Kosher, Sabbath Observant Halfway House Opens

A new 12-step halfway house for young men who want to live sober lives has just opened in Jerusalem, kashrut and Shabbat observant.

Hana Levi Julian, MSW, LCSW-R,

Jerusalem Sober House
Jerusalem Sober House
Israel news photo: Dana Dekel

There are some people who are so determined to get things done, that not even an international terrorist attack can stop them.

Leibish "Big Mike” Gondelman is one of those people, and the Jerusalem Sober House is the result of his persistence. The Queens, New York native was one of the few who succeeded in making it on to the flight to Israel from New Jersey's Newark Airport on September 11, 2001, as the Twin Towers were burning after being attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists.

"I am just one of those people,” Big Mike told Arutz Sheva in an interview Wednesday. It took him years to put together the project of which he is now clinical director, together with executive director, Rabbi Rafael Salber.

Jerusalem Sober House is a 12 step-based transitional living residence (halfway house) for male addicts who “want to learn how to live life as a normal productive member of society.” The place -- something badly needed in Jerusalem -- just opened its doors in March of this year. The project has recently developed a Facebook page, among other things.

Men who come to live at the house must be age 18 or over, and in recovery from addiction. The house and the program are kashrut and Shabbat observant. "However, we do not in any way interfere with the religious practice or level of observance of the residents off the premises,” Big Mike added. “It is a sober living environment; the goal is not to promote religion, but to promote and maintain sobriety within a religious framework by allowing those who are observant to find a safe home to work on their obstacles of addiction without compromising their religion.”

Acceptance into the house is based on the desire for a Jewish male to seek sobriety, rather than upon the level of observance, he noted.

The primary staff consists of Torah observant men, and the program includes individual and group therapy for residents. In addition, they must agree to participate in at least 2 Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous meetings per week. A weekly 12-step meeting is also held at the house as well. 

Plans for a parallel women's halfway house are on the table for "sometime in the future," he said, but "first things first."

Big Mike holds certification as a CASAC (Certified Addictions and Substance Abuse Counselor) as well as a Bachelors Degree from Troy State University in Alabama. He also learned at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach. Asked about how he deals with the frustrations that go along with such a project, he replied, "I am doing one more thing for G-d today than I did yesterday," he said. "That's how I live my life."