Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
On Passover we are asked "to see ourselves as if we had made the Exodus from Egypt." I must admit this is quite a challenge for me. As we leave Genesis and enter into Exodus, I started to think about this idea. I guess in some sort of metaphorical way, I can draw loose parallels between my own difficulties and being an Israelite slave 3000 years ago. But even that I feel little attachment too.
The narrative of Exodus has defined for many generations the story of humanitie’s struggle and inspired countless battles for freedom. As I thought about this "seeing ourselves as if we had made the Exodus from Egypt,” one of the thoughts that came to me as a parallel was, do We even see ourselves as if we ourselves are Jewish? What does it mean to be Jewish now? I mean is my Jewish identity something I put on like a talis or kipa, as an afterthought before entering the sanctuary. Or more importantly, is it something I take off as soon as I'm in my car headed home from services. I've come to realize being Jewish is problematic for me. Where is my Jewish identity? Is it above, below, or underneath my humanity? Does it trump my biracial ethnicity? Do I have a Jewish soul? Should I even be concerned about that, or should I be grateful at the possibility of having a soul at all? When these days, science is leading us closer and closer to a material reductionist view of existence where my experience is a product of my brain, choices are an illusion and the universe is as random and terrifying as the nightly news. How many of us would die for our Judaism today?
I once asked my rabbi if he would, and he said he hoped so. What is so important about being Jewish that people die for it? Or want to, in the rabbi’s case. What does it mean to be Jewish now? On many of these points, Jewish philosophers have no ready-made answers. Maybe the answer is in the passage itself; perhaps it begins with seeing ourselves as if we ourselves had made the Exodus from Egypt, something so hard for me to do. I think we have a tendency to think history does not apply to us, that it doesn't apply to our modern technological society. We have a tendency to think that this is the beginning of some strange new time where classic morality and divine order don't apply. However I doubt we are the first generation to feel such a way.
Granted it is an exciting and rapidly moving period of human history; but it is human history nonetheless. Our challenge is to look through the lens of history to see ourselves in the context of a larger story, not out of fear for persecution but out of love for the author of history. Our challenge in being Jewish now is a beautiful struggle, a struggle for transcendence. To use our reason, to live in this time, but not worship our reason and to live there also in the desert and worship G-d, keep faith. It means to not take the story of Noah literally but not to write it off as myth or fable either. It means to be human, to be Jewish against all odds and probabilities, against reasonableness itself, like a flash volition of the will, a surprise, a moment of creation everlasting. It means it's problematic; it's worshiping the author, as the story is still unraveling and appreciating all from the tragedy to the triumphant.
Being Jewish now requires, as much or more than it ever did. It requires that "we see ourselves as if we ourselves made the Exodus from Egypt", even in the year 2013.
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December 29, 2012 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Inga Roizman is a stunning example of the power of redemption. She had been a resident of Beit T'Shuvah on two separate occasions and has now been working as a Counselor for the past 10 months. Everyday that Inga comes to work she brings both her personal experience and a personality that brims with humor, kindness, and affection. She are truly blessed to have her as part of the Beit T'Shuvah family. Inga was kind enough to take a break from her busy day and answer our Saturday Questionnaire.
What is your idea of redemption?
Coming back to truth.
What was BTS's role in your life?
A sanctuary for internal metamorphosis
What do you like most about yourself?
What first came to mind is my integrity. That I’m searching for truth.
What quality do you value most in your friends?
Honesty and authenticity. Also, playfulness and those who stand for their principles
What is your favorite occupation?
Healer, teacher, student, and guide.
What inspires you?
Art, music, learning, seeing the light in other people’s eyes
What is your major fault?
I have a litany of thoughts going through my head but the two that stand out this moment are perfectionism and being a know it all.
What is your motto?
I don’t have a motto, I have principles
What is your present state of mind at this moment?
December 28, 2012 | 12:56 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
My day has gotten even crazier than I last wrote about. I have had to deal with someone who left Beit T’Shuvah owing a lot of money—someone I had helped personally. She ripped a couple of other people off and now wants help. What do I do?
