Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Rabbi Mark is my messenger, and I hold him responsible. Responsible for the tremendous significance of his messages, and responsible for integrating the stories that contains hidden messages into my daily life.
A messenger who cannot do as much may be unfit; a messenger must call upon a message with an obligatory duty--in the case of Rabbi Mark, the preponderance of his message embodies aspects of Judaism, Torah, mentorship, and living well. The familiar messages of Rabbi Mark stood still against myself--an Irish Catholic with a rampant and insubordinate life. Despite the religious differences, Rabbi Mark’s message clasped against my skewed perception, enabling me to see the Whole message--sans messenger.
I must ask myself whether Michael has taken society’s stereotypes a bit too far. As they say, if you focus on the differences amongst human beings… you will find them. There should not be an analysis of the reasoning behind one man’s ability to hear another; there is no benefit to a rigid and uniformed means of communication. I am not here only to speak to Jews. I am not here only to speak to ex-cons and addicts. I am here to speak with and to anyone who would like to engage in a dialogue
I too am learning, a student of life. Heschel, Obama, Rossetto, Welch… they are all my teachers. We are not the same race, creed, age - we don’t dress the same and we certainly don’t have the same lifestyles; our places in society range from treatment resident to White House President. However, I engage as do they and we are all messengers... that, if listened to closely, makes us recipients as well.
So I say to Michael, while I am humbled by the emphasis you have placed upon my teachings, your willingness to hear the message is your doing, your accomplishment. Being addicted to redemption, my focus lies on my mission to help others do the same.
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5.16.13 at 10:56 am | I loved it. Two nights ago I was honored to see. . . (103)
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October 19, 2012 | 11:33 am
Posted by Michael Welch
Since the dawn of my conscious self, I have been ruthlessly preoccupied with productivity. My father initially instilled the belief that being productive was paramount for success. As I matured, I began asking myself questions; where did I finish today? Was I in the black or the red, up or down? I fallaciously believed that if I was not creating or building, strategizing or negotiating, then I was not living.
King Edward VII and I share a similar demeanor of persistence. While I likely will not have an era named after myself, and he likely did not fill syringes with cocaine, his last words became my mantra: “No, I shall not give in. I shall go on. I shall work to the end.” But eventually, I lost the spirit of the words and could only reiterate the letters; I failed to apply my whole self, and remained only partly working. I could never feel fulfilled throughout my busy life, and I never experienced any sense of wholeness. Because of this, I have fallen and lost my way more times than I care to account for.
A good friend of mine recently pegged me as a “serial redeemer.” I’m not just addicted to redemption; I’m addicted to climbing out of the hole. I’m addicted to the malicious cycle of working hard and feeling low, unable to simply be. I want contentment and obligation to be balanced, and I want to understand my existence in terms other than profits and losses. I have been stumped looking for the answer because the answer is ridiculous, petulant, and unfortunately necessary. I have been living in the familiar comfort of my despair and I have been avoiding uncharted territories. I always thought that new experiences meant vulnerability, and vulnerability meant failure. And then I realized that successful people are vulnerable, too; top executives and other influencers display vulnerability with grace and ease.
To clarify, being vulnerable is not the same as being weak, or helpless. Vulnerability has been defined to me as “being able to live in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The answer to my problems is what I had avoided all along: human connection by vulnerability. This is where Judaism saved my life, and this is the inception of me learning how to come whole.
Beit T’Shuvah has proved to be the catalyst to my vulnerability. I have slowly been striving to become whole by learning how to stand up for myself, how to ask for help, and that it’s possible to say “I love you” without knowing if I’m going to be loved back. I can ask for forgiveness when I have wronged, and I can ask for help when I am afraid. I always thought that vulnerability would be my Achilles Heel, but it is instead my secret weapon. By showing up defenseless and bare, I have learned how to live outside the prison of what I thought I was supposed to be. Authentic connection has led me to live courageously, without the social and financial hindrances that I was once consumed with. And Beit T’Shuvah has proven me with the tools to access my own vulnerability with confidence, so that I can free myself from the cycle of misery that I’ve been so accustomed to.
October 16, 2012 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
This morning, Harriet Rossetto, my wife and partner, was reading an article from the New York Times about the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Mix It Up At Lunch Day" designed to break up cliques and prevent bullying. The American Family Association, described as a conservative evangelical group, has called the project a "nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools" and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on October 30, the day most schools plan to participate. What is going on? When I was in school, people were bullied for their lunch money, because they were nerds, etc. I am sure the same is true today. Jocks pushed the non-jocks around, I was made fun of because I was fat. There are so many reasons for bullying, the American Family Association has gone too far, in my opinion.
