Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I was reading an article in last Saturday’s New York Times titled: No Religious Exemption when it comes to Abuse. In it, there were stories about different Religious Institutions, including Jewish places of Higher Learning, and the abuse that they “swept under the rug” because they didn’t want to embarrass the perpetrators and themselves. I got very angry about this. If we are not going to hold ourselves to transparency and Truth, then how can we preach this to others? I am so tired of the Holier than Thou attitude of Religious Institutions, Political Parties and Politicians, NGOs, etc. What part of T’Shuvah don’t they understand?? When Yeshiva University is unwilling to DO and BE T’Shuvah, what is this saying about our Tradition? It is not only Yeshiva University that does this, most of our Jewish Institutions “hide their dirty laundry,” following, as the article says, the 11th Commandment; thou shalt not air thy dirty laundry. We even used to say, “SHHHH, it’s a Shonda for the Goyim. Don’t say anything, it will be a shame for Non-Jews to know this ‘secret.’”
As a person who believes in T’Shuvah, this is antithetical to me! I am angry and upset that we keep violating the tenets and the essence of our Torah with these actions. Our Torah and our entire Bible tells the stories of our ancestor’s greatness and their flaws. It tells the stories of how our People Israel hid, violated God’s laws for living well, and the consequences of these actions, both good and not good. Yet, our leaders and institutions continue to hide and deflect and explain away our errors. Aren’t we tired of the same old lies?? When are we going to LIVE TORAH, BE TORAH and stop being afraid of our whole selves and our authentic selves? When are we going to accept our imperfections and accept the parts of us we don’t like so much?
What does this have to do with my life, you may be asking? I will tell you. This week at Beit T’Shuvah, I declared Amnesty. I do this every so often in order to give people the experience of being transparent and not needing to hide. There is no punishment attached to this Amnesty. Instead, all of the Spiritual Counselors work with their people to find ways to do T’Shuvah and change behaviors that stop them from living well. This is for the individual and the community. I read the writings this morning. While there was not any mayhem or murder, there were/are constant violations of our “rules” and hiding and sneaking around. If someone else were to read these amnesties they would not be aghast or upset, yet I am.
I am upset that the teachings of wholeness, transparency and principles of T’Shuvah are not believed in and practiced more by our residents. I am upset that the same things that people were doing “out there” and in their families are being repeated here in their recovery! I am upset that our staff can’t keep on top of these things because there are too many clients and not enough staff. I am upset that the staff isn’t getting these messages through to our clients well enough. I am most upset that I am not inspiring and communicating our belief in Truth as one of the most important principles of living.
I am excited at the honesty of our clients. I am excited by their belief that telling the truth will not bring punishment. I am excited that we can help all of them take their hidings and make them into stepping stones for living better. I am excited that we can help them do T’Shuvah and change their behaviors and be unafraid of “baring” all.
Because I am “addicted to redemption” I am excited to help people learn to live with their “dark” sides and not have these “shames” to live in. I am excited to help our staff look at themselves and help them grow in their own lives. I am excited to see where I have missed the mark and take steps to improve my own living and teaching.
I have not committed the wrongs of the institutions that were in last Saturday’s New York Times. Most of us have not and we all have things that we are hiding from. I propose that all of us do an “AMNESTY” with ourselves and find a guide/Rabbi/Spiritual Counselor to share this with and then find the ways to DO and BE T’Shuvah.
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January 10, 2013 | 1:59 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
As a program that is based in the principles of Jewish spirituality, Partners in Prevention mostly visits schools and camps of the Judaic persuasion. At these institutions, students are given the knowledge that comes with a rigorous secular education. But teachers and administrators are given another, equally important task— to instill Jewish values, morals, and ethics within their students. The sense of community and Jewish identity is apparent at all of these institutions—this is what separates them from their neighborhood, private school brethren. However, though Jewish identity is strong, students react in much the same way as their public school contemporaries when broached with the subject of God.