This is my struggle: I like the young woman and feel sorry for her. She has had many years of therapy and yet she continues to play the role of victim. She has used it against her family and everyone else that has tried to help her. The spiritual drain of helping her has taken away from my ability to help another. Yet, Redemption/T’Shuvah is always possible.
The last time she was here, I had to ask her to leave because she was working and not paying anything for rent/cost of care. While money is not held against anyone for entry to the program, not paying one’s rent when one is in Sober Living, is not Living Sober. We can’t be enablers; we can’t take the place of parents who have enabled prior to their children getting here. So, what do I do? I find myself getting angry with this young woman because she is making her screw-ups, her chaos and her destructive actions, my responsibility. This is an old pattern and I am not going to play. It is very difficult for me. I understand the actions but I can’t stand people I’ve invested time, energy and spirit in going against everything that is important in order to live well. I constantly struggle not to get angry and I find myself winning the battle more often than not. I also know that I do get angry, I am angry that I am put in this position. I am angry that I could not find the key to the soul of another to unlock their inner “Pintele Yid”, their innate decency and love for self and others.
My next call was from a family member of a homeless person who has a high IQ and is also schizophrenic. This man was complaining about the system that doesn’t help his brother. He was upset that he had to put a restraining order out on his brother because his brother could get violent with him and he was worried about his wife and children. He knew he was powerless and he couldn’t put this together with living a Jewish Life. “How come there is nothing we can do, Rabbi?” I shook my head, I was angry also at the way our system treats the mentally ill and homeless. I was angry that I also am powerless to help. I spoke to him about some possible solutions and am waiting for his brother or he to call me so I can talk to the man. Maybe, I can find the words that will unlock his soul to hope and being in the solution to his problems. I am praying this can happen.
The thing that brings both of these instances together is Powerlessness. I am not happy that I am powerless. I connect with God in these moments very deeply and powerfully. I realize the truth of Rabbi Heschel’s words about God after Cain slew Abel: “God should have been disgusted. He said, No, I will keep the human species alive. I’m waiting. Maybe someday there’ll be a righteous generation”…But He’s still waiting, waiting, waiting for a mankind that will live by justice and compassion. He’s in search of man.” I get upset, sad and angry that I/we are not in search of God. I get sad, upset and angry that we are not living by justice and compassion enough. I just get angry that I don’t/can’t do enough to make this happen. I hate powerlessness.
My struggle is that together, WE can find God. We can live a life and make a world full of Justice and Compassion. Yet, we don’t. We are too polarized, we are too indulgent in our own victimhood, and we are too consumed with our own selves to make this happen. This angers me because it is not just others, it is me too. I am part of the problem and the solution. I pray each day for more of the solution and less of the problem. I pray each day for the grace to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things that should be changed. Please God, Please all of you, help me to know the difference and enact the changes to make us all more just and compassionate.
December 27, 2012 | 2:24 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
As a department within Beit T’Shuvah, Prevention has a different jurisdiction from “Rehab Proper.” Instead of treating those who have already gone down the rabbit hole of addiction, the Prevention program attempts to attack the roots of the disease, preventing teenagers from having to become full-fledged addicts.
The question we receive more than any other within Beit T’Shuvah is, “Is it even possible to prevent someone from becoming a drug addict?” Many people who are going through rehab think that their disease was pre-ordained; claiming that nothing said to them could have prevented them from their destiny. But the Prevention program strongly refutes this claim. We believe that addiction often arises as a solution to problems that many teenagers do not know how to solve.
Just as it is not clear what circumstance in my life caused me to breach the line and cross into the realm of addiction, so too it is not clear what will prevent somebody else from trudging the same path. Maybe it is having a person to talk to, maybe it is awareness, maybe it is knowledge, maybe it is self-reflection, maybe it is the ability to cope with discomfort—what is clear is that we offer all of the aforementioned possibilities. We believe in autonomy. We believe that, on any given day, you have the power to change the course of your life.
Do you think preventing drug addiction is possible? Let us know in the comments below.
