Shanda: It’s No Shame and We’re Talking All the Time

We held a program on Sunday, November 9, 2014 called Shanda: What We Don’t Talk About. Shanda means shame and we took on three subjects, all intersecting in the souls of many of the people I hang out with; three difficult subjects all associated with the notion of shanda. Shame.

My colleague Maharat Rori Picker Neiss opened with a teaching from Brakhot 5b in the Talmud, a well-known teaching about suffering. The question: is your suffering dear to you? No, nothing about it, no way. Still, the rabbis in the story were suffering and what revived them? They reminded each other what they already knew, and they extended a hand, one hand picking up another. Get up, here, take this hand. You know how to do this.

We followed with several speakers who trusted the confidentiality of the room and spoke their own stories, from the source, true and sometimes difficult. Living with mental illness, living with addiction, working that, the daily challenge of living with these difficulties, spending time in prison, and I introduced my friend who brought me into the first shanda obstacle we took on: addiction. That was over thirty years ago.

When I came to St. Louis in 1981, Rose Mass was a recent graduate of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work where she was given the charge by her teacher, Laura Root, to take to her community what she had learned about breaking the shame barrier around alcoholism and chemical dependency. You need to do this for the Jewish people, Rose heard, and she launched. When I arrived, she said to me, you’re the one I’ve been waiting for.

Rose and I started in 1981 with SLICHA, the St. Louis Information Committee and Hotline on Addiction. We met in a room that the JCC rented to us where they held an adult day care program by day. We gave our talk about alcoholism and chemical dependency to each other on the first Thursday of the month. No one came. Rose, I said, we’re doing the right thing. If a few people came, I might say it’s not right. But no one is coming. We’re onto something.

We were working the shame barrier so deep we had to sit and deliver our talk to each other for about a year until people started to come. Then they started to come and once they did they haven’t stopped. It’s 2014 as I am writing this, and except for a few years hiatus and a change of name to Shalvah (Shalvah means serenity in Hebrew) we’ve been meeting weekly on Thursday nights in various locations ever since.

This was some good news in the days’ activities. A model. I bet a thousand people have passed through our doors in the Shalvah addictions outreach over the years. Not everyone gets well, alcoholism and chemical dependency is tough and life challenging for an entire lifetime, we get a daily reprieve not a cure when we get it, but we have been a part of saving lives. We have also lost lives. We end every meeting by remembering those who are not with us, but we are all confident we are doing the highest work and we are aware that lives hang in the balance.

I made this statement and I believe it: because of the efforts of our groups over the years: there is not a better place in the world for a Jewish person to recover from drug and alcohol abuse than St. Louis, Missouri. That was one of the better stories of the afternoon.

My colleague and wife Susan Talve spoke about some of her experiences working in and around these problems, some of the wisdom she has applied in her life and her work to help other people suffering underneath the shanda curtain of shame.

We left time for talk-talk with each other at the end. I made up a document with pieces I have written about the three subjects: incarceration, addiction, and mental illness-mental health. Everyone got a booklet to take home.

And I handed out a pledge and asked everyone to take the pledge. Here is the pledge:

 

Take the Pledge

 

  • I pledge to bring someone in. If I light a candle, I will share the light.
  • I will be a reminder in every way I can to my family, friends, and community: we have these problems, they are difficult, but there is no shame attached to them and we live in a Big Tent.
  • We can live with our problems.
  • I pledge to break the *shanda* barrier, which means:
  • Talk, talk, and more talk.
  • I pledge to remind my community that we are working our problems, that being secret may be part of the problem, therefore:
  • I will not practice aloneness. I will talk with somebody. I will pick up the telephone.

 

  • Shanda means shame. It’s an obstacle to healthy living.

 

Not too long ago, we were sitting in our regular Thursday night Shalvah meeting where it is currently housed, in my synagogue, Congregation Neve Shalom. We meet in the Covenant House complex, in the rear, near the Jewish Light office. Rose had joined us that night; she long retired now but every once in a while she calls me for a ride and I bring her to the meeting that she and I started in 1981.

As we were sitting there listening, I realized, it just had not occurred to me before, we were sitting in the exact same space where we first met in 1981, when the JCC gave us a little used room to hold our monthly meetings.

 

Oh my God, I said to Rose, this is where we started.

 

 

 

Rabbi James Stone Goodman

 

1 Comment

  1. Very nice photos. Location is St. Moritz, Switzerland. I like your blog! I am aldaery curious to see the photos of your new apartment.Best wishes from Switzerland. Nik

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