Toby Mower has always been considered an iconoclast in Baltimore.
Nearly 20 years ago, according to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Rivka Carmi, the Mowers — Toby and husband Morton — got involved with the school. The couple had a longstanding philanthropic relationship with several Israeli projects and this was simply another. Then, about 10 years ago, a BGU student who was spending the summer in a program at Johns Hopkins University stayed at the Mowers’ home. She intrigued Toby Mower, who decided to learn more about the university. On the couple’s next visit, they did just that.
And that was the beginning of the close relationship that led to the
establishment of the Toby Mower Curriculum for the Prevention and Treatment of Addiction, including endowing two presidential development chairs at Ben-Gurion University in 2012.
“We worked with her to find something that would be of interest to her and of value to us as well,” said Carmi. “She came up with the idea of a course on addiction, which we embraced. We didn’t have anything of that kind.”
And it seems, neither does anywhere else in Israel. The new program is the first-ever Israeli program housed in a nursing school and combining intellectual study with hands-on learning and treatment experience. The interdisciplinary program brings students together from not only the nursing school, but also the schools of social work, psychology and pharmacology.
“It is so comprehensive and multidisciplinary. It is very unique,” said Carmi.
Toby Mower played a role in putting together the program curriculum. A recovering alcoholic, Toby Mower said she has been in recovery for 31 years. She also was the founder of the Jewish Recovery Houses, Baltimore’s response to addiction. Those houses closed about one year ago due to lack of funding.
Toby Mower said she remembers when she and Carmi began discussing the program. She was meeting with Carmi, she said, and she asked her, “You were the first female to head a medical school in Israel. You are the first female to be president of a university. How would you like another first?”
After preliminary discussions, plans for the program moved forward. It took nearly four years to develop.
Toby Mower said one important message for people in Israel is that there are addicts all over the world. Israel, like America, has many people who suffer from addiction. Of course, some are Arabs and Bedouin, but just as many are Jewish Israelis.
There is a great deal of education needed in the Jewish state, Toby Mower said. For example, she said, a team of educators is helping students to realize that addiction is a disease and not “a problem,” as they commonly termed it. Additionally, she hopes the students will understand that one is never “rehabilitated” but is constantly “rehabilitating.”
In response to Toby Mower’s $1 million gift, which made the program possible — she is the sole funder — and in recognition of her many years of work in the field, BGU gave Toby Mower an honorary doctorate. In acceptance, Toby Mower gave the first lecture of the program. She said that she spoke from the heart, which the students really appreciated.
“She has a very compelling life story,” said Carmi. “I really admire people like Toby, people who turn their issues and problems and challenges into something fruitful and significant, who have a drive to make people better, to take care of those who are unfortunate and not able to come out of their own conditions.”
Will this change the culture of treatment for addiction in Israel?
Said Mower: “In a sense it will.”
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the university’s expertise locally and around the globe. With some 20,000 students on campuses in Beer-Sheva, Sede Boqer and Eilat in Israel’s southern desert, BGU is a university with a conscience, where the highest academic standards are integrated with community involvement, committed to sustainable development of the Negev. To learn more about the school, visit aabgu.org.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — firstname.lastname@example.org