Many students are atheist and many are agnostic. They reject the “bearded sky-man” depiction of God and therefore react with contempt at the mere mention of the word. Most are Jewish teenagers that, as the saying goes, “collected their dividends at age 13, then got out of the business.” They didn’t leave Judaism, but they abandoned their search for God. I am not saying that this is a bad thing. I am not criticizing it; it is simply an observation. And with this observation, I would like to propose a question, “when did mainstream Jewish education become divorced from the concept of God?”
January 9, 2013 | 3:01 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
I am very attracted to the idea of a community. It is not something that I had when I was growing up, and when I was thrown into Beit T'Shuvah as a dope-sick, existentially disturbed 20-year-old, communal living didn't exactly seem like the answer to any of my problems. In fact, after reading enough Sartre and Thoreau, I preferred being alone to being around large groups of people.
What I realized, however, is that communities are often a cognitive necessity. It is well known that our senses are generally unreliable: taste and olfactory become diminished after years of Marlboro Reds; our brains make up what we see in our periphery; a worldwide loss of hearing occurred after the introduction of the iPod. As a result, we are people whose words carry very little merit. Even memory is so malleable that the courtroom may not accept it as valid. I see this daily in my office: after reciting a sequence of digits, my clients will be asked to repeat the same sequence. Once they reach their capacity, they—unconsciously--guess the missing numbers. Just as there is a blind spot in our vision, there is a blind spot in our memory.
This trait is common among different aspects of human beings. C4N Y0U R34D TH1S? We are excellent at filling things in; in fact, I could probably write “C4N R34D Y0U TH1S,” and most people wouldn't notice the difference between the two alphanumeric phrases. While this is evolutionarily—and realistically—necessary, there are still problems. What if we misperceive something? What if a drug and alcohol counselor gives a set of directions, and they become discombobulated and nonsensical by the time they are understood? What if twelve-step programs are just too many steps for most individuals to comprehend in one sitting?
Communities fill the hole in the gap of our senses. As individuals, we understand very little of what goes on in the outside world. As community members, though, we fill in the gaps for each other. If a twelve-step program seems too daunting, overflowing your mental and emotional capacity, you get a sponsor. If you don't understand a passage in the Torah, or one of Rabbi Mark's sermons, you ask a member of the community. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
January 8, 2013 | 11:15 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
Let’s all do ourselves a favor and not deny the parallels between sex, food, and love. If you’re anything like me (and for health care’s sake, I hope you aren’t) the battle vacillates between mildly pleasant and unfortunately problematic. The following is a list of thoughts that connect the two and begin to demonstrate the relationship between them:
I am generally unable to enjoy myself when I eat because my mind is focused on my next feast. I do not eat “presently”; as my palate explodes with taste, I feel only the most fleeting moment of freedom. When people are discussing the presentation, taste, and accouterments of their food mid-chew, I look at Urban Spoon and collect data for my next gluttonous adventure. This trait is generalized with all human beings; be it with food or otherwise. Sheepishly, I’ve participated in thinking of another when I was with someone.
It’s difficult to be romantic or present when you’re starving; one of the only times I can put down the fork is when I’m in the preliminary infatuation phase. My sense of hunger becomes obsolete. Our bodies release a natural stimulant called norepinephrine that causes those feelings of butterflies, excitement, energy, and rapture. This may not make a lot of sense for the 1st dinner date idea; not to mention I’m not the biggest fan of smacking, salad in teeth, air sucking, jaw clicking, talking with food-in-mouth, spaghetti slurping, food moaning, projectile chewing, and my personal favorite; speed eating. The demonstration of the basic human needs here are uncanny, and more evidence of the union between these 3 hypotheses.
My efforts to make myself attractive are counteracted by food. When I am upset about my lack of sex appeal, I counter-intuitively comfort myself with food. Food and sex are not just coping mechanisms or bad habits; they are symbolic in nature. I tend to blur the lines between need and want, when instead I should be summoning spiritual inquisition in what I would like them to represent. I don’t believe this means being mindful every time I’m eating/with someone—that would destroy the passion and excitement. Instead, introducing consciousness of the feelings afterward could pose to be more informative.
I’d like to shy away from the message of satisfaction as I’m concerned it may destroy initiative. Instead, have an experience. Eat as much as you can (post what you eat on Instagram, it appears less self indulgent), enjoy who you like and get as many needs met as you possibly can. I do caution the repercussions, because food, sex, and love are so acutely connected. I would love to hear your experiences and if you believe that there is any bit of truth to this. Let’s break bread!