I am a person of faith. I am a person who works hard to respect the dignity of each person. According to the Bible, we are all created in the Image of God. Bullying another person because they are different goes against every Religious and Spiritual Teaching of every faith! Every person of faith and non-faith who respects the inherent dignity, the Declaration of Independence and the founding principles of this nation must stand against this attack by the American Family Association. Edmund Burke said it best :" Evil flourishes when good people(sic) do nothing! I am asking everyone to stand against this Evil of bullying and the American Family Association.
October 12, 2012 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Harriet Rossetto
The house I opened 25 years ago was for “society’s throwaways.” I know now more than ever… there is no such thing. At the time it was very taboo to open a place like Beit T’Shuvah. When I told people that I was going to create a home for Jewish convicts to live in after incarceration, people thought I was crazy.
We all have potential for good and bad. Just because you throw them out of your house, doesn’t mean they are being thrown out of your heart. The first group of people who came to Beit T’Shuvah 25 years ago ended up leaving in the dead of night, having stolen all of my jewelry. If I had given up then, there would be hundreds of people today who may not have gotten their shot at redemption. We are all fallible, and we are all holy. T’Shuvah keeps us holy.
I also discount this arbitrary “who’s worthy in the American Jewish world” idea. The socio-economic statuses of those who arrive on our doorstep are irrelevant to me. I refuse to discount people… whether they fit into the societal norms or are accepted by cultural myths, or the media, or pop culture. Since everybody has a soul, the possibility of redemption is always there. I don’t discount even those who have committed crimes because there is always a possibility for someone to be touched and returned. So even when I “throw residents out”, who are not ready to make T’Shuvah… I never throw them out of my heart. In fact, even the people who are “thrown out” of Beit T’Shuvah are able to come back when their soul is ready to be redeemed.
We are all children, including our parents, and life often ends up looking different than what we planned on despite our best efforts. Many parents feel that their worth is dependent on their children’s achievements. They believe that the success of their child is a barometer of their own worth. Our children are not capable of defining us. However, we are capable of conditioning them to believe they are dispensable if they make a mistake. Families do themselves a disservice when they feel ashamed of one another. They dismiss those members whose struggles are embarrassing.
Many of the greatest artists, thinkers, writers, mathematicians, and musicians have also been unacceptable in the eyes of their own families. That is the shame.
If you were to come and do a study on the residents of Beit T’Shuvah, you would find that they come from all backgrounds, have tremendous capability, and are vibrant charismatic souls. It would be a sin to throw them away. The disease of addiction does not discriminate. Thankfully, neither does Beit T’Shuvah.
October 5, 2012 | 1:28 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, in a building constructed to remember those lost years ago, sits a man who has made it his mission to give people back their humanity. Shai ben Yehuda is the Chief Archivist for Yad VaShem in Israel. My friend and teacher, Rabbi Edward Feinstein told me a story about him recently. Shai is able, thanks to a super computer, to take the 140+ million documents and fragments of information about people who died in the Shoah and put them together to bring these victims to life, to bring them back to living, breathing human beings instead of just being one of the 6 million who died. When asked why he does this painful work, he responded with this phrase: WE NEVER THROW ANYONE AWAY.
This is, to me, the motto and work of Beit T’Shuvah, and the process and work of redemption. Never throwing anyone away is God’s motto as well. We have, in Jewish and non-Jewish spiritual literature, many instances of redemption stories. T’Shuvah was put into the world before the world was created because God knew we humans would mess up and need a way back. As I sit here writing this blog, I am struck by the Grace that God and you, the community of Los Angeles and the world, bestowed upon me when I was released from Prison in 1988. You did not throw me away even when I threw myself away.
This is the main point of my discussion. Leaving the Gates of Redemption open all the time is our way of being God-Like. In the Talmud, we are told that God cries each evening because God’s Children are in exile. Being separated from God, family, and community causes everyone else to cry. This is one of the consequences of bad behavior.
Redemption means that we can undo the past. Not actually, of course, we undo it in the present and change the context of our living. Redemption allows us to restore the dignity to another. It says to others that WE CARE. Our belief and practice of Redeeming People is our way of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY!
We are engaged in a great debate in our worlds. We listen to people speak of entitlements and what they are owed. What they are willing and unwilling to do to and for others. This is happening in our country and in Israel. What we are not talking about so much is Redemption. What we are not talking about is the dignity that each person deserves and has as a birthright.
I am asking you and myself: Whom have I thrown away as unredeemable? How have I redeemed myself and others? How am I living the Jewish and American Dream of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY?
Hag Sameach and Moadim L’Simcha,
Rabbi Mark Borovitz