Every now and then comes a story where people take the concept of tikkun olam to a whole new level. BLISS Hotline is the latest one to come along and it just might leave the rest of us gasping in awe at the brilliance of it, which seems so obvious on the surface but is, in fact, layered in complex richness and generosity of spirit.
BLISS Hotline is an idea that, at first glance, seems quite simple. As its co-creators, Yossi and Priva Stamler, described it, “It’s a hotline for people to get things off their chest.” Except it is so much more than that and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it ends up solving some of the biggest challenges that people face.
“Sometimes people keep things bottled up inside and they need somebody to talk to—an outlet,” Stamler explained. “Whatever it could be, whether great news or bad news, it’s just a place people can go to and feel heard.”
BLISS Hotline is endorsed by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Stamler’s rebbe and close confidant, and its slogan is, “We care to listen.” The hotline is open to everyone, regardless of background or affiliation. Stamler is quick to point out that it is not a crisis hotline. “We are just a place for people to vent and no advice is given… It’s just a place to talk. It’s not complicated.” However, if a crisis call does come in, it will be immediately routed to the appropriate channels.
Volunteers of BLISS Hotline, which has been up and running since Lag B’Omer, do not dispense advice either. “We’re just here so that people can feel heard. If people feel heard, then I believe that’s half the battle.” All calls are kept anonymous but are monitored and recorded to ensure that proper protocols are followed.
The Stamlers did not just stumble upon the idea; rather, it is something that evolved after many years of opening up their hearts and home to dozens of individuals who have suffered various sorts of trauma, heartache and loss.
“I have a friend who I have worked with for many years back in the day. He was a veteran of the gulf war, and suffers from PTSD. He lives alone. He has nobody to talk to or express anything except for me and I’m his outlet.”
“People will often say how much I have helped him. But the opposite is also true. I talk to him too and he helps me as well. We’re close friends but here’s a person who doesn’t have a family and lives alone and the only way he can get things out is by talking to me.”
In fact, the two gentlemen have been speaking almost every day for over 15 years, and Stamler marvels at how much he has grown and changed over the years just from having somebody to talk to, a luxury that many of us take for granted.
Besides being a loyal listener to his friend, the Stamlers, who are residents of Toms River, New Jersey, have also welcomed into their home dozens of young women who have gone through trauma and needed a warm, safe and stable place to live. The Stamlers, for whom hachnasas orchim is second nature, took these young women into their homes and made them a bona fide part of their family, changing their lives in ways that would sustain them forever.
The Stamlers had a lot of success with these women who came to live with them, helping them work through their negative life experiences and showing them the path towards a bright future. However, with nine children of their own to raise in their home, they realized that they needed to find another way to help this population.
“So we came up with BLISS Family Inc. B.L.I.S.S, stands for a Beautiful Life Is Something Special because we wanted to make a place for people to help get their lives back on track … When people can’t express themselves, they make bad decisions. People need to get things out and I believe they are much smarter than they think they are when given the opportunity to talk things out and not worry about how it may sound. Just being able to put things out there can help people make better decisions.”
“A lot of people give up on life but we are big believers that having a beautiful life is not only possible but can and should be a reality for everyone, even though it takes a lot of hard work. As long as you have a teammate or cheerleader or somebody who will be there to help you on that path, it makes it a lot more achievable.”
There are currently about 15 volunteers who are fielding calls between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. with the goal of expanding the service to 24 hours. The Stamlers marvel at how generous these volunteers are to give their time for this endeavor. Female callers are connected to female volunteers and male callers are connected with male volunteers to ensure there is no awkwardness and all callers feel comfortable.
“We’re here to listen to anybody. If you open this up to the world, which is my long-term goal, think about what a kiddush Hashem it would be.”
The Stamlers hope that down the road, BLISS Hotline will lead to the establishment of homes for women and men who have undergone traumatic life experiences and give them a place where they can heal, grow and achieve great things. Until now, they plan to put their all into BLISS Hotline, giving voice and relief to the world one caller at a time.
BLISS hotline is up and running so if you, or someone you know, needs someone to talk to, or just needs to feel heard, simply call 1-888-BLISS-80.
By Ronit Mershon