created a living Haggadah,” said the director and former member of the original cast, Michael Kamenir. “We’ve made Passover relevant to today. Torah and Judaism show us that we’ve had this guide to life all along, we just don’t always pay attention.”

During the production, there will be a Passover seder on one side of the stage while addicts in a 12-step meeting will populate the other half. Perice said that it’s a fitting analogy for Jews in recovery, for liberating oneself from the shackles of an oppressor. “Addiction can feel very much like that,” he said.

Unlike most rehab programs which last 30 days, Beit T’Shuvah is a long-term facility that blends spirituality, psychotherapy, the 12 steps, and Jewish teachings.

As a recovering addict himself, Kamenir said that one of the best things about the program is their commitment to treating addiction as a family disease. “They basically helped me put my family back together since addiction can really tear a family apart.”

Though addicts are more than welcome to attend, Kamenir said it’s not necessarily designed to reach them, but rather their family members and those who aren’t as educated about the recovery process. People are most moved by “the honesty and transparency,” he said. “It’s shocking for some people. That’s when the conversation starts.” After the show, there will be Q & A portion of the event, in which audience members can ask the cast anything they wish.

Perice understands that sharing his story was only the first step in a long mission to raise awareness in the community. “It takes time, it takes education,” he said. “It can’t just be rabbis who have gone through addiction talking about it.”

On top of events such as “Freedom Song,” Perice has made it his focus to bring in knowledgeable speakers on addiction. Marla Kaufman, for example, the founder of the Jewish Addiction Awareness Network (JAAN) connected with Perice and spoke to his congregation one Shabbat via Zoom. “I’m glad Rabbi Perice added his voice to the space of Jewish addiction recovery, because all those stories help reduce stigma,” she said.

In the spring of 2016, Kaufman created JAAN after failing to find support in her California Jewish community when one of her sons was struggling with substance abuse disorder. Her website is an aggregator of literature, workshops, and organizations in this Jewish recovery space, so that other families undergoing hardship can have more resources at their disposal.

“I call it the equal opportunity destroyer,” Kaufman said. “There’s a myth that persists that Jews are not as susceptible and that keeps people in shame. It kills people. We’re cracking at that all the time, but it’s still there.”

Now, Perice plans to put together an addiction task force at Temple Sinai, which will be open to anybody in the public who wants to join. The goal is to have liaisons representing different synagogues around South Jersey to confer on an agenda moving forward.

From a religious perspective, Perice said failure and recovery are already ingrained into Jewish tradition. “We come together to reclaim the different ways we fail,” he said. “Because everybody has failings, and we have to admit to them to atone for them.”