December 26, 2012 | 1:42 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
After two and a half years of being a member of Beit T'Shuvah, not much can faze me. My rabbi is a convicted felon. My boss is vocal about her struggle to get out of the bed every morning. Most of my friends are crackheads and heroin addicts. A staff member without tattoos would probably be considered an outlier.
If one were to listen to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, they would probably be surprised to find the rooms filled with laughter. We laugh when we talk about our dark pasts; we chuckle at the idea of robbing a Toys 'R Us, we smirk at the excuses we used to use to disguise our drug use: “I'm not high, I'm just tired.”
CGA is one of the programs at Beit T'Shuvah that makes this treatment center so different from the rest. Criminality is viewed as a behavioral addiction, a lifestyle as addictive as heroin. Our alternative sentencing department has helped in the rehabilitation of these compulsive criminals, enlightening them with teachings of Judaism, kindness, and 12-step work.
Even though the taboos of robbery and drug use are broken down relatively easily here, there is still one taboo that is difficult to face: murder. There are people who have lived at Beit T'Shuvah who have served 20+ years in prison for [the assistance of] murder. One of the key ideals in Beit T’Shuvah is that everyone deserves redemption, the right to transform and administer goodness to the world.
And while some of us have not murdered people, others have murdered trust. We have murdered respect for our fellow human beings. We have murdered relationships, killed friendships, and scarred our families forever.
Even if I had started my recovery with doubts, all of them have since been squashed. Some people from beyond our community believe that there are some who can’t be helped, that they have gone too far and must never be given a second chance. I believe that if they could see the people that I work with everyday—people whom society had labeled as evil, broken, and worthless—they might think twice about writing these people off.
You can follow Ben Spielberg on Twitter @benspielblog
December 25, 2012 | 2:38 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
A little over 33 years ago I was introduced to a woman who would change my life. This precipitated changing the lives of those around me as well. I wouldn’t normally dedicate an entire blog to someone, but this is a soul that’s worth sharing with everyone.
To clarify, some of the most influential people in my life have saved countries, discovered democracy, enforced equality, and deep-fried the Twinkie. (G-d bless you hostess: Whatever you need from us we will group together to assure the continued existence of that doughy flavored goodness.) Like many others, those who impact our lives give meaning and reason to stand up and fight, to invoke our constitution at the expense of being cast away. This particular individual has done exactly that. Her life purpose begins and ends with putting others first. Her name is not as prominent as Kennedy, Lincoln, or Albright. She never wanted it to be; rather her concern was for others to be recognized for who they are. This woman always shied away from credit, and the most shocking of all was that there was never any expectation of wanting anything in return. All that she asks is that you see what she sees.
The story that comes to mind, conveying the kind of person she is—is one of heroism and survival. Her love and service of others was multiplied 10 fold with her family, and when someone was ever in need she was always the first responder. Faced with a family member’s drug addiction that had spiraled out of control, she traversed across the country to intervene. For those of you who are not familiar with an intervention, there is no amount of preparation or knowledge one could have going into such a hostile environment. Seeing the state of her family member made it evident that something had to be done. Through the process of putting together immediate and necessary services, the unexpected happened. Medical emergencies arose and it appeared that the possibility of losing this family member was becoming a reality. Most people crumble at this point, others shut down. What Lori did was exceptional. Given the traumatic nature of the situation, she refused to put herself in a position where she was helpless. At 51 years of age she decided to become a nurse. The only problem was that she was without the proper credentials for this field. Lori enrolled in school as one of the “mature” students and began her path in a career that she later claimed to be “life changing”. She finished in the national honors society with a 4.0 GPA. She was immediately chosen for an internship and is now a full time nurse. She volunteers on the board of her local hospital, has logged thousands of Hospice hours, and spent every waking moment at the side of her best friend who was taken by cancer. Her actions reveal that you cannot change the past, but can employ it as provocation to better your future. This display of the power of choice is one of a kind. This is how you become influential. This is my mom.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down and spend some time with my idol. I noticed the following: When we spoke I was the only person that existed, her timing was perfect as I was never interrupted and her pauses could still carry the conversation. If her knowledge base was limited, you would never know. When the influential speak we tune in, what we are about to hear is consequential, there is a message, we are called to attention. To identify our leaders is essential; they pave the pathway to progress poetically.
