Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Continuing my blog about a "day in the life" and my own struggles to live well and do the next right thing.
I meet with different staff people all the time and I find myself wrestling with my upbringing and what is the reality of today. I was brought up in a working class family. My father, Z"l, and my mother worked long and hard each day. They taught all of us, my brothers, sister and me, to give a day and a half's work for a days pay. This is my way of working and living. I don't know how to work any other way, nor does my brother, sister, nieces, nephews and daughter. I find that this is not the way of the world a lot of the time. I see it in stores I go into, people I talk to on the phone regarding services, in speaking with other employers/bosses and, at times, at my own place of work. I know everyone at Beit T’Shuvah is doing the best they can in each moment and I believe, rightly or wrongly, that many people are still doing the minimum to fulfill their job requirements. While this is really all I can expect and all I can pay for, I am finding myself frustrated that people don't want to give more.
I was talking to one of the staff at Beit T’Shuvah and asking, maybe loudly and in frustration, why they didn't tell me "bad news" earlier. I asked them when they realized that there was a problem and why they just left the information on my desk rather than ringing the alarm bell to me. They just shrank and said that they didn't think to tell me earlier. I was aghast, mad and definitely not calm. I told them that I always want to know what is happening ASAP so we can correct our errors quicker and change what we are doing so we don't compound our miscues. They walked away feeling like I was mean, unreasonable, etc. Once I calmed down, I walked into their office and asked them what the problem was. This person told me that they were overworked and underpaid and felt put upon to do the "extra" work it would take to be "on top of everything.” Then they told me that they think I am not human because I can keep so many things in my head and work as many hours as I do. I thanked them for their honesty and said we would talk about it next week.
I walked into my office, actually my other office-the garage- to have a cigarette. I had to blow off steam and I did not want to yell and scream and stomp around in front of everyone. I am trying to act less maniacal:). I paced up and down the garage and talked to myself. I then called one of my guides to check my reaction. I went off for about 10 minutes on the phone and the person on the other end, Abe, just laughed and said welcome to management and my world (he is CEO of a major company). We talked about my expectations and the reality of the world. We talked about if I am clear enough in my communications and in writing. I understood all of what he was saying and agreed where I had missed the mark.
Then we talked about the reality of my world. Abe said that not all people were raised with the same work ethic as I was. What I think of as simple and clear, others struggle to understand. What I see as just doing the next right thing, others are lost and bewildered by. What I think people should do, others think is too much to ask. Who is right? That's not for me to decide. I just have to be clearer in my communication, expectations and inspecting to see if these things are happening. I thanked Abe for his wisdom, lit another cigarette and thought about what he had said. I am not patient, I know this. I am not included in many groups of Spiritual Directors because I don't meditate. I am not "in many clubs" because of my ways of doing things, because I am too blunt and not willing to "play the game" most of the time. I felt defeated during this period. All of my insecurities came up, all of the times when I felt/feel different from everyone else came up and I paced more and more. I had a conversation with myself about how I was going to be, responsive or reactive. This experience took about 2 hours of my day because I could not settle myself into a course of action that I could live with. I wanted to fire the person and realized they were being who they are and this is whom I hired. I took Abe's wisdom to heart and decided to be clearer and know that I have to hire better as well. I spoke to this employee and we agreed to work together to meet the needs of Beit T’Shuvah rather than the needs of each other or ourselves. I don't know if this will work, I do know that this is a better response than the immediate reaction I had.
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December 20, 2012 | 10:45 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
When I had a drug problem, my parents were begging me to check into rehab. They saw that I was dying and wanted to do whatever they could to save my life. But I have noticed that there is another trend—the kid wants to check in, but it is the parent who is terrified.
Kids want to free themselves of the parents who have always taken care of their every need—they are no longer content to stagnate. But parents are afraid—they view rehabs as places that contain people from the bottom sect of society. They worry what family and friends will think. Parents think, or hope, that their child is just going through a phase and that they will grow out of it. They believe that their child will go to rehab and come out with a tattoo of Kurt Cobain on their forearm.
These parents think that their child’s addiction is a reflection of their ability to be decent parents. They see addiction as a disease from which their children are exempt. But nobody is exempt from addiction—whether young or old, rich or poor, Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight, smart or dumb—it does not matter.
