By Charles Bernsen
The Passover story of the ancient Israelites journey from slavery to freedom will play out in Nashville this month in a modern context when Jewish Family Service co-sponsors a performance of “Freedom Song,” a musical workshop focusing on redemption from the slavery of addiction.
Produced by Beit T’Shuvah, a Los Angeles addiction treatment center and congregation, “Freedom Song” juxtaposes one family’s Passover Seder with the personal stories of addiction in a 12-step meeting. The musical has been performed at hundreds of synagogues, schools and community over the past 11 years and is affiliated with Partners in Prevention, a nationwide Jewish initiative aimed at combatting addiction among youth.
The Nashville performance, free and open to the public, begins at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, April 2 at the Gordon Jewish Community Center. Funded by the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and an anonymous donor, it is co-sponsored by BBYO and all five local congregational religious schools. The musical is suitable for youth 14 and older. Congregations are not holding regular religious school that morning and are instead encouraging teenage students to attend the performance with their parents.
“With addiction rates soaring across the country and locally, we cannot afford to be complacent—lives are at stake,” said Teri Sogol, a licensed clinical social worker with Jewish Family Service. “Our goal in bringing “Freedom Song” to Nashville is education, prevention, and to provide a forum for discussion about an issue of vital importance.”
To that end, the performance will be followed by two question-and-answer sessions, one for adults and the other for students.
“Freedom Song” was written in 2006 by Stuart K. Robinson, with original music and lyrics by James Fuchs and Rebekah Mirsky. It was inspired by the real-life stories of Beit T’Shuvah residents and alumni, and what makes the musical compelling is that its ever-changing ensemble cast is comprised of recovering alcoholics from all walks of life, said Jessica Fishel, youth services associate and Freedom Song coordinator at Beit T’Shuvah.
Rabbi Mark Borovitz of Beit T’Shuvah said the musical approaches the issue of addiction from a broad perspective.
“The message of “Freedom Song” is that addiction can happen in every family, no matter what religion they practice and despite any façade of normalcy, “ said Rabbi Borovitz, who, like Beit T’Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto, is a recovering addict. “If you look at all the things we’re addicted to, it’s not just drugs, alcohol and gambling – it’s a way of living that’s become so ingrained in people. We’re living in a society where we’ve forgotten what’s important about being Jewish, about what we’ve brought to the world.”
Sharon Paz, director of lifelong learning at West End Synagogue, went to Memphis last year to see a performance of “Freedom Song” because she and other congregational education directors were thinking about bringing it to Nashville in collaboration with JFS and BBYO.
“It was an amazing experience that stayed with me long after the performance,” Paz said. “The 19 actors themselves are all Jewish. They bring to life real issues that people are dealing with and put them on the table in the context of a Pesach seder. “Freedom Song” makes the story very personal and opens avenues of communication for dialogue.”
Paz said she was especially moved when a member of the Memphis Jewish community got up at the end and shared that Beit T’shuvah had literally saved her life.
“She was a recovering addict. No one in the community knew,” Paz said. “That’s the thing about addiction and addicts. Addiction is a secret.”
The analogy between addiction and the Passover story is not a new one for the Nashville Jewish community. The Temple hosts an annual community seder during the Passover season for addicts and their families and friends that follows the same theme as “Freedom Song” – that addiction is a form of slavery from which redemption is possible.
“We have created our own haggadah and are very open and honest about issues of addiction and recovery,” said Rabbi Shana Mackler of The Temple. “Passover is a perfect model for the enslavement of addiction, the faith and community often needed for freedom, and the responsibility one assumes for remaining out of the shackles long-term. People from every congregation, and no congregation, attend.”
The seder is hosted by JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent, and Significant Others), a 12-step recovery program started by the Temple in 2002 that meets at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Information about addiction recovery resources is available on the JFS website at jfsnashville.org/resources. For more information about Freedom Song please contact Teri Sogol at (615) 354-1662. •