The dedication and opening of Jeff’s Place on Dec. 13 filled an unmet need in the Jewish community.
Someone who has experienced 12-step recovery programs might know how isolating it can feel as a Jew. Many of these programs have Christian-based elements that can leave some Jewish men and women out of the fold.
When Veronica and Jon Kraus lost their 29-year-old son Jeff to addiction earlier this year, they vowed to do something about the problem by giving back to Chabad Intown, an organization where their son spent much of his time. With a large donation from the Krauses and funds from the sale of its previous building, Chabad Intown has opened Jeff’s Place, a café sitting directly on the Atlanta BeltLine in Chabad’s new building.
It will function as a standard café during the day with self-serve coffee and prepackaged foods, and will include a work space with games. But the café will be open for the recovery community Sunday through Thursday evenings. Jeff’s Place has been approved to hold Families Anonymous meetings, a 12-step program for relatives and friends of addicts. The first will begin in January with hopes to expand the number of meetings and hours open as time goes on. Also in the works for the cafe are the launch of other 12-step meetings, plans for fresh and kosher food to be made on-site, and a series of frequent speakers.
Jeff’s Place brings together two groups Jeff dedicated his life to: the Jewish and recovery communities. “There’s a definite stigma that exists within the Jewish community,” Chabad Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman said in his welcome speech. “Churches have them, but almost no synagogues hold 12-step meetings. Why is that? The more we become comfortable speaking about it, the more we can literally save lives.”
Jeff’s Place will also work within many partnerships, including relationships with the Blue Dove Foundation, an organization that addresses mental health/substance abuse within the Jewish community, and HAMSA (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse), an organization within Jewish Family & Career Services that provides recovery support and tools. “A Jewish lens in these recovery meetings really matters,” explained Justin Milrad, co-founder of The Blue Dove Foundation. “We are a proud, strong people, and we need to talk more. Connection matters. Community matters. And that’s why we’re here.”
Opening night featured speeches by Milrad and Daniel Epstein, program director of The Berman Center, Jeff’s former sponsor and friends, his parents and sister Rebecca Izzo. The evening concluded with Jeff’s family ceremoniously placing the mezuzah on the door of Jeff’s Place, a ribbon cutting and refreshments. “We will try every single day to have Jeff live on through this space and through the people we help,” Rabbi Schusterman said. “The Talmud says one who saves one live, it’s as if they saved an entire world. That’s our mission.”