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Meet Sophie E., Nicole G. And Zohar C.: this summer’s Beit T’Shuvah’s Community Development interns. Through the Jewish Federation and guidance of Chaplain Adam Siegel, they have been here for the past month, sitting in on groups, learning about addiction and about themselves. They came to Beit T’Shuvah with an idea of what addiction is and who an addict is, but through the internship program’s immersive approach, they are learning that the line that separates us from them, addict from normie, is a social construct, a result of fear and ignorance.

Zohar is entering her junior year at Hamilton High School. She got connected with Beit T’Shuvah through the Jewish Federation internship program. She enjoys History and English Studies and is keen to understand more about how humans make their mark on the world. While there is addiction in her family, Zohar wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she arrived at BTS. “I thought I was gonna just do office stuff, but when I got here Adam was like ‘okay, you’re gonna go to this and that group.’ And then I got totally immersed. It’s very powerful,” she says. Seeing first hand what the residents go through was a shock to Zohar. The powerful words and messages spoken in groups and “seeing the change in a resident in only a month is really incredible.”

About to go into her senior year at Marlborough School, this is Nicole’s second year interning at Beit T’Shuvah. She came in last year with no experience or familiarity with addiction. Her experience“was so powerful and captivating. I had never seen anything like Beit T’Shuvah before and wanted to experience again,” she says. She came back this year with an eagerness to learn even more. “This year we made a point to ingratiate ourselves more into the community whereas last year, we were more flies on the wall, especially because I’m not really the type to just go up and introduce myself so it’s been helpful to get more involved,” she says with excitement.

Sophie has been connected to BTS since she was a child. Her uncle and cousin came through the program, as did her brother, who now works at BTS as an addiction counselor.Sophie’s mother is the creator of Baked T’Shuvah, the challah baking program for the residents. It’ssafe to say that she is no stranger to addiction. She is about to go into her senior year at Chapman University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Social Justice and plans to get an MSW. The internship is the perfect venue for Sophie to explore her passions. This time around she notes that “this place is always in flux. It’s constantly changing which I think is great but also hard because change is hard for everyone, especially for those in recovery.” She goes on to further explain that “we get the privilege of being here. We get to learn. This year my goal was to be more of an asset to Beit T’Shuvah.” As she says this, Nicole and Zohar jokingly remind her that she has become the “momma duck” of the interns. Sophie has found a lot of connection in the men’s gambling group and women’s dialectical behavior therapy group this year. “It’s really raw and real, every time,” she says.

The girls take away a lot from sitting in on the groups with the residents. “Not just with addicts, but with any marginalized group, I think there is a lot more that connects us than separates us,” says Nicole. Sophie chimes in that there is a line, propagated by society, that creates us vs. them. This internship provides an immersive experience for the women to see themselves in the “other” and find the resonant connections in humans, addict and normies, alike. Nicole further adds, “anyone can become anything, the lines that separate us are very thin.”

As I sat with them, the idea of connection came up a lot. Sophie still has college to attend and Nicole and Zohar will go back to high school. School, of course, can be challenging socially; kids are cliquey and judgemental. “Being here has taught me to look past my judgement,” says Nicole. “As Harriet says, everyone should be in recovery, even if they’re not an addict. The things I learn here at Beit T’Shuvah, I intend to utilize them for the rest of my life. This place reminds me I have a lot of personal work to do,” Sophie adds.

Having more compassion and less judgment is difficult, especially for those in college and high school. “It’s not something one person can do by themselves. There has to be a mindset, and it takes time to process that. With social media, everything is about how it looks on the outside,” Zohar explains. She continues, “I think eliminating us vs. them, putting aside judgement and how something looks on the outside is a really helpful mindset that I want to take with me.”

Sophie continues on that social media connection is like a band-aid effect—it is a hasty solution that covers up the symptoms but does little or nothing to mitigate the underlying problem. “There is a facade of connection… with social media and our generation, it revolves entirely around the ‘appearance’ of connection,” she says. Sophie further explains how seeing addicts realize they had false connections while in their addiction and the awareness of that emptiness gives them the opportunity to actually grow something meaningful and real as they connect to their new community.

Zohar’s four-week internship comes to an end this week where she will soon be traveling to Costa Rica to teach English and build schools. Zohar’s time here has helped her recognize that “there is a big stigma around addiction. Spending time here helped me realize the importance of trying to lift that stigma for people. Addiction is something you can’t control.”

For Sophie and Nicole, who will be staying on for the rest of the summer, Beit T’Shuvah has taught them one of life’s great lessons, that we can always be learning. “I thought I knew about addiction. Its been in my family for my entire life and there is a little bit of an entitlement that comes with that,” says Sophie. “I know about addiction. I didn’t think I had anything else to learn and that’s just silly. Even people who struggle with addiction are constantly learning about it. Beit T’Shuvah has taught me I can constantly be learning, this place brings me back to earth.” Nicole adds, “I’m just really grateful I get to do something so immersive and hands on. A lot of my friends are just working away dealing with papers and filing this summer, so I’m incredibly grateful to have an active role here.”

We are extremely grateful to have these wonderful interns be a part of our community. But more than that, we are thankful and excited that they can take the messages from Beit T’Shuvah into the world and hopefully diminish that line between us and them.