Shalvah Program of Congregation Neve Shalom

Shalvah meets every Thursday, 7 to 8 PM @ Neve Shalom

And every Monday, 6:30 to 7:30 at CRC

Welcome to The Shalvah Program of Congregation Neve Shalom. Shalvah means “serenity” in Hebrew. Shalvah is dedicated to teaching the strategies to help individuals, their families, friends, and communities, work themselves free of the problems associated with addiction.

The above is how we begin our meeting every Thursday night at the synagogue that I call Shalvah. The meeting is a transformative circle within which individuals grow and change in often astonishing ways. It is a circle of non-theoretical teshuvah, in every sense.

Every meeting begins with the above Preamble, often followed by a teaching relating recovery wisdom to Jewish wisdom, then followed by a speaker (one of the group). The meeting sounds and feels much like an AA meeting, or Alanon (we all meet together, recovering addicts and family members) but it’s not AA or Alanon. It’s Shalvah and we have developed our own guidelines.

We run an ad once a month in the local Jewish paper but most people find their way to us through reputation. The meeting has begun to attract non-Jews as well. We welcome everyone. Some of our teachings can be found on the synagogue web site and on my blog, (see category “Recovering”).

We have been successful in every way. In this series, we have been meeting every Thursday night. We recently added another meeting on Monday night. How do we define success? Only one way, led by the Psalmist (90:17), through the works of our hands. It’s been life changing.

Shalvah teaches an integrated approach, combining spiritual and psychological resources, acting as a bridge between the recovery model and the daily spiritual remedies of Judaism (and other traditions).

Shalvah was organized in 1998 as a project of Congregation Neve Shalom, to claim the healing work of recovery for the synagogue.

Shalvah was preceded by Slicha, the St. Louis Information Committee and Hotline on Addiction, an effort organized by Rose Mass, LCSW, and Rabbi James Goodman in 1981. Slicha held weekly meetings, educating community professionals, care-givers, parents, schools and children to be pro-active with strategies as well as to respond to problems occasioned by substance abuse.

The Shalvah program of Congregation Neve Shalom is hosting a weekly meeting, designed for those suffering from problems associated with alcoholism and chemical dependency, family members, and friends. The purpose of the meeting is to connect traditional spiritual resources with the Twelve Step model.

If you would like to be on our mailing list, you can send an e-mail address to Rabbi Goodman.

From Suicide and Other Difficult Subjects


In the group that I lead on Thursday nights, Shalvah (serenity in Hebrew) we are familiar with the subject of suicide and whenever it comes up it tends to take over the meeting.

The meeting is basically a teaching and a sharing, support in the simple sense that we show up for each other. We listen, we understand, we are understood. We get why we need each other. Also true: we need each other because we get each other. The first thing we learn in the group is to listen. From there we come to understand each other – to know and to be known -- and that may be the most important element of our success.

I feel the proximity of laughter and tears at our meetings, they are right next to each other at the table of human responses to the challenges of living. Tears are sitting in one seat at the table, right next to tears is laughter and the distinction between the two is subtle. You might think you’re sitting in the tears spot and a moment later you’re cracking up and you realize you are in the next seat laughing. We are alternately serious and silly, sometimes at the same time, one eye laughing one eye crying.

Every suicide is a trigger for the discussion of the group, a kind of wrinkle in the cosmic order for all, because everyone around the table has stood at the crossroads of life and death and every person at the table has chosen life. And we all know people who have chosen otherwise.

But taking one’s own life is always a challenge, the breath of the beast rarely if ever that far behind us that we are immune. Everyone at the table is vigilant. Daily.

I didn’t know him but I knew him. I bet his interior was painfully soft and vulnerable, sometimes hidden and unknown. I look at his sweet face and I see his soul.

Our group has heart for the stranger because we are all strangers. We do not judge. We show up for each other. I really don’t know what was in that poor man’s heart but I do believe he died alone. At the moment before it became irreversible, he didn’t call someone. His beloveds will suffer from that for a long time.

We don’t have an antidote. We have each other. Yes, I think lives are saved around our tables but we have no certainty. We have the group. We do not practice aloneness, and we talk about a spiritual thing, not a religious thing. We have today, and that becomes enough.

james stone goodman, rabbi, human being


Hungry from Ekev, Deuteronomy 7
by James Stone Goodman
"So God afflicted you and made you hungry, and had you eat the manna which you had not known and which your ancestors had not known, in order to make you know that not by bread alone do human beings live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of God do human beings live" (Deut. 8:3).