January 7, 2013 | 2:09 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
I started to write about G-d this morning but then decided I would write about Facebook. Why not? Facebook probably has more followers, just kidding...kind of. I don't like Facebook, so I don't really go on. This creates only mild difficulty in my life, at least once a day somebody is mad at me for not wishing them a happy Birthday, and I have to explain to them I didn't know it was their birthday because my inconsiderate wife did not update me on the Facebook birthdays for this week (actually she does, I just ignore her because I don't care who's B-Day it is this week!). Okay, so I have to deal with the Birthday thing and take the time to ignore my wife while she updates me, no biggie it's just time, the most precious resource we have. Okay, and a couple times a day people ask me why I haven't responded to their friend request, and I have to mechanically respond, "I don't really go on Facebook" while genuinely thinking, “plus we aren't really friends” (if you're on my Facebook wait list I'm just kidding). Why do I have a page you might ask (if you’re bright, and if you’re reading the Jewish Journal, I'm assuming you might be)? I didn't know what it was when I first signed up and it's really hard to get off. I tried once. It took me a week to figure out how to take the page down and there's a thirty day holding period after you pull the page. I made it twenty nine days and then freaked out and signed back on. What spurred my attempt to get off was when I noticed people posting about a friend that died and people would "like" the post. I found this trend horrific. I know people just did it out of stupidity, but any forum that provides more access to public stupidity, I didn't want to be a part of. Why did I chicken out of pulling my page completely at the last minute? I'm not sure, maybe it's my fear of death, even if it's virtual.
This morning my wife was trolling the b%#ch-festival-Bartlett's-Buddhist quotations that is Facebook and I was struck once again by how much I dislike it. Acquaintances whining about G-d knows what, minute-to-minute updates on how someone is feeling: PDA, TMI and my favorite, unsolicited pearls of wisdom from somebody going through a hard time.
So, in many ways I guess Facebook is not really that different from everyday existence. With one major exception: Infinite richness and depth. I can tolerate all of those things in real life because in real life I get infinite richness and depth. Make no mistake, real life can be absurd, however, at its core it is ultimately meaningful, which allows me to wrestle past my own, and other’s, ridiculousness to something higher, to real connection. I believe there are traces of the divine in all things, but layers of absurdity obscure divine light. I guess Facebook ultimately scares me because it tempts me into being even more removed from the things that matter than I already am. Facebook scares me because I think it makes everything shallow: love, life, death, truth and ancient wisdom all become bumper stickers on Facebook. A brilliant Rabbi once said, "the greatest challenge to human existence is absurdity, all human activity is plagued with absurdity," and in this regard, Facebook is a great challenge for me.
I woke up this morning with an urge to write about G-d, and ended up writing about Facebook. Why not, Facebook probably has more followers, but then again maybe the two aren't mutually exclusive.
January 6, 2013 | 12:23 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Josh Silver
Growing up, I was one of those kids who always compared myself to others. No matter how hard I tried I never seemed to be quick enough, smart enough, tall enough, artistic enough. Really you can just fill in any adjective and I would have found someone that was better than me. When I look back on the way I felt about myself I think that using drugs started as a way to quiet that voice of discontent in my head. I fell back on drugs as a crutch and as long as I was high I could rationalize my faults and blame my lack of “enough” on the fact that I was an addict.
Sobriety has given me a much better solution to this problem. I’ve learned that once you accept your faults, you are then able to see your own strengths. Of equal importance is the fact that once I accept my own faults, I can then accept the faults of others. I can learn to look at a whole person and not extrapolate their whole personality from a single action that they’ve made. So now, with these new tools, I can accept both others and myself.
It might seem pretty obvious that accepting your own faults can have a positive impact on your life; the truth is this is easier said than done. While there may never be a definitive “How To” on acceptance, there are a few little tricks to use.
