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Overcoming Addiction: My Personal Success Story

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I am an example of a success story. But this is only the first chapter.

I grew up with everything a girl could ask for. But there was always this emptiness—a longing for something, anything, to lead me out of the darkness by which I was encumbered. I felt alone in my world. When I was eleven, I found out I was adopted and that my brother was not my twin. My already unbalanced world was flipped upside down, and everything looked like a lie. That was the beginning of what became my twenty-one year long battle with addiction. My addictive behavior would end up bleeding into every area of my life, taking with it every meaningful relationship, any semblance of self-respect I once had, all my money, and my sanity. I would end up in the hospital at thirty-two with a failing liver and eight days of detox—and who knows what else—to look forward to. I never would have thought Judaism would play a role in saving me. I never thought it would change me.

I was raised half Jewish and half Christian, and not a fraction of it made any sense to me. Neither of my parents were religious, and the exposure my brother and I had to either faith was in little sprinkles here and there during the “important” holidays. At fourteen, my religious practices changed almost immediately once my father hooked up with my soon-to-be, Jewish stepmother. As much as I welcomed the change, and as hard as I tried to embrace the Judaism surrounding me—I saw myself as an imposter who didn’t fit in. Where on earth did I come from? Where did I fit?

As the years went on, my addiction grew worse, and the further I drifted from any kind of faith in anything. The more lost I became, the more alone I felt. Alcohol was both my G-d, and my only friend, and drinking was my light through the dark. When my father died when I was twenty-seven, I turned to my reliable, toxic friend to take away my pain. But I wore the mask of someone who was just fine, and moved on with my life. All I was actually doing was slowly fading away.

I would stay up every night in a cold sweat, trembling and panicking and incapable of sleep. I was just waiting to die—believing I had no chance of overcoming my addiction. And even if I could muster up enough courage to ask for help, I would forever be labeled, “an addict,” and live the rest of my life with that stigma. What would my family think? Will I ever be hireable? What man would ever want to marry me? There was too much shame in admitting my problem, I thought. But the pain I felt… the all-consuming mental and physical pain was too much to bear. I knew things couldn’t possibly get worse as long as I was still alive, so when my brother asked me if I was willing to get treatment, I told him, “I have the will if you have a way to get me there.” The next day, he took me to the hospital to detox, and a week later, to rehab—a Jewish rehab called Beit T’Shuvah, which translates to: The House of Return. Needless to say, I was apprehensive. I didn’t have a G-d. I didn’t have any faith. Surely they would find out and send me home. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I came to Beit T’Shuvah, I had no idea how to tackle my social anxiety or make friends. My shyness was crippling, and my only solution to that in the past was a round of drinks (each one for me). After some time going to meetings and process groups with the other residents, and attending services in our sanctuary, things started to get easier. I, someone who never considered herself to be spiritual, found myself looking at spirituality through a different lens. What I learned at Beit T’Shuvah is that spirituality has a different meaning to everyone. To me, it’s human connection. It’s spending time with my father in my dreams. It’s writing poetry, and listening to the music that moves my heart and gives me chills. I discovered those things in sobriety.

I had heard horror stories about other rehabs—how some of them were cold and sterile, and military like. I realized how lucky I was to be where I was. I kept hearing, “Beit T’Shuvah is a community,” but I didn’t get it at first. But it is just that. It’s a microcosm of the world, with all the same moving parts, unique personalities, suffering, and hard work. You have neighbors and responsibilities, friends, foes, and teachers. There it was—the thing I wanted most but was always hiding from. Connection. And it came in the form of a community that accepted me for me, and told me that I matter. I wouldn’t have survived without that.

BeitTShuvah“Hold on” and “you matter” are two of the many sayings at Beit T’Shuvah. As simple as each is, the mere utterance of those four words can be more powerful than any meeting, or any book. I learned the meaning of T’Shuvah in the house that bares the same name—return. I could see the importance of taking responsibility for my life, and arriving at a place of acceptance of my past. I look at my life now, and I feel grateful. I have a job I love, doing something I love, and I am free in every sense of the word. In looking ahead to the New Year, I look back at my life. I ask for forgiveness. I forgive myself. I enter the New Year as if it were my first.

