CLEVELAND – Cleveland is now the first Jewish community in the country to break the silence around opioid misuse and addiction within the Jewish community.

Out of the roughly 820 overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County in 2017, the Jewish Federation believes at least 50 of those people were from the Jewish community.

Over this Shabbat weekend and next weekend, ten temples and synagogues are holding seminars and programs to address the opioid crisis — and to get people help.

“We want in our synagogue, in our Jewish Federation, in our Jewish community to admit, with candor and with honesty, we need help to respond to this crisis,” said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk of the Fairmount Temple in Beachwood.

“There’s a Jewish teaching that says if you save one life, it is as though you have saved the entire world. We see this as a life or death moment,” he added.

For Sheryl Hirsh, it is a way to make sure her daughter’s life wasn’t lost in vain.

Melissa suffered from migraines starting at the age of three. As she grew older, the pain only got worse. At age 21, a neurologist prescribed her painkillers, including OxyConton. Soon, Melissa became addicted and eventually, she began using heroin. It was a secret her parents never knew until her overdose.

Melissa overdosed in her bed at her parent’s home in May of 2013, just a month before her 24th birthday.

“I just never thought it would be my child. Who thinks, whoever thinks that it’s their child?” Hirsh said.

“Everyone says you can’t blame yourself, you can’t blame yourself, but you know what? When you’re a mother, you can’t help but blame yourself,” she added, tearfully. “There’s a certain piece when you become a parent that you’re always supposed to protect your children and here’s a place where I just couldn’t protect her.”

So now, Hirsh works to protect others from the same tragic fate. She is one the speakers at the seminars at the synagogues and temples, along with other survivors of the opioid crisis.

“Save one life, and I’m happy. Help one person, and I’m good,” she said.

Below is the schedule:

·         Suburban Temple/Kol Ami, Shabbat evening services on March 16 at 6:00 p.m.
·         B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, Shabbat morning services on March 17 at 9:00 a.m.
·         Beth El Akron, Shabbat morning services on March 17 at 9:15 a.m.
·         Beth-Israel/The West Temple, Shabbat morning services on March 17 at 11:00 a.m.
·         Cedar-Sinai Synagogue, Panelists after morning services on March 17 at 9:00 a.m.
·         The Temple-Tifereth Israel, Shabbat evening services on March 23 at 6:00 p.m.
·         Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Shabbat evening services on March 23 at 6:15 p.m.
·         Congregation Sha’arey Tikvah on March 24 at 9:00 a.m.
·         Kol HaLev, Shabbat morning services on March 24 at 10:30 a.m.
·         Park Synagogue East, Shabbat morning services on March 24 at 9:00 a.m.
(*as of publication)