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33 years later, Rabbi Bresinger returns to college

Wednesday, 30 January, 2019 - 3:45 pm

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Chabad Lifeline started on a college campus. Recently, our Director Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger returned to his alma mater for the first time in 33 years.

We sat down with Rabbi Bresinger to discuss the reason for his return, what has changed at Concordia, and the time he laid a mattress in his school office.

Q. What brought you back to Concordia for the first time in 33 years?

I was asked to participate in a panel on addiction that Concordia University was putting on for winter orientation, to build awareness around addiction and recovery, and inform students about services and resources in the city.

They recognized that we are one of the top organizations in Montreal on the forefront of building awareness and tackling the stigma of addiction so they reached out to to see if I could discuss how society can address the needs of addiction.

Q. What did you talk about?

I spoke about the approach that we have at Chabad Lifeline, which is a non-judgmental, abstinence-based, 12-step friendly, individual counselling and group therapy, outpatient program. I explained that we are unique in that we provide immediate access, no waiting list, and no cost to anyone coming in for an intake and screening. We are also connected to tremendous resources in the city.

Q. Did you address any questions from the audience?

One of the questions asked to the panel was the role of spirituality in recovery. I spoke about my background, and how I came to pastoral counseling. As a student from Rabbinical school, my interest was piqued when I was first introduced to the 12-step community back in the early '90s. I shared how I was taken by the spiritual integrity, the rigorous honesty, and the importance of developing a relationship with a higher power, which are the core beliefs of the 12 steps.

As a Jew involved in the Jewish community's spiritual growth back in New Jersey where I was assigned by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, those core beliefs intrigued me. My wife also got involved and went back to school where she got a Master's in Social Work with a focus on helping family members of people with addiction.

It's interesting. I left Montreal in 1986-1987, the year I graduated Concordia. As soon as I graduated, I traveled to Jerusalem to study in Rabbinical school for the first time. It was my first real exposure to Judaism, and from there I gained an appreciation and passion for learning more about my Jewish faith.

Then, three or four years later, I was introduced to the 12-step culture and my two passions together became integrated in my personal and communal work. 

Q: Does Chabad Lifeline only help Jews?

Absolutely not. It's for everybody, and although we are a Jewish organization, we see addiction as a disease, and therefore must be treated by professional clinicians without a religious bend.

Q. Is it true that you haven't been back in 33 years? 

I passed by the hall building downtown and once looked in the window, but I haven't been back. No reunions or alumni gatherings. I did get a letter from the President of the University last year congratulating me for the communal work I'm doing as an alumni. That was really nice. 

Q. You graduated Concordia in which program?

Political science. I was always interested in the study of power. Political science is the study of the ability of A to make B do C. Then in Rabbinical school I discovered that ultimately there is a greater power, and He - A, has us - B, do his will - C, to produce the ultimate destiny of humanity.

Q. What was your experience like in Concordia?

I was in student government. I had some very special relationships and mentors who were university professors. One of them in particular was instrumental in me traveling abroad, which led me to Jerusalem. He was actually a Lebanese Arab named Dr. Henry Habib, who was Chairman of Political Science.

Q. What was it like returning for the first time in 33 years?

When I was a student, there were no cell phones, let alone computers. The biggest difference for me was that there was a lot more sitting space on the floors. I took our "you don't have to be alone again" flyer and posted 20 of them all over the building while I was there, at least one on each floor.

One thing that amazed me was that I was curious about how I would be seen as a Chassidic-looking Jew walking around Concordia. I walked up and down each floor to put up the posters, but barely anyone looked up from their screens. No one looking up at all is a totally different experience than when I was there. We didn't have screens.

When I was a student, I spent a lot of time on the Loyola Campus. I had an office there, and I put a mattress on the floor of my office and slept there. That building I believe has since been demolished. When I go bike riding, I pass Loyola, but I haven't been inside.

Q. After the panel discussion, did anyone come over to talk to you?

Several people. As a matter of fact, four people Chabad Lifeline has helped were in the crowd. They are now students at Concordia, and they came to the talk. It was nice seeing them.

Others also approached me, and after the talk, we got a few phone calls from students reaching out for help. What's great is that moving forward, we are working on meeting with the Concordia Counselling Centre to do a presentation and help them understand how to help people with addiction who come to them for counselling.


Read a detailed report of the panel discussion from the Concordia Link here.

If you would like Chabad Lifeline to present to your school, company, or group, send us a message here.

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