I ’d ridden to the top of this mountain several times, yet the view never fails to astound me. Today, instead of turning right at the summit, we turned left, and suddenly I had a clear view of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and even Netanya.

Today’s group was led by Emuna. She had started out as a madrichah, moved on to become a lecturer for prevention seminars, and finally became a riding instructor, often leading the Friday groups instead of Rabbi Eckstein. She and I had clicked right away; I learned as much from her during the seminars as I did over coffee. In addition to Emuna and me, the group consisted of three clients from Mifgashim, Retorno’s outpatient center, each addicted to something or someone. Sari, their group leader, also came along.

The horses were tied to a cluster of Jerusalem pines, and we sat in a circle on benches made out of tree trunks. After the Serenity Prayer, Sari said, “Let’s each say how we’re feeling right at this moment.”

A petite young woman with bouncy brown hair said, “I’m Dina, and I’m an addict.”

I looked at her, waiting for her to say how she was feeling. Instead, everyone said, “Ohavim.” Then she said she was feeling relaxed.

Ohavim means, literally, “We love you.” I didn’t know what to make of this. She was meant to state a feeling, and instead everyone professes love?

The woman next to her, who was old enough to be her mother, said, “I’m Rose, and I’m an addict.”

Once again, there was a chorus of ohavim. Despite my confusion, I said it along with them.

“My name is Emuna.”

“Ohavim.”

Michal, new to Mifgashim, said her name without making eye contact. When the ohavim was sent back her way, a deft swish of her dark-brown sheitel seemed to deflect the word back to the group.

“I’m Sari, and I’m an addict.”

We all said ohavim. Well, not all. Michal didn’t. In fact, she hadn’t said it to anyone.

Sari smiled at her. “Michal, say ohavim.”

“No, thanks.”

“Why not?” Sari asked.

Michal’s expression was carefully neutral. “I don’t want to.”

“It’s no big deal,” Sari said.

“Well, I’m not saying it.” She folded her arms across her chest and hunched into herself.

“No one is forcing you,” Sari said, “but perhaps you can tell us why? What do you have against the word ohavim?”

A swish of the sheitel. “You don’t love me. I know you don’t.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because there’s no such thing as love.”

Sari tilted her head to the side, listening.

“Love,” Michal said, “is a tool. A tool people use against you, to take advantage of you.” She leaned forward, her features suddenly harsh. “So don’t go trying to sell me love. Keep your ohavim. I don’t love any of you, you don’t love me. There’s simply no such thing.” She put her head down, walling herself off.

I stole a glance around the circle. What could you say to such a declaration? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 543)