 

 

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Jenny Sherman is a copywriter at Creative Matters Agency, a social enterprise of Beit T’Shuvah, a non-profit addiction treatment center.

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Nothing Matters More Than This

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We live in a world where FOCUS is even MORE important than your INTELLIGENCE.

From our never-ending Facebook feed, to our freshly-updated YouTube subscription page, to our email inbox, we live in an abundant world of information.

However, is it really necessary to consume all of this general information?

Will it ever be useful? Will it ever make any difference in your life?

No. Most likely not.

Learning a little about a lot of different things doesn’t really amount to much.

Instead, you should FOCUS.

Focus on learning and applying ONE skill as intensely and deeply as possible.

Focus is where mastery kicks in.

Kobe Bryant wasn’t the best basketball player that ever played because he was the best all-around person.

Kobe Bryant was world-class because he was absolutely great at ONE thing and one thing only: playing basketball.

So instead of consuming as much general information as you possibly can… instead FOCUS.

FOCUS on one topic. FOCUS on one task. FOCUS on one goal.

Because today, more than ever, focus is way more important than your intelligence.

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New Initiative Launched to Restore Memories and a Legacy

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On Tuesday January 30th, Thirty Years After (30 YA) hosted the Legacy Launch, one of their largest, most innovative and interactive projects to date, at the Ahyra Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.

Sam Yebri, President of Thirty Years After, explains the Legacy Project, “The Project is a grassroots initiative that will help preserve and honor the Iranian  Jewish experience through video for future generations,  and provide an opportunity for every family to capture their parents’  and grandparents’ most compelling memories and anecdotes before it is  too late.”

Doors opened to guest at 7:00 pm where they were greeted with smiles from 30 YA volunteers and staff members. The lobby was packed with guests who were treated to wonderful Iranian street food not often seen or eaten in the United States. The delicious cuisine included Labu (beets baked in their own juice, and typically served steaming hot in a street cart during the dead of winter), Baghali (beans topped with spices, typically served the same way as Labu), Dizi (a meat mash/stew– usually made with lamb, but made with beef and chickpeas at our event), Shohleh Zard (saffron rice pudding), Chos-e-fil (otherwise known as popcorn) and Mahi-Cheh Polo (herbed rice with beef shanks).

The large number of attendees was a testament to the genuine and unprecedented support for the new generation of leaders of the Los Angeles Iranian-American Jewish community.  The printed program for the event listed over 25 generous families and businesses that supported the Legacy Launch and congratulated 30 YA on celebrating their 10 year anniversary.

This event was magical because of the broad range of emotions experienced just by being shoulder to shoulder with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins born in Tehran. Sadness is one emotion that could have been felt while standing in the room, because of all of the untold stories that were not recorded, told or heard. How many stories have we “missed out” on because family members have passed away, younger generations have gone off to college, or simply because we took time for granted? At the Legacy Launch, time stood still for a few hours for the sake of a community recording the past, but very aware of time, embracing beloved memories on video, but also progressively moving toward the future.

Yebri explained, “Our history informs our present and powers our future. This is especially true when our families and community have such a rich legacy of inspiring memories and experiences in Iran and during our exodus to America.  30 Years After  is thrilled to launch ‘The Legacy Project’ as part of the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration.”

Bobby Zolekhian, former President of Nessah Young Professionals expressed, “It was one of the most inspirational events I have been to. I am recruiting people to share their stories. This is something extraordinary!”

Featured guest speakers during the screening included Mrs. Susan Azizzadeh, President of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Dr. Saba Soomekh, Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs at AJC, Megan Nemandoust, Margalit Rosenthal, Liora Simozar and 30 YA President, Sam Yebri.

