A Stranger in the Strange Land of Addiction

A Stranger in the Strange Land of Addiction

The following is excerpted from the eulogy Chabad Intown Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman delivered at the Nov. 22 funeral of Garrett Kaufman, who died two days earlier at age 32.

Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman

Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman is co-director of Chabad Intown.

I met Garrett 11 years ago on the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Centennial Mission to Israel. Garrett brought a beautiful energy to our bus. He was fun, generous and befriended everyone.

Much has happened in Garrett’s life since those enjoyable days. We’re gathered here to say goodbye to this fun, generous and beautiful soul.

It has been said that the real pain of death is experienced by those left behind. Today’s gathering is a painful one. It is filled with pain and suffering, anger and hurt.

Wendy said those powerful words that only a broken-hearted mother can utter: “I hope Garrett is finally at peace.”

Garrett Kaufman

G-d knows that these last seven years Garrett has not been at peace. Since the passing of his father, Richard Kaufman, Garrett’s world has been in turmoil.

When our great ancestor Aaron heard of the passing of his sons Nadav and Avihu, the Torah tells us, “Vayidom Aaron”: Aaron was silent.

I’m sure he cried. I’m sure he was in pain. I’m sure he was broken-hearted. The silence the Torah refers to is the silence of faith. He didn’t question G-d. In his pain he knew something that only the soul of the Jew can know: G-d is the true judge, despite our limited comprehension.

Monday night, Wendy blew me away with her own faith as she said: “G-d knows what He is doing. I won’t question Him.”

I’d like to read something Wendy posted on Garrett’s Facebook page the week before his death. It captures the heart of this mother and a premonition of things to come.

I will always need my son no matter what age I am

He has made me laugh

He has made me cry

He has made me proud

He has hugged me tight

He has cheered me up

He has driven me crazy

My son is a friend I will have forever.

The family has encouraged me to share some thoughts I shared with them.

Our society is suffering from an addiction epidemic. It’s important to continue to educate our community about addiction. Addiction is a real problem that doesn’t discriminate base on race, gender or social status. Addiction is a real problem that covers many behaviors, including drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling.

It’s important to know that it’s OK to talk about addiction and not to feel ashamed. We live in a strong and supportive community. Professionals, multiple organizations and support groups can help.

To that end, I thank Wendy for both asking and encouraging me to talk about this.

These last few years Garrett suffered with addiction, including gambling and drugs.

Trauma is a spark that can oftentimes ignite the disease of addiction or, more appropriately, uncover the disease of addiction.

According to the teachings of Jewish mysticism, the arrival of our souls in our bodies on Earth is a traumatic event. The soul is torn from its heavenly home to enter a finite, fallible human being.

No one is immune from this trauma, but certain people are afflicted with a greater propensity for addiction. Two people can experience the same event or trauma, and one becomes an addict while the other does not.

That is because addiction is a disease. It’s not a sign of weakness but of uniqueness.

Those around the addict try to do everything they can to help the addict get better. They try tough love and warm love. They try intervention. They try detox and rehab.

Sometimes the addict can find the Higher Power and get onto a healthy path. Oftentimes they don’t, and they spiral out of control with a sad ending as we are experiencing today.

As with any disease, sometimes we win over the disease, and sometimes the disease wins over us. Think of two people suffering from cancer — may G-d protect us: One person succumbs to the disease, and the other defeats it.

Today there is a deep sense of loss, sadness and pain for what could have been. There is also a lot of anger and pain for what has been.

The anger will perhaps never leave fully, but it will dissipate enough to remember Garrett before addiction. Try to remember the happy, loving boy and man Garrett was, inside and out, before these years of pain and sadness.

I was struck by the power of Garrett’s two Hebrew names: Gershon Binyomin.

The first Gershon was Moses’ son, so named because ger hayisi bieretz nochria — a stranger I was in a strange land. Binyomin (Benjamin) is blessed by Jacob as Yedid Hashem — the beloved of the lord.

Addicts are strangers in a strange land. They cannot find peace around them, so they turn to substances. Try as they might, they can’t feel less like strangers through normal, earthly channels.

That is why a basic premise of the 12 Steps is surrender to a Higher Power. It is only in the Higher Power that the addict can begin to find peace. For a Jew, that Higher Power, of course, is G-d. Our G-d. The one G-d.

Garrett did not have peace. Painful as that sounds, it is also somewhat liberating for those who tried to be good friends and those who tried to help. You did your best. You could not save him. His disease was his own, and he now has peace.

At the same time, Benjamin is the beloved of the Lord. Addicts are special people. The addict is someone whose soul yearns for a connection the rest of us are not sensitive to. They yearn to connect to G-d and to their purpose on Earth.

In that yearning, fraught with bumps along the way, they bring a gift to those in their sphere of influence, even if their methods are not conventional methods of closeness.

Sometimes it is at the end that the story just begins. I pray that in the coming weeks and days, all of you will be able to see the blessing that was Garrett and his belovedness to the Lord like his namesake Benjamin.

I want to close with an anecdote that is too obvious not to mention.

When Garrett’s dad died, as funeral arrangements were being made, they needed a tallit. They were going to use Richard’s tallit, but Garrett insisted that his tallit be used. Richard was buried with Garrett’s tallit.

Garrett held on to Richard’s tallit and was buried in his dad’s tallit.

Today Garrett is reunited with his dad. Today Garrett’s soul is reunited with G-d Almighty.

We ask G-d to shelter him in the shadow of his wings. We ask G-d to provide comfort to Garrett’s beloved family. We ask G-d to bring comfort to all those who knew Garrett and mourn his loss.

Garrett, Gershon Binyomin ben Reuven, rest in peace.

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