First of all, start with the little things. Let yourself have some time everyday to be you. Be lazy, be scared, be weird, nerdy, stupid, obsessed, depressed—just be you. Next, try and make a list of things that you like about yourself. Funny enough, this is harder than it sounds but I refuse to believe that you (the reader) aren’t talented at anything. Lastly, combine these two aspects of yourself and try looking at the whole picture. Try surrounding yourself with people that will both call you on your bullshit and let you know when you’ve done something right.
Most importantly, realize that nobody is perfect and it’s pointless trying to be.
January 4, 2013 | 11:39 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I am always called on to make decisions or reverse decisions that others have made. These experiences come from Staff, families, residents, potential residents, community members, colleagues, etc. I sometimes think about the line from "If I were a Rich Man", "posing questions that would cross a Rabbi's eyes.”
I know that I have to make decisions and all of us make decisions/judgements all day long. Otherwise, we would all be walking around in a daze of chaos and paralysis. Yet, since I am Addicted to Redemption, I find myself twisted up between my absolute belief in the possibility of everyone being able to do T’Shuvah and the realities of the situation at hand. This week, I got a call from someone who had to be asked to leave. This person wanted to "do recovery different and right this time.” Given this person's history of deceit and inability to admit Truth when confronted with proof, I knew this was a long shot. Yet, I was also a long shot some 24 years ago. This person was successful in their field, smart, and capable of great insight and depth. I had seen glimpses of this in their prior stay at Beit T’Shuvah. The rest of the staff, or most of them, were terribly upset that I admitted this person, yet no one said anything to me. I am sitting here, in Starbucks in Encino, writing this blog and wondering if I made the right choice.
What goes into determining if a choice is right? The easy answer is: the outcome. I don't think this is true; the outcome is out of my hands. As much I would like to have the power to say, "HEAL" and make addiction go away, I know I don't and never will have that kind of power. So, I have made a decision to determine if a choice is right by how I make the choice. Is it an informed choice? Do I have as much of the facts as possible? Am I making this choice weighing what is best for the individual and the community? Am I being sure that I’m not "taking a bribe" or being blinded? Do I believe we can help this person? Am I the right person to make this decision?
In this case, I believe I made an informed decision. I know who this person is, good and not good. I weighed the impact on the community and on this person. I erred on the side of the person in this case because they were so " torn up.” I thought about whether I was being influenced by knowing her/his family, my own affinity for this person, the challenge of working with him/her because I saw my own former pathology and believe I/Beit T’Shuvah can reach her/him. I also had one of the senior staff with me when I interviewed this person. I know that this is a long shot; I know that this person could influence me because I see my self in this person. I also know that we have been successful helping this type of person. I know that certain parameters have to be put on this person and I know that this is a difficult type of person to treat.
Given all of this, I believe that I made the right decision. I would rather err on the side of compassion and care than just take the "safe" way. Even though on paper, this looks like a big mistake, I believe my process was correct. I went with my gut instinct. I went with my intuition and I was able to see the pain of this person's soul and believe that everyone deserves as many opportunities for redemption as they are willing to seize. I am addicted to redemption, I believe in redemption. I am a recipient of other people's belief and addiction to redemption. I have to give to others what was given to me, a chance to redeem myself and others.
January 3, 2013 | 1:30 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
Part of addiction is compulsion, and as this blog’s title is “Addicted to Redemption” we find that we must compulsively redeem ourselves. For us, redemption is not relegated to the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and it is not specific to New Years.
Jewishly and Secularly, these days are set aside to look at the past year and look forward into the next one. We make t’shuvah, we make promises, and we make resolutions. Often, these resolutions dissipate by the end of the day, week, or month. By February, we have fallen off the wagon and by May we have forgotten them altogether.
But there is a clear solution to this problem—become addicted to redemption. Make it a daily habit; change yourself every day. As we are fluid and dynamic beings, stagnation is synonymous with regression. If we do not make progress, we will inevitably fall. We must always be moving forward— however, it impossible to do this perfectly. We may slip, mess up, and move backwards. But that does not mean that redemption has flown out the window—it just means that we must recommit and rededicate ourselves to the process.
So, if you have already broken your resolution, don’t beat yourself up, because the process of change does not contain itself to the yearly markings of the Gregorian calendar.
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