Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Recently I asked you to believe me that anyone can make good on their past, remember … I am the Spiritual Gangster. I am the Holy Thief. I am an ordained Rabbi and I am flawed. This Blog is about Redemption and it is about Truth. This week was Yom Kippur, a time for true reflection - and it is as important to continue to take stock thereafter.
Without Truth, we can’t be redeemed. This is an Eternal Truth. Our Entire Bible points out the flaws and redemptions of our heroes. Beginning with Adam continuing on to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Samson, King David, all of them made errors and then redeemed themselves through T’Shuvah and Tzedakah and T’Fillah. They were confronted with the Truth of their actions and they could admit their errors.
The question for us, American Jews, Israeli Jews, is: How do I be more afraid of hiding than of looking bad? In our society we have tried to fit in, assimilate, acculturate and still look good. We have spent millions on being in the “In” group, the power people. Yet, we haven’t lived like our Ancestors, we have hidden from God, from others and from ourselves. Rabbi Hillel asks the question, IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
The world is in need of Redemption. Our country is need of Redemption. Israel is in need of Redemption. Our Jewish Communities are in need of Redemption. We, as individuals are in need of Redemption. The only way is to do a Chesbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. This is an inventory of where we have missed the mark and where we have hit the mark. Where and when we have been Holy and where and when we have been profane.
In conclusion, for this month, I am challenging each of you as well as myself to make sure that these days after Yom Kippur are reflections of the work we did on Yom Kippur. This is the work of transparency, authenticity, openness and love for self and others. It is the work of building communities that help the needy be self-sufficient.
It is the work of being a Spiritual Gangster, going up against our toughest enemy, our own Ego’s. May all of us enjoy this year of being one grain of sand more of our true selves each day.
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September 21, 2012 | 11:41 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
About six years ago I ran into my old friend John Sullivan on my way to an AA meeting. The once shady Venice Beach, CA had transformed into an upscale neighborhood, yet John wasn’t having any of it. He was aggressively panhandling from wealthy hipsters at the intersection of Abbot Kinney Blvd. and California Avenue. Although I admired the spirit of what he was doing (making yuppies feel uncomfortable), it was obvious John was deep in the throes of addiction and needed help. He had the physique of a wayward marathon runner (gaunt) and that air of loopiness brought on by only the most potent street drugs. I gave him a short 12-step pep talk and 20 bucks. I guess I hoped John would remember something I said as he ran to meet his dealer, twenty-dollar bill in hand.
A few years later, I saw John at another AA meeting, but this time he wasn’t panhandling outside. He’d gained probably 50 pounds and had obviously gone through some sort of spiritual awakening and completely turned his life around. My uplifting words from a few years back surely had something to do with it, right? Wrong. He didn’t remember seeing me that night. My eloquent get-sober pep talk? No recollection. That 20 bucks I gave him? Nada. So what saved John?
He was an inspiring contradiction—a junkie who was no longer shooting heroin, who’d gotten sober at a Jewish Rehab despite his Irish Catholic roots. The place was called Beit T’Shuvah, its doors were open to addicts from all backgrounds, I learned.
As time went on, I’d bump into Sully every now and again at the local AA meetings. He was continuing to get his life together in every way- he’d married and was working for Beit T’Shuvah, that great rehab that had saved his ass. He wasn’t a one-year wonder (an addict who relapses after a year clean/sober). He was really doing it.
CUT TO: Present Day, Los Angeles CA.
John Sullivan is the Creative Director and Founder of BTS Communications (BTSC). They’re a legit, growing ad agency who handle marketing and communications for Beit T’Shuvah and clients ranging from The American Diabetes Association to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whom John had a long standing relationship with… as a formerly frequent inmate.
BTSC has a staff consisting of full-time professionals, resident interns from Beit T’Shuvah, and the occasional volunteer worker (myself). BTSC is a unique company. They offer top quality marketing services to their growing list of clients, both for-profit and non-profit—and they help people within their own doors by mentoring and training recovering addicts in a real-world professional environment. BTSC helps create both brand success stories and human success stories.
Impressive, Sully, very impressive. You’ve come a long way. So, can I have my 20 bucks back now? Just kidding.
- Charlie Patterson
September 14, 2012 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
"Beit T’Shuvah, “The House of Return”, is exactly that. It is a community of lost souls looking to find themselves. As a former resident, I am one of the thousands of individuals that found myself after many painful years of searching. A community built on the allowance for second chances and redemption is a testament to faith in others. Harriet has never turned one person away who is seeking help regardless of his or her ability to pay. To put it simply, against all odds she chose to believe in us, society’s throwaways, and was right."
