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by BigMike Gondelman on Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 4:24pm
Saturday night, just after Shabbos ended, I found out that Amy Winehouse was dead at 27. My first reaction was to do what I, as a Jew, do whenever I hear such news. I said the Hebrew prayer Baruch Dayan Emet — Blessed is the True Judge. My next reaction was to feel angry and sick. And that’s what I can’t figure out.
I mean, in my work with Jewish addicts, I hear about the deaths of bright, young, talented people as often as my more conventional colleagues deal with weddings and bar-mitzvahs. It’s just a cold, hard fact of dealing with addicts. Addicts die. No matter how many times I watch it happen, it always hurts. But, at the same time, it doesn’t shock me anymore.
And yet, when I heard about this 27-year-old Jewish girl’s death, it felt different. I felt confounded. But why? I have seen this happen before. In a grim sort of way, the only “news” to me about Amy’s death is the date. After all, what really could have stopped this from happening? The only time I have ever seen recovery in a case like Amy’s is by an act of God. That might sound kooky to most people, but if you’ve ever seen an addict come back from death’s door, you’ll know it doesn’t happen because one day they just decide to clean up their act and get their life together. Oh sure, there are people who “get in trouble with drugs” and then get scared straight. But addicts, real addicts, don’t get scared away from addiction too long. Barring miracles, real addicts play for keeps.
One of the axioms of recovery is that the addict is beyond human aide and that’s why addicts need a “higher power” to live. You can call that hocus-pocus. I call it an everyday reality. There is no fact more real to me than the idea that no human power can stand up against the power of addiction. Sometimes I think of it as a giant black hole that can devour the light of a thousand suns and remain just as unfathomably black as if no sun had ever shone at all. It is an insatiable vortex that mercilessly consumes every iota of strength that human power can muster. We throw love at it. We throw loyalty at it. We scream at it. We bargain with it. We fight it. And when we just can’t fight it anymore, we swear to ignore it, to never let it hurt us again, that is, until it pulls us back in.
For those who have only observed the chaotic drama of addiction from a safe distance, let me tell you that the concept of it being a “family disease” is painfully true. The insanity of active “codependence” is just as gruesome a spectacle to behold as the addict’s own downward spiral. To watch a life wasted trying to stop the unstoppable is something that can just tear your heart out. We learn that all we can do is carry the message of recovery, which is that if the addict can find a Higher Power, they can live a long, happy life. And if not, well, no other power in the universe can stop this terminal disease from running its course.
And that’s why I think Amy’s death is hitting me hard. A 27-year-old girl just died of addiction in front of the whole world. Millions of people saw this happening. And nobody could stop it. The world couldn’t stop it! For me, the futility of human power has just taken on a completely new dimension.
I’ll tell you what intensifies this realization is the fact that it’s 2011 and the world has become a tiny, little place. Within seconds we all know minutiae from events that take place on the other side of the planet to people we don’t even know. Over the ages, plenty of famous people have died young while in the public eye. But with Amy’s death, we saw the thing unravel in unflinching detail. We were all watching — every horrible minute of it. And nobody could stop it from happening.
When a young person, or even a not-so-young person, dies from this disease, I try to tell the family, “You know that you could not have stopped this. There is nothing more you could have done or not done. This was beyond us.” And when I say it, I mean it. Because I know how puny and worthless our efforts are when trying to fight this disease. I know that what is needed is a Higher Power.
And yet, I think somewhere deep down, a part of me may still have believed that the combined power of millions of human beings might theoretically be able to do what a smaller number of people cannot. Today, I have been given proof that it’s just not so.
King Solomon said, “The living shall take it to heart.” There is a lesson to be learned from every death. To anybody out there going through the living hell of active addiction — whether you yourself are an addict or you are someone who loves an addict — here is my message to you. Please know that it’s not that you haven’t tried everything there is to try. It’s not that you’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, determined enough. You could multiply your efforts and your will power by literally a million times, you could have the whole world on your side, and still face the same heartbreaking outcome in the end. But there is hope. Let Amy’s example not be in vain. There is a Power greater than all of us. May all those who seek in truth find that Power now.
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