So, instead of worrying about what other people think, start thinking about what is best for your child.
December 19, 2012 | 1:45 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
If you have spent any substantial period of time with either Rabbi Mark or Harriet Rossetto, you have probably heard of the both/and. In short, this idea means that two seemingly contradicting things can exist at the same time. For instance, I can feel happiness and sadness at the same time. In high school Chemistry, we are taught that light is both a wave and a particle. In addiction, we both like our addicted selves and loathe our addicted selves. In fact, I even could argue that, in addiction, there is a both/both/and/and: We like to loathe our addicted selves and we hate that we like being dependent. The point is that there is an incongruence--a schism in reality. A split.
Many would argue that the media portrays addiction lightly--either in a way that appeals to young people (mainly through glamor; see: Lindsey Lohan and Courtney Love), or in a way that spotlights the cycle of addiction and subsequent recovery as a requisite to being from Los Angeles (see: any novel written by Bret Easton Ellis). I would argue that addiction is portrayed as accurately as it needs to be: people who are unable to stay sober are slandered, while those who do stay sober tend to exceed expectations (see: Russell Brand and Robert Downey Jr.).
The reality is that the media doesn’t skew addiction; the media skews the split. Award winning TV shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad are not well-received because drugs are involved. Walter White is a cultural icon because we see his split; we see how manufacturing meth is both bad and good for his family. We identify with Nancy Botwin because we understand that selling marijuana is morally wrong, but also ethically necessary. These stories are entertaining because they showcase the virtue of contradiction, of paradoxes in real life situations, of total inevitabilities.
Characters with the biggest splits tend to feel conflicted. How many times have we seen Walter White try to save his partner Jesse from the perils of crystal meth? How many times have we heard Nancy Botwin say that she wants to live an honest, tax-paying life? If this were the case, those shows would be boring. We don’t want to be bored. However, just because we are enthralled with the split does not mean that we have to live in the split.
December 18, 2012 | 10:44 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rachel Goldman Neubauer
After Chanukah, especially when it is earlier in the year than Christmas, I find myself getting lost in the shuffle. Christmas takes over my surroundings. I can hardly visit a retail establishment—including the supermarket—without it being completely overt. I start to realize that the year only has a matter of days left (WHERE DID THE TIME GO??), and everything we had focused on during Chanukah—mainly this concept of focusing on light in the darkest time of the year—has been quickly forgotten.
How do you keep the spiritual light going?
I don't have an answer for this, but the "first step" is at least admitting you have a problem...and let me tell you, I really struggle with this. Why is it that it takes eight days to remind us of spiritual light, but takes far less time for us to completely forget it?
We learn in Judaism that each human being has a Yetzer HaRa and a Yetzer Tov, an evil inclination and a good inclination. In each of us there is darkness; yet, in each of us there is also light. The proportions are supposed to be equal—a person has as much light as he or she has darkness—so why does it seem like one is so much easier to grasp than the other? Why is it that darkness can overwhelm and swallow a person, even when they have an equal amount of light in them?
Chanukah has also provided me with a powerful image that seems to be the thing that gets me through times when I get pessimistic and I feel like I am swallowed in darkness. A tiny candle on the first night of Chanukah, which is obviously far outnumbered by the amount of darkness that surrounds it, cannot be swallowed up by darkness. Other forces like wind or water can put it out, but darkness itself cannot extinguish light. The only way I can let my light be swallowed up by my darkness is IF I LET IT through other forces...even the smallest amount of light has a great fight. Even the smallest spark can keep the darkness at bay.
I wish everyone an end of the year not necessarily filled with light, because that usually isn't realistic and sounds a little idealistic. Instead, I wish for everyone to realize that even the smallest bit of light they have in their life can be, perhaps, their most powerful asset and their greatest ally. Let it shine.
December 17, 2012 | 1:16 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
I sat down to write this week's blog entry and immediately felt compelled to write about the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Why? Because in a blog with open categories, dedicated to meaningful discussion, this will undoubtedly be the week's focus. Why? Because it's shocking, it's terrible, it comes from the darker recesses of human capacity, and it is what the media is telling us to focus on. It would almost seem wrong not to write about it, it was children after all (and 6 adults).