The dynamic presentation of the screening and its intimate interviews clearly validated that the second and third generations of Iranian Jews growing up in the United States are confidently embracing their unspoken responsibility to record the stories of generations before them for a purpose with a greater cause– maintaining their identity, culture, and traditions.

Learn more about preserving your legacy with 30 YA at https://legacy.30yearsafter.org/

 

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The Honorable Mensch’n: Shanel Melamed

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A true essence of Persian grace and humility, this issue’s honorable mensch is Shanel Melamed, Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, 30 Years After. When she’s not bridging the gap between subdivisions of our own community, Melamed travels and trains in Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) but always makes sure she is home in time for Kabob dinner with her grandparents on Thursday nights.

30 Years After promotes the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life. In the last decade, they have become the doorway for anyone who wishes to reach out and build a relationship with Persian Jews, from political candidates, to universities or other nonprofit organizations. While the nonprofit often organizes socio-educational events for the community, its flagship program is their six-month long “Maher Fellowship”, which trains young Persian Jewish professionals in developing leadership skills and educates them on their cultural history and Jewish Los Angeles today. Shanel explains that the fellowship’s mission mirrors the Jewish concept of L’dor Vador, instilling a sense of pride upon first generation Iranian American Jews and subsequently creating a ripple effect on the rest of the community. Melamed intends for graduates of the fellowship to embrace their heritage, and as they enter their first stages of their professions and parenthood, feel entitled to pass on their legacy for generations to come. Shanel believes that,

“People of our generation should be knowledgeable and capable of cross-coding, of how to be American in the Persian Jewish world and how to be Persian Jewish in the American world. There’s no need to be only one of the three…it takes education on identity, culture, and history and our work doesn’t always have short-term return on investment. We’re in it for the long run, but that’s the spirit of what we do. My hope is that as our generation starts having kids, and as they educate them at home, it’ll be very similar to how we grew up- in terms of traditions and values, but maybe with an American mentality.”

Shanel works to make sure that the organization is “educating, empowering and connecting a community of like-minded people that can then be multipliers within their contemporaries of embodying what it means to be all three and how to leverage every aspect of that identity.” She advocates that Iranian American Jews cherish their roots as they serve well in the United States.

In the effort to maintain Jewish values in a modernized world, Melamed believes in letting go of certain outdated mentalities; such as not speaking about the things that plague us or seek guidance and support without fear of backlash from the community, deeming us as “unmarriageable” or tarnishing our family name. The Persian Jewish community is not immune to adversities of the human experience. Shanel explains, “It takes time for the community to evolve. It took the Jews 40 years in the desert. Our generation is in a very tough situation, but we need to embody the changes that we want to see. Since Jewish America has been on the decline for a variety of reasons and Persian Jews arrived here only about 40 years ago, we have a lot to give.” She hopes that the organization impacts the Persian Jewish community to eventually feel empowered enough to “open doors within existing institutions to allow those institutions to welcome our voice as well.” Shanel often noticed that Jewish events in Los Angeles are not very inclusive of Persian Jews, despite their large presence. She explains, “We need to be embraced…not to be forced to change in order to feel comfortable somewhere…it is very uncomfortable to go to a Jewish event and words are being thrown around in Yiddish, and you have to ask what they mean. You don’t feel like you fit in.” Melamed finds it unfortunate that Persian Jews have been underserved for so long and that consequently the greater Jewish community has not been able to benefit from the wealth of Jewish connection and “fierce Zionism” that Persian Jews have to offer. This is where her work with 30 Years After comes in, to “teach young Jews what the Jewish landscape is and how they fit in.”

On the topic of Saturday morning synagogue congregations dwindling, Shanel emphasizes the significance of keeping Friday nights holy: “Because the home has been the epicenter of Persian Jewry, I think we keep the community alive through Shabbat dinners.” Melamed reflects on a quote by Ahad Ha’Am, “‘More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.’ Persian Jews are the epitome of what that means in a modern society, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that story.”

 

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june, 2018

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