- Former Resident of Beit T’Shuvah
… 25 years later, Harriet addresses an audience comprised of 1000 people at the annual Beit T’Shuvah Gala.
January 29th, 2012
“I’m Harriet Rossetto, founder, CEO and Rebbitzin of Beit T’Shuvah.
I am the serious note in this evening’s frivolities. I want to put into context what you will experience this evening, L’Dor V’Dor – from generation to generation. What you will see here tonight is Beit T’Shuvah’s response to Jewish continuity.
L’Dor V’Dor – the transmission of wisdom from generation to generation is the essence of the Jewish tradition. It is the hope that we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past – which each succeeding generation will progress in honoring the G-d of One-ness and living the commandments. The Torah is the Big Book of Jewish recovery – the manual for living a whole (holy) life.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a malfunction in the transmission system. We are passing down the wrong message to our children and they have closed their ears to us. They do not want to live as “golden children,” the bearers of their parents’ unfulfilled dreams and expectations. They want to be visible as themselves – imperfect, flawed – and they are frightened that they will disappoint you if they reveal themselves. Instead, they starve, stuff, pierce, mutilate and anesthetize themselves so we have to pay attention. They are even willing to die to get off the pedestal.
We have passed down the forms and forgotten the wisdom. We have paid less attention to spiritual progress than material progress. We have led our kids to believe that they must be the best at everything – the smartest, thinnest, and richest – in order to feel fulfilled. And of course, it hasn’t worked. The more we get, the more we want, always chasing, never satisfied. The Torah teaches us to eat, be satisfied and bless. Be grateful for what you have, love your neighbor and yourself. Be of service, accept your imperfections, make T’Shuvah every day, be true to whom you are. In other words, be a mensch.
Beit T’Shuvah is passing down menschlikeit from generation to generation. This is our 25th year and we have begotten several generations of mensches – we are passing down what they have learned to those who come after them as sponsors, mentors and employers – they are also creating families, passing down their spiritual wisdom to their children.
A young man I mentor said to me the other day – “you know, I really feel I went to Love School at Beit T’Shuvah.” He didn’t mean he found a girlfriend (although that happens too – Beit T’Shuvah has more marriages than J-Date), he meant he learned to value and respect himself, his family and friends, to pursue his passion, to be responsible for his actions and emotions, to do the right thing whether he felt like it or not. He had found his T’Selem Elohim – the imprint of G-d within him. So had I.
- Ms. Harriet Rossetto
My latest book, Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir, will be released later this year.
September 7, 2012 | 2:03 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Head Rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah
To introduce this blog, it’s important you meet and learn a bit about me. I am Rabbi Mark Borovitz, and to my knowledge, I am the only ex-con, ordained Rabbi that addresses an audience comprised equally of convicts and congregants at the weekly Shabbat Services I lead.
I am also the Head Rabbi, Spiritual Leader and COO of the Los Angeles- based residential addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah. I spend my days counseling, leading Torah studies, providing spiritual guidance to executives, and making sure the 156 treatment center residents of Beit T’Shuvah don’t get out of line. I also co-authored my autobiography, The Holy Thief, for which the rights were recently optioned.
I used to be a criminal, a crook, a mobster and a lost soul – 23 years ago that changed. I have made mistakes and I have made T’Shuvah. It’s my mission in life to help others do the same and to use the hustle in me – for good. To this day, there is not a single soul I have crossed paths with that was too far-gone to change. I believe in redemption; everyone can make good on their past. Believe me… I am a spiritual gangster.
In addition to my own testimony, I offer you this excerpt from my autobiography, The Holy Thief. Written by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Head Rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom.
“Someone told me about this guy who had just gotten out of prison and was working in a rehab center that his wife had set up. He was supposedly a rebel character. He had a message, though, a strong message. He was speaking about addictions and criminal behavior, and he had a lot to say about how to avoid making bad choices. Charismatic. That’s the word people used.
He spoke this language that I’d never really heard. Addiction is a hole in your soul. He was raw and crude and deeply passionate. He was a kid who went to synagogue, a kid who came from a good family, a kid who made bad choices and went very wrong. He was very compelling. And he got to me.
I discovered his brilliance when it came to interpreting the text. He came to Torah from a whole different place, a perspective I had not seen. Mark had incredible insight. It was all from his life. From the school of hard knocks. It wasn’t the way I was trained. My training comes from books. Mark’s training came from the street. He didn’t know how to read the book. He needed me to help him read the book. I needed him to show me this new, dynamic way to interpret it. We started learning together. Every week. It was a kind of symbiosis and a revelation to us both. We’re still going.
When I talk to people about Mark Borovitz and I say he is the Holy Thief who steals back souls from the devil and steals souls back from the dead… I’m one of them. I’m one of them.”