What will people discuss around this issue? Gun control, no gun control, the mental status of the perpetrator, his background, upbringing, is he insane or is he just evil? Metal detectors in schools? The children in the ghetto or around the world who die everyday but don't make the news especially in Chicago (I almost did that one, I'm so liberal I cant even stand it!). Obama's response, video games, music, movies, how crazy the world has gotten, or how the world's always been crazy and people just like to say that, or how the world's not crazier, we just know more because of communication technology and weird post modern transparency?
Bring out the politicians and clergy to tell us: how we should all come together, we should care, we should pray, we should donate, we should hug our kids and kiss them before we put them to bed at night. Some insensitive jerk will write about the popular response to tragedy and the racing media cycle, and how we will all be over this in a week except for the victims families. I myself was thinking about writing on the dull knife of boredom that we all are suffering from, therefore to have any feeling, even sadness, in the wake of tragedy gives us something to feel, something to remind us we are alive. And how if we talk about it for a week, we can keep it going, feed on it until it's dried bone. Yeah, I would have written about the starvation of the human spirit and how we go about scouring the world (the closer to home the better) for juicy information and spread like some kind of virus, like some kind of Borg Hive (star trek reference) incorporating all potential interpretations into our monotone group psyche and leaving nothing but confusion and more hunger in our wake (I chose not to write about that, it seemed insensitive and a little too negative).
Clearly I'm bothered by this event, and as a psychological defense have used sarcasm to avoid the painful truth of our reality. I could have written about sarcasm as a defense against the real true feelings we experience in life, or how we wish we had real feelings and what we experience is marginal at best like "I can't believe it's not feelings" you won't even be able to tell the difference, I could have written about that, yeah I could have written lots of stuff but I've chosen "Not writing about the Newtown Tragedy" as my subject this week, because sometimes real life is too sad for words.
December 16, 2012 | 2:46 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
We've been doing this daily redemption blog for over a month now. We hope the experience has been as gratifying for you as it has been for us. If, by some chance, you are still confused on what redemption really is, than we implore you to watch this video of our Services from Friday night. At the core of our mission is the principle that nobody is un-redeemable. If one person can be helped from that mission than we have done our job. Enjoy!
December 15, 2012 | 1:42 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Justin Rosenberg is the man behind the camera at Beit T'Shuvah. Every photo, every video, every piece of digital history that our congregation has to offer--he is the man to thank. Justin went through the program a year and a half ago and since coming aboard as a staff member, he has made it his mission to make sure no precious moment goes un-captured. Justin sat down to answer our Saturday Questionnaire and tell us a little more about himself.
What is your idea of redemption?
Redemption is choosing to move forward. To me it's about choosing to live my life in different ways then I did in the past. It's about focusing on who I am rather than who I was.
What was BTS's role in your life?
Beit T'Shuvah taught me to show up for my own life. I used to hide in plain sight and now I am an active participant in living.
What do you like most about yourself?
What I like most about myself is my personality. I like the fact that no matter what happens, I still try and keep an optimistic/grateful outlook on life. Trust me, I didn't used to think these kinds of positive thoughts. I have learned to have endurance both mentally and spiritually.
What quality do you value most in your friends?
I think I'd have to say acceptance and optimism. They need the ability to laugh at themselves and just have a good outlook on life. My friends should have the ability to find the good in any situation.
What is your favorite occupation?
Other than cosmonaut? I'd have to go with photographer. Really, people have called me a digital ninja because I'm in so many places simultaneously.
Who are your heroes real or fictional?
Besides Bill and Ted? Um, somebody who really exemplifies the concept of altruism and selflessness. Somebody like my friend Melissa Wu. She runs a non-profit animal shelter/ animal rescue service. She's somebody who believes in the under dog.
What inspires you?
Growth. I have a fear of stagnation so anybody that has the potential for growth is inspirational. I am inspired by knowing that there's a lot more in the world that I have yet to experience.
What is your major fault?
My biggest character defect would have to be my lone ninja/ superman complex. I have a hard time saying no and also asking for help.
