Ruth Weinberger shares Chabad Lifeline memories as she retires
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
How would you respond to terror?
On September 11, 2001, terrorists from Al Qaida hijacked airplanes and carried out the deadliest attack in United States history, changing the world forever.
At the time, Ruth Weinberger was pursuing a career in the textiles industry. As she watched the Twin Towers collapse, she resolved to use all her power to make the world a better place.
The following weeks were fraught with fear and uncertainty throughout the world. And on a windy autumn day, Ruth contacted an addictions crisis centre to ask if they had a job opening for a Counsellor.
20 years later, as Ruth goes into retirement, we chatted with her about her experiences at Chabad Lifeline to gain insight into how she became a vital part of the organization, and what led her to positively impact so many lives.
The early years of Chabad Lifeline
Ruth always had an interest in helping people. In 1992, Concordia University presented her with the A. Ross Seaman Leadership Award for her work in developing drug education and drug prevention projects with adolescents at Outremont and Program Mile-End of the Protestant School Board. She also designed and implemented projects for women with addictions at Sun Youth, Auberge Shalom Shelter and Tanguay Women’s Detention Centre in Montreal.
Project PRIDE (Chabad Lifeline's former name) was located at the time in a duplex on Marlowe Avenue near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The Director was not looking to hire at the time, so when Ruth appeared asking about a job, he told her that nothing was available.
Ruth immediately responded, "I'd be happy to stick around and volunteer."
Over the next few months, Ruth became an integral part of Project PRIDE. "I helped, and I loved it," she recalled with a laugh. "And we saved many people."
The success was based on several factors, including the fact that the home created a safe and non-clinical atmosphere. Project PRIDE's philosophy, developed by Founder and Executive Director Rabbi Ronnie Fine, is another reason for the incredible success. "Our work was about helping people, it was all about connection," Ruth said. "Come in, let's talk. Let's go to a meeting. We used to chat outside, smoking cigarettes."
The secret to Ruth's city-wide connections
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other fellowships held daily meetings at the bottom of the duplex, which worked out perfectly for Ruth. "We would send clients who were hanging around all day downstairs to their meetings," she said. "I often chatted in the backyard with people who attended the meetings."
Thanks to those meetings, Ruth developed many connections with organizations and professionals across the city. Connections she would put to use when helping clients.
Rabbi Fine hired Ruth after several months of volunteering. She had no job description other than "continue helping people," and she loved her work. "It was just helping people. Very raw. Working until exhaustion," she admitted. "The volunteering and my eventual job was a way of giving back, and it was really fulfilling."
Then the Queen Elizabeth went private and they sold the duplex. Project PRIDE was forced to move, and Rabbi Fine found an office in a building on Mountain Sights near the Namur metro station.
The new office came with very unique challenges for an organization helping people affected by addiction.
You can't make this up!
At the time, Project PRIDE hosted Gamblers Anonymous meetings. One day, the person running the meetings approached Ruth to inform her that they would have to find a new location for their meetings.
"The 4th floor of the building had a popular poker room," Ruth recalled with a laugh. "He told me, 'we can't meet here anymore. I myself lost a hundred grand in this building!'"
There was also a telemarketing office in the building whose employees smoked pot while they worked. Because of the air vents, wafts of marijuana would often seep into Project PRIDE's offices.
Rabbi Fine quickly found a new location for the organization, on Queen Mary near Westbury.
Getting advanced certification while working full time
For some reason, Project PRIDE's clientele at their Queen Mary location was very rough. "Some of them had done 20 years in prison," said Ruth. "They were a rough crowd, but somehow I helped many of them get better. And lots of people got sober when we were on Queen Mary."
Smoking was allowed in the Queen Mary building, which meant that when visitors opened the front door, they would be greeted with a large wave of cigarette smoke. During that time, Ruth decided to get advanced certifications. She studied hard and earned her ICADC (International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counsellor), CCAC (Certified Canadian Addiction Counsellor), and CFLE (Certified Family Life Educator). She also received Telehealth Addiction Certification (which allowed her to provide therapy over a phone or computer). Project PRIDE was located on Queen Mary for several years. "At one point we were between Directors for two months, and I basically ran the place," Ruth recalled. "Then thank G-d, Rabbi Fine brought in Benyamin and Karen Bresinger. They instituted amazing changes the organization, and all for the better."
