Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
Yesterday, I was speaking with a group of sixth graders at a Jewish day school in the valley. We asked each student to name a person that they believe represents wholeness. They responded with answers ranging from “Mom and Dad” to “Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.” One young girl said, “Demi Lovato,” which stirred a response from a boy sitting a few seats over. “Demi Lovato?” he questioned. “She can’t represent wholeness—she’s done drugs.”
We told the students that each was entitled to their opinion, but questioned the ethic that wholeness is synonymous with perfection; rather, wholeness can spring from the embrace of imperfection. We tried to explain the paradox that is “Perfect Imperfection” in esoteric and Judaic terms, but Demi Lovato seemed to be a better way to get our point across.
We preach redemption. We contend that everybody errs. It is what you do to make t’shuvah that makes you human. “Where the repentant stands even the most saintly cannot reach.” The narrative arc of Demi Lovato’s life is not necessarily something that students should emulate, but the redemption part certainly is. Each student will come to a point in their life where they will make a mistake. And hopefully, our message shows them that this does not make them bad—it makes them human.
We are attempting to run a campaign that effectively counters the modern need to attain perfection. Hopefully, more children can be like the little girl who believes that Lovato’s redemption in something to look up to.
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February 27, 2013 | 1:58 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
In the spirit of both midterms and novelty blogs (see my last blog}, I have compiled a bibliography of my life. In AA, we often hear people’s stories in a specific and usually linear fashion. What does your story look like objectively? Let us know in the comments.
Addicted to Redemption, “I Am A Surprisingly Competitive Blog Writer”
November 4th, 2012-Current. Age 22-23.
Beit T’Shuvah, “Successful Sobriety, Recovery, and a Life Worth Getting Out of Bed For”
August 18, 2010. Ages 20-23.
College, “Heroin and Subsequent Withdrawal”
2008. Age 18.
Dad, “Things Are So Normal By Now That Sometimes My Dad Forgets That I’m Sober”
May 6, 1949. Age 0-23.
High School, “Smoking Weed and Drinking Until I Pass Out Feels Better Than Staying Conscious”
2003-2004, 2007-2008. Age 14-18.
Home School, “Depression Weighs Heavy; My Bed is My Only Solace”
2005-2006. Age 15-16.
Middle School, “Traumatic Moments in my Life that May or May Not Have Added Fodder to the Fire of my Growing Addiction”
2001-2003. Age 11-13.
Mom, “A of Psychoanalysis, Law School, and Ballroom Dancing”
n.d. Ages -.75-23.
My Brother, “Just Do It, And More of Max’s Maxims”
April 22, 1984. Age 0-23.
My Sister, “Two Identified Patients, One Family?”
April 12, 1982. Age 0-12, 14-16, 18-19, 21-23.
Tarzana Detox Center, “Kicking for the Last Time”
August 11-18, 2010. Age 20.
February 26, 2013 | 10:54 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
Our world, the Big Blue Marble containing existence, is looking for immediate support. It is with great trepidation that the direction of the globe’s movement is in question. This is not in reference to the counterclockwise spin. This is in reference to the demand for decency amongst its inhabitants. It has come to our attention that we are lacking in areas that are direct links for the continued growth of our moveable parts. We feel that a collective effort will be necessary for these parts to function in a motion that represents dignity, credibility, and that is integral. Since there are theoretically 7 billion applicants we will be very particular. Below is a list of attributes along with responsibilities that will be required for the position.
• You must be willing to reveal your imperfections
• You must have the capacity to accept responsibility and not blame others for your own behavior
• You have all the power you want—over yourself, not others
• You must see the big picture; just completion of your own responsibilities will not do
• You must celebrate the success of others
• You must fail, when you fail you must fail forward
• You cannot be a “yes man”—this means demonstrating the ability to do the next right thing no matter what you feel
• You cannot be a “no man”—we don’t take kindly to red tape, bureaucratic hoopla, and political shenanigans
• Value your own integrity over the orientation of people pleasing-no one likes a kiss ass
• You are not allowed to be boring, the world is already filled with boring
• Living in the past is prohibited
• Living in the future is prohibited
• Simplify, simplify, simplify
Asking you for the above mentioned may cause for confusion and hopefully self-reflection. We understand that this is not for everyone. Your business experience, fiscal successes, and motivation are not necessary. If you are a corporate mogul, auspicious executive, or a goody two-shoe obsessed with the bottom line, recognition, and the spotlight then this has gone over your head. There will be an opportunity for everyone to join in this metamorphosis, just bring yourself and your truth.
If you do not meet these requirements and/or are not willing to make the proper adjustments to meet these requirements, along with perform the duties of the job—you will be subject to termination. Termination is defined by a continued existence of being stuck, an inability to enjoy, be fulfilled, or become whole. To be terminated by death would be to allow you to get “off the hook”, and we’re not going to do that.
All who are terminated will be moved to the southernmost part of the world; Ellsworth Land, this is located in Antarctica and has landmarks such as the South Pole and the Transarctic Mountains. Please bring a coat. Unless you look like Kate Upton.