What is your motto?
I've never really thought about it but if I had to choose. "Look Forward."
What is your present state of mind at this moment?
At peace with the present, hungry for the future.
December 14, 2012 | 11:23 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
10:00am - I have finished my last counseling session and I meet a new resident who is a compulsive gambler. We begin to talk and he is in some denial regarding his issues. Kyle (a fictitious name) is aware that he has suffered losses in his life, materially and emotionally; he is just bewildered that he is considered a compulsive gambler. I ask him why and he starts to tell me his story. He doesn't go to casinos or racetracks, he does not have a bookie or bet on sports events. He is a serious "investor" in the stock market. Yes, he says, he has had a lot of losses but, he proudly proclaims, he has really hit it big at times. I ask him if he ever saved any of his "winnings" from when he hit it big and he drops his head and says no in an embarrassed tone. I ask him what he means by "serious investor" and who's money he invested?
Kyle tells me that it was his money as well as money from his family and the real problem is that none of his family, including his wife, sees the brilliance of his strategy! What is the strategy, I ask. He proudly proclaims: " I am a shorter." “Huh?” I ask. Kyle tells me that he looks for companies that he thinks will go down in the market, they are being overvalued, execs not as good as they think they are, etc. and bets against them. I ask him how he finds these companies and he doesn't give me a clear response. I am intrigued by this. He tells me that Hedge Funds do this all the time, they invest long term and short the companies they invest in as well, hence Hedge Funds. I don't go into that area with Kyle, rather I ask him what he does to determine these "bad" companies and why not to invest in companies he believes in? Kyle's response is outrageous to me.
"Rabbi, you don't get it! I go out and find these companies and then I start talking smack about them on the Internet. I never actually accuse them of wrong-doing, I just ask questions that can undermine the investor confidence and then watch the stock go down! It is like being King of the World when that happens, it is a process that has been around for a long time. I just think I am an artist about it!"
My mouth is hanging open and I feel my blood boiling! I am about to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. I am livid and agree with Kyle. "You may or may not be a compulsive gambler, Kyle. You are, without a doubt, a person who perpetrates evil on others, however. Your glee at the misfortunes of a company is disgusting and your attempts to cause the downfall of others is ethically, morally and spiritually criminal. No wonder your family threw you out of their home and don't want anything to do with you. You are bankrupt financially, you and I agree. You are also bankrupt in your soul, mind and emotions."
I am on a roll and I feel myself wanting to go ballistic, to Defcon 5! I am trying to hold it back, yet I am so angry it is hard. I take a breath and look at Kyle and his bewildered looking at me and I realize I am a looking at myself 25+ years ago. I was that guy who revelled in the misfortunes of others as long as I profited. I stopped myself from DEFCON5 by remembering that Kyle wasn't me and I didn't have to be mad at myself or him for my past errors. I remembered that I was redeemed and Kyle could redeem himself! I engaged with Kyle in a different discussion. I talked to him about the difference between legal and ethical living. I explained to him that what he was doing was evil because he was using the vulnerabilities of another, the companies he was shorting, against them. He was appealing to the lowest part of himself and others, the desire to "win at any cost.”
He wanted to be "king of the world" at someone else's demise, not based on his own merits. Kyle argued with me, of course, and I continued to explain to him that God created the world and brought order to chaos. Judaism is a way of living that does the same. We are created in the Image of God and our responsibility is to bring order to chaos, distinguish between right and wrong, light and dark, etc. When I told him that I learned from Meir Tamari, a leading financial ethicist in Israel, that there are 28 laws about Kosher Food and over 100 laws about Kosher Money, Kyle was shocked. How we make money, how we spend it, how we save it, how we do righteous acts (Tzedakah), etc. are what is important.
I was struck at how easy it is for so many people to revel in the demise of others rather than helping others succeed. I am always sad at the people who attack me, Beit T’Shuvah, their own families, Israel, Judaism, other people all of whom try in our own imperfect way to lift others up to their highest selves. I ask you all to consider these two questions with me: 1) What is the pleasure I/we get out of watching/helping the demise of good people? 2) How can all of us help ourselves and others be focused on creating goodness rather than promoting destruction and evil?