Compelling Stories of Addiction Recovery Shared at Shabbat Dinner

Please Join Us May 31 at 5:30 p.m.

The Community Shabbat Dinner is Friday, May 31, at Temple Israel, 91 Springside Drive in Akron. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m., with Shabbat services at 6:15 p.m. and a panel discussion at 7 p.m. Babysitting and a kids' room will be available for young children.

Before May 24, the cost for the event is $18 for adults, $12 for children ages 5 to 13, and free for children under 5. After May 24, the cost is $25 for adults, $15 for children ages 5 to 13, and free for children under 5. You can register for this event online at; mail your reservation with payment to Shaw JCC of Akron, 750 White Pond Dr., Akron, OH 44320; call 330-867-7850; or stop by the Shaw JCC desk to RSVP.


In the Jewish tradition, having compassion (or rachamim) is a core obligation to humanity. In response to Summit County's rising levels of substance abuse, the next Community Shabbat Dinner will focus on "Our Stories of Recovery," and three members of Akron's Jewish community will discuss their personal and family journeys.

Temple Israel will host the May 31 dinner, and its rabbi Josh Brown says our community is responsible for providing loving kindness and support to friends and family who are struggling.

"Part of what's special about this Shabbat is that it's coming from within our community," Brown says. "When we talk about compassion, it's about seeing b'tzelem elohim, the image of God, in other people. We do that easier when we know them."

"If the struggle of addiction is something that arises in a family, our community has people who can help," Brown says. "And, even if we don't know the answer, there are rabbis or clergy or friends who will provide support, even if it's just having someone to go with them to their first support meeting. This is not something they have to do alone."

Brown believes locals should support nearby resources, like Summit County's Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health (ADM) Services Board and Oriana House, a local outpatient substance abuse treatment facility.

"We really need to look at Summit County and the surrounding area, to make sure we're investing money and time into resources that are readily available, and to make sure that people who need the help can get the help," he says.

Irv Sugerman, Trip Morris, and Mike Cohen will serve as panelists during the evening's discussion.

Irv Sugerman has been clean and sober for 26 years. "I went to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous on Jan. 8, 1993, and I still go a couple times a week," he says. "I found people who had similar issues, and we were able to address those issues. I walked in the room, and there were a handful of Jewish guys there who I knew, and it was helpful. They've all become dear friends."

A litigation attorney for 37 years, Sugerman says alcoholism affects a staggering one-quarter to onethird of lawyers. Whether their addiction is due to overwhelming stress or because attorneys tend to focus on other people's problems rather than their own, Sugerman offers support to the Akron Bar Association's Lawyers Assistance Program. This local organization, as well as the statewide Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, provides education and confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, and law school students who are affected by alcohol or substance abuse, stress, depression or other mental health issues.

He also shares his unique perspective as a member of Summit County's ADM Board.

"The more that people who have been down this road can talk about these issues, the more likely that other people might reach out for help," he says.

Having a strong support system is vital in the journey to recovery, and Sugerman says his family and extended family have always been 100 percent supportive of him.

"People in Akron and the Jewish community need to be open to and listening to what's really going on with friends and family who are struggling with substance abuse," he says. "And, they shouldn't be afraid to reach out."

Trip Morris knew he had a drinking problem when he slurred his words reading bedtime stories to his two oldest children. Since 1984, he's been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve Step program.

"Once you recognize that you have a problem, most of the work is in the community helping others, an important part of the healing process for an addicted person," he says.

Over the years, Morris has served as a sponsor to others struggling with various types of addiction.

"I've been involved with people that had addictions to cocaine and alcohol, and I've known people who have died on heroin, and people who almost died and were shot with NARCAN to come back," he says.

The road to recovery isn't easy, but Morris says the enjoyment that comes with sobriety is an amazing experience.

"When you're in your illness, it's hard to see that, but there are people who have recovered and can enjoy the bliss that comes from hard work," he says. "Today, I don't want to drink, and I've got all the means and the ways not to drink."

To maintain his wellness, Morris does daily spiritual study, works out and watches his diet. He also remains vigilant of where he goes and who he's with: "I stay with dry people in dry places."

"I go through life every day, thinking, 'Would I want Trip to be my friend? My brother? My employer? My husband? My father? My grandfather?' When you put yourself through that acid test, you're careful how you conduct yourself," he says.

Morris and his wife, Jodi, have been married for 42 years, and they have three adult children. He is the CEO of a local contractor company.

Mike Cohen has been in a trap house, where illegal drugs are sold and used, not knowing if he'd walk out alive. He's been on Akron's Howard Street at 2:30 in the morning, responding to an urgent call from his daughter Leah. And, he bought a gun because sometimes he's fearful for his own life.

This is the struggle of a family member whose loved one suffers from the disease of addiction.

"This really affects a lot of us because we never know if our loved ones are going to die," he says.

To learn coping techniques for himself and to support Leah in her journey of recovery, Cohen joined NARANON, a Twelve Step program for friends and family members who are affected by someone else's addiction.

"I'd come to realize my life had become unmanageable," he says, adding that his well-worn copy of the NARANON Twelve Step guide is his "other bible."

Cohen joined the Summit County Opiate Task Force and became involved as the head of the Family Outreach Committee. The group sent him to speak on behalf of Summit County before the Ohio Senate and House in Columbus.

"In the last three years, over 200,000 fellow Americans have died from addiction overdoses," he says. "The crisis isn't at our border; it's within our border."

Local clergy often calls Cohen to speak with congregational families and guide them along the frustrating path toward successful treatment and recovery programs for their loved ones.

"I was at Lowe's two summers ago, and a man recognized me from NARANON. He gave me a hug and said, 'You saved my daughter's life because we were able to get her the right kind of treatment,' " he says. "I've met the nicest, kindest, most humble people. We're all in the same boat, and we don't judge each other."

Cohen is pleased that his daughter will accompany him to the Community Shabbat Dinner.

To learn more about upcoming Community Shabbat Dinners, check out the next issue of the Akron Jewish News