I wish everyone saw the world as you do mom, because if they did you would still shine as the extraordinary women you are. That’s just who you are. So from me to you; I am a better man, you have given me a standard. I’ll never forget what you went through and how you were able to turn a tragic situation into grace. I’ll never be you, but if there was anyone I’d want to be it is you. Thank you. I love you.
December 24, 2012 | 9:50 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Danny G.
For forty years I have been an addict, alcoholic and criminal and on September 1st, 2012 I was released from prison after almost 12 years of incarceration. I learned of Beit T’Shuvah about a year prior to my release and started writing to Carrie Newman in Beit T’Shuvah’s Alternative Sentencing Department. Being tired of my old way of life, Carrie gave me hope that Beit T’Shuvah could help me start over and learn how to live well. When I finally arrived at Beit T’Shuvah it was 1 am and that’s when the magic started. I was greeted with open arms by a warm and compassionate staff and residents that made me feel like I was someone. I felt like I was part of a family. I was given a treatment team to help me transition from the past and guide me into a future I could have only dreamed about—being a productive, sober man. Soon after I tried to locate my daughter Heather who I had not seen in over 6 years and after 30 days of searching I had no results. On one of monthly visits to my parole agent he said to me, “your daughter called she’s looking for you and wants to see you.” I just about broke down in his office after he gave me her number. And strangely enough two weeks prior I told my therapist I had a vision of seeing Heather at our Friday Night services. Putting the plan into action I arranged a ride and when I called Heather she mentioned Bruce wanted to call me. Bruce is my brother who I hadn’t seen in 12 years. That Friday night they both came and we got to see each other, spend time enjoying the service, dinner and being reunited. Beit T’Shuvah has given me back a life—clean and sober and with spirituality I didn’t know I still had. I was raised Orthodox and thought that feeling was lost forever and with it the desire to do the right thing. The miracle of having my daughter back in my life and the way it all came together in this place is truly magic— Beit T’Shuvah changes lives. I am living proof this transformation has happened in just three months and it’s just beginning. I am learning to love myself and live well. I owe Beit T’Shuvah my life, and the magic has just started.
December 22, 2012 | 7:55 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
At some point in the midst of life’s successes, everyone must eventually fall. When you do, what’s the thing to do next? With what method do you move forward?
Sometimes, in order to keep moving forward, you need to move forward in a different direction. By recognizing that the path you are on does not lead to where you want to go, you commit the first step of T’Shuvah. Sometimes it’s difficult, however, to know in which direction to turn and how to proceed.
T’Shuvah is a complex concept and quite pervasive ‘round these parts. It’s what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to represent to the outside world, and what we venture towards within ourselves. But what does it mean?
Traditionally thought of as “return” or “repentance,” T’Shuvah is what we are commanded to engage in during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It’s the act of considering and accepting our misdeeds and the active attempt to both rectify our actions and return to holiness.
Different from other methods of forgiveness such as absolution, T’Shuvah is not something that you are granted but rather something you seek. It is up to the person who committed a regret-worthy act to make amends to all he has harmed. It’s about responsibility, and that’s not always easy.
Now, this is the difficult part. This is where you change your life. To continue T’Shuvah, you must take the necessary measures to ensure that a hate of the same nature will not reoccur.
At Beit T’Shuvah, T’Shuvah claims a large portion of everyday actions and practices. Groups, meetings, study sessions, and more involved projects here are all in some ways created for residents to engage in T’Shuvah for their own past. This way, similar mistakes in the future may be prevented. Here we learn that T’Shuvah is a way of life that drives a person to constantly excel and improve on his being. By continually examining our lives for actions we might regret, we take strides in becoming integrated human beings who face truth and righteousness instead of deceit and shadows.