A human being does not live by bread alone, taken out of context, it is often understood as we do not live only for money, but the whole verse tells us that clearly something else is intended.

The Rabbis (Sifrei on Ekev) noted that Torah is bread, and the
commentaries are additional sustenance, a person does not live by bread alone.

Study the commentaries please, we know this.

The verse also reminds us of the famous saying of R. Elazar b. Azarya in Pirkei Avot (3:21), "if there is no bread, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no bread." What does this mean? Here Torah is not bread, on the contrary, the imagery is of two separate substances, one bread, one Torah. Here
we may understand bread in the common way that Deuteronomy 8:3 is understood: a human being does not live by bread alone, that is bread, sustenance, parnassa, a livelihood, the material necessities.

If so, it is easy to understand the first phrase in Avot, if there is no bread, there is no Torah, because it's tough to be holy when you're hungry. But what does the second part of the R. Elazar's words mean--if there is no Torah, there is no bread?

The Dow free fell three hundred points because Mr. Merrill and Mr. Lynch weren't learning? That's precisely the point, it's not about the Dow, it's about the Tao.

R. Elazar b. Azarya was a 2nd generation Tanna (1-2nd century rabbi) who was a man of wealth and yichus (good genes). He could trace his ancestry back ten generations to Ezra the Scribe. R. Elazar became Nasi (big shot) as a young man, his beard turned white overnight so his colleagues would accept him.
I've seen this happen.

So what did he have in mind when he said, if there is no Torah, there is no bread? For a person with no Torah, any amount of bread is never enough. A person without Torah is a person who remains hungry, dissatisfied. It's about Torah, not about bread. Always hungry, there will never be enough bread to fill the emptiness that only Torah can fill.

There is an emptiness inside of me, a cavern, it will not be filled with bread, with stuff, there is not enough substances to fill that space, this space is vacant for want of Torah, for want of depth, for want of spirit, this space is not hungry for bread, this space is hungry for meaningfulness, for significance, for depth, for Torah.

A human being doesn't live for bread only; a human being lives for
Everything. Only Everything is everything. That's the danger with this kind of hunger, we think we can stuff ourselves with substances.

Drugs won't do it, booze won't do it, sex won't do it, money won't do it, food won't do it, only the living G-d, only Torah, only HaKol, Everything. Not the Dow, only the Tao.

I got a monkey in my soul. "The I is a thief", said the Kotzker, it snatches the partial and mistakes it for the whole. Only Everything is everything. Into an inner emptiness we stuff the partial, we drink into that emptiness, we drug into that emptiness, we work into that emptiness, we eat into that emptiness. Never enough. Only Everything is everything. "Not by bread alone do human beings
live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of G-d do human beings live."

You can't eat enough, you can't drink enough, you can't love enough to satisfy a hunger that isn't physical. "My soul thirsts for G-d, the living G-d" (Psalm 42:3). That's the only remedy, the enduring remedy, the perennial wisdom.

"You will eat but you will be satisfied only when you bless G-d" (Deut. 8:10).

Before we close, we say a prayer for healing

for the healing of the spirit and the healing of the body, for those we know for those we don't know, r'fuat ha-nefesh r'fuat ha-guf,

on my left the angel Michael

on my right the angel Gavriel

in front of me the angel Uriel

behind me the angel Raphael

and above my head --

Shekhinat El.

Lastly, we remember those who have gone before us.

We measure our grief

in years

one year, two years, twenty, thirty five.

I am softening to my sadness


in a year of days

I remember I don't remember

every minute.

I want the seconds back.

These are the chapters of my life.

Master of all the worlds --

do not save me from my tears

let them pour like a fountain

and cleanse me.

Let my tears wash me clean.


Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps — [Step 12]
We are about to have tea. [Ex. 24:10-11]
Muse of rooted serenity and integration
Let peace rise from the kitchen
Let us repair the world from our seats at the table.

Master of the Universe --

Shall we save ourselves and not help others?
We want peace and we want it now
We are starving for it
For it and the living God
For everything that issues from Your mouth. [Deut.8:3]

We will receive each of us to our own capacity [Ex.16:21]
Along this journey of secret destinations
Instruments of the working out of all things partial becoming whole
Schooled by nothing loftier than the poetry of our own lives

Our hearts unzipped because God entered

through our wounds

The last place we expected.