John Ostland spent 11 years, off and on in prison because of his drug addiction. He would steal anything of value to get money for his habit.
Four years ago, he found Chabad's residential drug treatment center. Now, Ostland works at the center. Sober and self-confident, his work includes making bank deposits for the center.
In a large,nondescript white building at the corner of Olympic and Hauser boulevards, Chabad's 42-bed facility houses recovering addicts from across the country. They come from the East Coast, Canada and South America to heal here. From wherever they come, the trip is worth it -- Chabad boasts a recovery rate of better than 90 percent. In 25 years, Chabad has produced more than a few John Ostlands.
Only in the past three years has Chabad found this level of success. As the program has come into its own after years in cramped quarters, Chabad found and purchased the large building on Olympic. Now they have enough beds for addicts in the first stages of recovery, along with a sober-living facility for "graduates" of the program to stay within the supportive environment as they return to jobs and possible tempting situations.
Chabad's Rabbi Yossi Cunin credits the center's success to the unique and highly practical three-part program of Jewish values with optional Jewish study, an Alcoholics Anonymous-style 12-step program and moral-development counseling.
"I mostly come by just to chat, to give these guys the feeling that the outside world cares," Cunin says. "As much as they like to, they can make use of my knowledge."
He adds that soon after Chabad began trying to help drug addicts, "they recognized that it was beyond their own capability, just for them to express religious aspects it wouldn't cure them, that they would need a professional therapy, 12 steps, whatnot, to get them through. If you really want to help them, you have to be able to deal with these addictions that they have."
Part of the help addicts get comes from Clinical Director Donna Miller. She leads individual therapy sessions with the residents, stressing what she calls moral development.
"I'm a lot about values, and filling that spiritual void that drugs have been filling," she explains. "What are you here for? Is it the party, to get the girl, to get the Porsche? Or are you here for another purpose?
"That's where a lot of Torah values come in, because they reinforce that. What are we here for? We're here to fix ourselves and help others. How do you do that? Acts of kindness and appropriate communication," Miller says.
The individual therapy sessions can work for an addict with a lifetime of religious study or none at all. "I love to incorporate love of Torah and Jewish values in with therapy," says Miller.
But the Chabad program also serves non-Jews as well. More important than Jewish study is "a strong spiritual guideline and focus," Miller adds.
The third figure in Chabad's triumvirate of recovery is the center's recovery manager, Eitan Garbi, whose task is to lead residents through the 12 steps to recovery, a path he has walked himself.
With his deep tan and open, casual manner, Garbi looks more like a surfing instructor than the caring counselor the center's residents describe. But at 51, this cat is well into his nine lives.
Born in Givata'aim, Israel, Garbi came to Los Angeles in 1974 and soon built up a multimillion dollar import-export company. He lived in an eight-bedroom Beverly Hills mansion; a collection of luxury models cars in his office speaks of his early success.
But when friends introduced him to cocaine, he discovered the depths of dependency. In 12-years of spiraling deeper into addiction, losing his business and his family, Garbi maintained the popular lie: "I do drugs in Beverly Hills, so I'm not a junkie." After getting clean with Chabad's help, Garbi thought the program would be more effective with a 12-step program to counteract "the guilt, the shame and, most of all, the blame" he sees impeding many addicts' recoveries.
Ostland has had the benefit of all three of the Chabad program's recovery methods. "I didn't have too much Jewish religion when I came here," he says. He also lacked the sense of self-worth and being loved that can come with community.
"It's the values and the conditions," he says. "It gives you some sense of value, that you're needed. It's a good program."
Like many who end up in the Chabad program, Ostland had tried other methods of quitting, but found something at Chabad that finally helped him stay sober. "The way everything fits together with Donna and Eitan, and Rabbi Cunin coming by, it's just like a good family picture. It makes you feel as if you belong somewhere. I know I belong. I believe wholeheartedly that I can do anything I want."
Jewish moral values, combined with a 12-step program and social counseling help both Jewish and non-Jewish addicts to lead productive lives. "It did more than help me." Ostland says. "It saved me. It gave me a life again."
For more information on Chabad's program, call (323) 965-1365.