The immediate impact of the Bresingers The Bresingers brought more structure to the organization and made numerous changes to Project PRIDE, including hiring qualified, highly educated therapists. "We began doing intakes, screenings, assessments, patient history, team management, and so much more," Ruth said. "Somewhere during that process I was placed in charge of intake." When the Bresingers arrived, they approached Ruth with a question. "I was just reminding them recently how they both came into my office, and they said, "Ruth, you've been here a long time. If you could wish for anything at all for this organization, what would you wish for?" "At the time, we would have to leave the building because they were going to do renovations. I told them, "after three moves and another one coming up, my biggest dream would be a home of its own." "And then it happened! From Queen Mary we moved to our current location!" The new location, on the Jewish General Hospital Complex, has been perfect. It's inside a beautiful residential house which helps build the feeling of family and comfort. It's where Project PRIDE was rebranded Chabad Lifeline and it's our current location today.
Programs at Chabad Lifeline that Ruth founded and ran Ruth is responsible for creating and implementing several programs that are both unique and wildly successful. One of those is the Tuesday noon open speaker meetings, which has evolved and now takes place twice a week thanks to a push by Jason Stein (who runs the open speaker meeting on Thursday evenings at 7:00. NOTE: Both meetings are currently on zoom during the pandemic. Tuesdays at noon via https://zoom.us/j/698469381 and Thursdays at 7 via https://zoom.us/j/845365018). The meeting began back when Chabad Lifeline was called Project PRIDE, located on Queen Mary. "It grew organically," Ruth recalled. "People would meet with their Counsellors and then hang around, so I decided that if they're hanging around, we might as well make a meeting." These meetings are quite unique. "In 12 step fellowships, they also have open meetings where family members can attend for celebrations or the like," she explained. "What's unique about us - and I think we are still the only ones who do this - is that we look at all addictions in our meetings. "If you're at an AA meeting for example and you also have a drug addiction, you'll speak only or primarily about your alcoholism. You'll leave out the drugs or change them to alcohol, which can make you feel uncomfortable. Same goes for other fellowships like NA or GA. But from what I've seen with addicts, if you've got one addiction, you've got them all. If you're an alcoholic and you go to a program, you're gonna start using pot or gambling or sex. "At Chabad Lifeline, we treat them all," she continued. "And at our Tuesday meetings, one week the speaker can be a coke addict, another week it could be an alcoholic, another week a gambler, an addiction of a family member, an overeater, et cetera."
The greatest highlights from 20 years at Chabad Lifeline We asked Ruth to share a highlight of her time at Chabad Lifeline. "My biggest highlight was when the Wiltzers (Eddie and Heleena) discovered us," she instantly responded. "If the Bresingers put us on the map, the Wiltzers took us to another level. I remember the first time I met Mrs Wiltzer. She was running around moving paintings. I said to the rabbi, "who is this lady? I love her energy!" She was up on a chair. I had no idea who she was." "Another high point for me was working for over 20 years with people affected by addiction, some of whom were very hardcore and rough, and yet I was always respected," Ruth said. "My oldest son once popped in for a visit and one of those rough guys - big, muscular, gold teeth, tattoos - he told my son, 'I'm really scared of your mother. She gives me a look, I am terrified.' My son answered, 'oh yeah? Then you need to meet my grandmother!'" After 20 years, Ruth decided to call it quits to spend more time with her family, and her mother in particular. Her last staff meeting was emotional, particularly when the Bresingers presented her with a beautiful parting gift - a commissioned painting by world-renowned artist Haim Sherff with a quote from the Talmud. It reads, "whoever saves one life saves the entire world." The painting was presented over zoom, and delivered to her house shortly thereafter. She has since hung it on her wall, between her certificates.
If there is anyone the quote exemplifies, it's Ruth. She has saved the lives of many. She has saved worlds. Worlds of all backgrounds, worlds that have been inspired by her to save more worlds.
From all the staff at Chabad Lifeline, we would like to wish you a happy and healthy retirement, Ruth!