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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Benyamin Bresinger

How I ended up speaking to Rabbinical students in rural Quebec

The day started off with me feeling "less than."

That weekend, there had been for an International Chabad Conference of over 5,000 Rabbis and organizational leaders from around the world.

You would think that following such a conference, I would feel a sense of rejuvenation. Instead, I began judging. Comparing my insides to my colleagues' outsides. I called a friend and shared my feelings of inadequacy. He responded that the Lubavitcher Rebbe (of blessed memory), who sent me to work at Chabad Lifeline and is my spiritual guide and mentor, once said that answer to negative feelings is to immediately channel them into positive action. Nothing is by chance After hanging up, I pondered his words. As a Chassidic Jew, I immerse in a ritual bath (called a Mikveh) each morning, using that time to purify my spirit and mind. I left to go to the Mikveh. There are several communal Mikvehs near where I live, including the large bath used by most members of my community, but I prefer a small but comfortable Mikveh that someone built in the basement of his home. It's usually empty, has heated floors, and isn't far from where I work. I entered the Mikveh dressing room. Inside was one other man, Rabbi Yehuda Dahan. In 2003, Rabbi Dahan opened a Yeshiva (school of religious Jewish study) in Napierville, Quebec, about a 45 minute drive from Montreal. We chatted for a bit, and Rabbi Dahan invited me to speak to his students about addiction. I asked, "when?" "Tonight." I thought about what my friend had told me about 20 minutes earlier, recognized the opportunity to take immediate action,and told him I'll be there. A Rabbinical school in rural Quebec

It was my first time visiting Napierville and its Yeshiva. Napierville is a small town with one grocery store. The storekeeper speaks French, English, and also knows a couple words in Yiddish. The Yeshiva is in what was once a large cottage. Around 30 students spend their days studying Chassidic philosophy, the Talmud, and Jewish ethics & law. In their spare time, they play basketball and hockey, and have their own Chassidic band. Speaking to the students, I was amazed. A couple of them were exactly the kind of youth my heart goes out to. My passion has always been the innocent victim, the hidden child. The kid who has an older sibling who is out of control, or serious family issues that leaves them forgotten. I was once that child. I know the pain. And I know how to help them.

Our film makes an impact After speaking with them for over an hour about spirituality and sharing my own struggles, I decided to do something unplanned and a little outside the box. Our film that we premiered in the Museum of Fine Arts highlights a the story of a child lost and alone amidst great family turmoil caused by addiction. I presented the film. The silence following the screening was powerful. They were clearly affected strongly.  I waited a couple of moments to let its impact sink in, then asked an open question. "What's your takeaway from this film?" Their responses were insightful. One of them said, "the most important thing to do when you're hurting is find someone to talk to." I was blown away. That was our intended message. That you're only as sick as your secrets. And if you can find someone trustworthy to speak to, it begins the path to recovery. It's time to educate As I drove home, I thought to myself, hold on. I'm advising them to find a mentor to speak to, but are the mentors available to these children capable of handling the information they may receive? How would a Rabbi and educator respond if a teen would open up about something shameful? During the 45 minute drive, an idea formed. I want to make a symposium. Bring down a respected speaker and expert on addiction such as Rabbi Shais Taub, and gather first responders in the Jewish community. Mentors, Rabbis and teachers. Train them in identifying signs of addiction, how to remain non-judgmental and positive, how to respond in a healthy and professional manner, and when to refer students for further help. The idea is still in formation. I'd love to bring in Eli Nash, a former Yeshiva student in Montreal who spoke in the Museum of Fine Arts at our film presentation. I'm working on making it happen. The lesson I've learned is that when you feel like you're not doing enough, get out and do more.  What action will you take today?

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