Your estranged, drug-addicted sister shows up at Passover Seder—what could go wrong? This is the set-up for Freedom Song, probably the only touring musical born out of a Jewish rehab. The play, which tackles addiction in the Jewish community, is currently directed by Michael Kamenir, with musical accompaniment by Laura Bagish. Bringing the production across the country is a major undertaking, and at the tour’s helm is our very own Jessica Fishel.
For the past seven years, Jessica has been the Freedom Song coordinator; she plans the tours, local performances, and speaking engagements for Rabbi Mark and Harriet. Even though it’s a near full-time job, Jessica is also the Assistant Director of Partners in Prevention, Beit T’Shuvah’s youth education program that brings residents to schools, summer camps, and synagogues across the country to share their stories. “We hope to prevent as many kids as possible from going down the path that the residents of Beit T’Shuvah did,” she says.
Jessica grew up in Los Angeles and had a strong connection with her Jewish faith from an early age. She was active in Jewish youth groups and attended Jewish summer camps. “My vibrant Jewish upbringing is a huge piece of who I am,” she explains. Jessica graduated from college, and like many recent grads, she was unsure of her direction. But reflecting on her time in high school volunteering for at-risk youth, she decided to explore careers in that area. Jessica’s father, who served as President of the Jewish Federation, told her about Beit T’Shuvah, and Harriet invited Jessica to volunteer, which eventually turned into a job and then, after years of hard work, a career.
From booking hotels to providing wardrobes and even acting in the musical, Jessica helps solve every conceivable problem that Freedom Song may encounter with seemingly effortless aplomb. While she was never a resident at Beit T’Shuvah, Jessica lives a life of recovery and has over nine years sober. “Everyone struggles. Everyone has insecurities,” she says. “I relate to those aspects of my life. I can relate to any teenager who is going through a difficult time. I was them, once upon a time.”
Freedom Song has recently returned from a tour of the East Coast, where they played to auditoriums and synagogues packed with parents, clergy, educators, and mental health professionals. Using the arts to deliver a powerful message, the musical serves as an educational tool for Jewish congregations around the country. “We get to educate parents in the Jewish community about addiction and how to talk about it. We bring it out of the shadows and into the light,” Jessica explains.
Freedom Song examines how, left unaddressed, addiction leads invariably to the collapse of relationships. Whether you’re Jewish or not, Freedom Song offers hope and a safe environment to have difficult conversations about a sensitive subject matter.
One person this play has truly touched is Jessica. “Beit T’Shuvah has helped create the person I am today. I am also back in school currently to get my master’s in marriage and family therapy. I know I’ve helped a lot of people which is an amazing feeling. My job fills my life. I’m very grateful,” she says.
We’re grateful for you too, Jessica.
If you are interested in having Freedom Song come to your community, please contact Jessica Fishel at firstname.lastname@example.org.