Alyza Berman’s eyes lighted up as she feverishly took notes. “I feel like we could do something big here,” she said. “We can start something. We can do something.”
That was the first time I met her in September 2016 in her office during a follow-up interview to the AJT’s initial stories a year ago about the Jewish Heroin Triangle, which told of opioid addiction and the resources then available to those struggling within the Atlanta Jewish community.
Alyza Berman Milrad, a therapist who goes by her maiden name professionally, was vital to the grief recovery of a Jewish mother who had lost a daughter to an overdose after using heroin only twice.
That mother had contacted the Jewish Times about telling her story, but was comfortable doing so only in the office of her trusted therapist.
Berman, who counsels people with addictions and their families, was that mother’s confidante. The mother said, “Alyza literally saved my life.”
Toward the end of that gut-wrenching interview, the mother, an observant Jew, spoke of the challenges her family encountered in seeking recovery resources and of her daughter’s struggle to keep her Jewish connection while battling drug addiction in Atlanta. She told of her vision for our community.
“Let’s put tachlis in there,” she said as she detailed ways in which the Jewish community could get involved.
Berman agreed that other faith-based organizations had resources and treatment centers, but, aside from HAMSA and a smattering of group meetings, there was nothing specifically Jewish. She said the Jewish community needed treatment centers and intensive outpatient programs because “our Judaism is the way we live, breathe and eat. And it’s about our sense of community, and you cannot go through recovery if you are lacking that.”
That’s when the idea took hold.
I didn’t hear from Berman again until June 8, when she left a voicemail saying, “I wanted to update you on what’s been going on since the article.”
She explained her plan to open that treatment center and said she had a network of rabbis and clinicians on board.
“I’m scared, but I’m just doing it. That article just got me going,” Berman said.
“I wanted you to know it was really from your articles. The series had great impact on a lot of people. … It was from you. You have to give the Jewish Times credit. You wrote those articles, and that was it. I said, ‘We’re doing something!’ ”
After securing financing and overcoming countless obstacles, Berman chose the family name for the center as a tribute to the encouragement and support of her parents, Candy and Steve Berman. Her husband, Justin Milrad, is working by her side as CEO.
The Berman Center opens Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 1200 Ashwood Parkway, Suite 400, in Dunwoody.
A Jewish faith-based intensive outpatient program, or IOP, for adults who suffer from addiction and/or co-occurring diagnoses, which could include anything with mental illness (anxiety, depression, trauma) and eating disorders, the center brings a valuable resource to Atlanta and the Southeast.
The Berman Center will be part of a network of cross-referrals within the Jewish community, partnering with the new Derech Homes Jewish transitional living facility nearby and working with Jewish Family & Career Services, as well as rabbis, synagogues and other resources, to provide addicts and their families the individualized help and treatment programs they need.
The center will also be part of the community’s mental health initiative.
Berman hopes Atlanta will become a destination for Jewish recovery because people in need often cross state lines to find the services and resources they need.
After saying what an amazing community we have in Atlanta, Berman expressed surprise that no one has done this before. According to the center website (www.bermancenteratl.com), she “recognized the need for a model that integrates community, acceptance, Jewish values and teachings, recovery, psychotherapy, and experiential therapies. The Berman Center integrates Jewish values and teachings into our program based on each individual’s level of observance.”
Of the more than 800 religious-based addiction programs in the nation, she only knows of two that have Jewish content, and none in the Southeast.
About the Center
Berman was determined to create a Jewish faith-based IOP that did not feel institutionalized.
A logo with clean lines set in frosted glass welcomes clients to the sparkling center, which occupies 6,000 square feet in a midrise office park. Just beyond the well-appointed foyer and intake room is a recreation room. Complete with a TV, Xbox and massage chair, it is a comfortable place for socializing or hanging out.
The facility has an art therapy and break room and a studio for 12-step warm yoga therapy. Aside from a HIPAA-compliant drug testing facility to protect client confidentiality, there is a large, light-filled group room and a massage therapy room, plus a fitness facility downstairs for personal training.
In keeping with the typical IOP format after detox, groups will meet at the center for three hours three times per week for two months or more. The clients will rotate through individualized tracks of three one-hour sessions of their choice on each meeting day.
Individual and family therapy will be included, and multifamily support groups will be offered.
The Berman Center will offer carefully curated choices conducted by licensed Jewish clinicians with the assistance of an array of rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They have all volunteered to rotate in to lead groups on Fridays (except on Jewish holidays) and provide additional support as needed. Their sessions will focus on modern issues as seen through a Jewish lens.
This structure works well within the IOP framework. Because they are now aware of the needs within the community, Berman said, almost every rabbi she asked not only “jumped on it right away, but was extremely supportive and encouraging. And excited, and eager, very eager, to be part of this.”
She said she hopes those involved will mention their work with the center during the High Holidays.
The Berman Center will be closed on those days. Said Berman, “I want my clients to be with their families for the High Holidays.”
For any who do not have family or a synagogue nearby, she hopes that they will form relationships with the 18 spiritual leaders affiliated with the center, begin attending services or Torah studies, and get involved in the community. Berman said the rabbis have pledged to do anything she needs, and they have thanked her because they have had congregants in need of help.
At the center’s open house Aug. 28, Berman spoke of how she missed the daughter of the woman who spoke to the AJT in her office last year. That young woman was her first client to lose her battle with addiction.
To honor her daughter’s memory, the mother worked closely with Berman in establishing the center. At the opening, she said twice, with conviction and tears in her eyes, “This makes my daughter’s memory a blessing.”
The bird in the center’s logo is taken from her daughter’s artwork, and Berman dedicated the center in her memory.
To get more information or to help establish a scholarship fund for center services, call 770-336-7444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Needs Identified
In an interview with the AJT on Sept. 9, 2016, Alyza Berman listed these components as needs for the Jewish community:
- 12-step meetings that are open to all but held in synagogues or other Jewish institutions throughout the city.
- Sober living houses and environments to foster a sense of Jewish community.
- Jewish treatment centers and intensive outpatient programs.
- Involvement of religious leaders across all levels of Jewish observance.
Thanks to the hard work of Berman, Chabad Intown Rabbi Eliyahu Shusterman, Eric Miller at HAMSA, and many others, all those components are now available or in development in Atlanta.