If you find this concept cheesy and sophomoric, expect your ticket to Antarctica in the mail soon…..
February 25, 2013 | 2:00 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religions in the west. One of the features of this religion that can help to account for its growth is that many don't consider Buddhism a religion at all. Is Buddhism a Religion? Many would say it is not, as it is often labeled a "philosophy" or "belief system" or a "practice.” In the recent controversy between science and religion the new atheists often single Buddhism out as distinctly different than the three fountainhead religions." Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn't quite belong with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core". What in the history, practice and philosophy of Buddhism has created this categorical confusion? What does this confusion tell us about Buddhism? Is Buddhism so radically different from the Judaic faiths that it doesn't belong in the same category?
Huston Smith describes Buddhism as "Empirical, scientific, pragmatic, therapeutic, psychological, egalitarian and directed to individuals." It is these qualities that attract the modern, western mind; these are the qualities of the idealized western man since The Enlightenment. This perhaps goes a long way in explaining Buddhism’s growing popularity in the west, but at best would make it a practical reasonable religion but a religion none the less. My opinion is that all of these controversies around whether Buddhism is a religion or not centers around this concept we call G-d. Buddha himself was silent on issues of the supernatural; it seems clear that in the Buddhist faith however there is no personal G-d. Buddha also did not believe in a soul that survives death, no soul, no G-d we seem to be quickly slipping away from religious territory, unfortunately it gets a bit more complicated. There are two monkey wrenches in the Buddhist faith that make defining its theological boundaries difficult. One is Nirvana, the other is Karma. Buddhism is a redemptive faith in that if one lives right they can attain some freedom from the pain of this life. In Buddhist doctrine there is an unseen, unprovable attainable goal to living, that is Nirvana. There is also an unseen absolute moral order in Buddhism that is Karma. Although this unseen order is not explicitly divine in origin it might as well be because it serves the same purpose. In Buddhism, like the monotheistic faiths, there is an invisible meaningful world which we engage in heading towards some liberating grand finale. For all its talk of transients, Karma seems to be a static supernatural force in the world and justice seems absolute. Nirvana does resemble some abstract heaven at least in place holding, if not in description.
Buddhism is a religion like any religion. What makes it so is its statement of an unseen moral order to the universe and transcendent potential. It is less literal, and more abstract than the Judaic faiths. It is also more in harmony with the current western ethos. The fact that Buddhism doesn't mention G-d, to this author’s mind, is unremarkable, because the concepts of Karma and Nirvana do G-ds job for him. Buddhism is unique from the perspective of a monotheist and its roots feel quite different, but those differences are cultural rather than categorical.
February 24, 2013 | 3:12 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rachel Goldman Neubauer
Purim, as most of us know, is all about masks. Esther hid her Jewish identity from King Ahashverosh, even after marriage, until revealing herself meant saving lives.
While I love being silly and dressing up in costume, there are certain things about Purim that don’t always sit well with me. Mainly, I dislike the message that it’s sometimes ok to hide who you are. Yes, I understand that in ancient Persia it made sense for Esther to conceal her entire identity for obvious reasons of safety…and I also recognize that, unfortunately, there are still parts of the world where this fact is necessary. For those of us blessed enough to live here in America, though, we clearly don’t live in some form of Shushan with a Haman breathing down our backs and our true identities no longer are things that could put our lives in danger. In fact, hiding ones’ self out of fear, shame, guilt, etc. is the very thing that can either drive someone back into addiction or keep them there. Hiding is the new Haman for alcoholics and for anyone trying to live a life of transparency and rigorous honesty.
Last year, my friend and colleague Shira Freidlin started a new tradition at Beit T’Shuvah for Purim that I think deserves sharing. We still dress up at Beit T’Shuvah, but instead of dressing up as anything that we feel like, we take some part of ourselves that we mask on a normal basis and let that part of us fly during the holiday. I still to this day am someone who almost always appears put together, and sometimes (albeit far less so than, say, seven years ago) that’s because I’m terrified of someone actually seeing that I’m not always together and I’m not perfect. It was quite liberating to show up to work in a Forever Lazy and show the world that I’m not always put together and I don’t have to be. The parts of us that we try to hide from the world are just as much a part of us as the parts we show, and it’s nice to be able to spin a holiday about masking into one that embraces unmasking from the beginning.
We all had a great time last night at our schpiel, both from laughing and embracing our whole selves. I wish everyone a Purim Sameach.
February 22, 2013 | 11:10 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Los Angeles lost a great personality this past week with the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss. What do bureaucracies and Dr. Buss have in common? NOTHING. Which is exactly my point. While I did not know Dr. Buss, I watched him, as did most Angelenos.
Dr. Buss bought the Lakers at a time when they were an okay team. He set about to Redeem the team and the city of Los Angeles. Because he was immersed in his life and his work, he found ways to reinvent the team and the city many times during his tenure at the helm of the Lakers. He was a man who valued relationships as much and/or more than money. He was a man who hated mediocrity and mendacity. He cared about and took care of people. He never forgot about the "common man" roots he came from and, while he lived as a rich man, he kept true to the principles of decency and honor. He did not settle for "whatever," "why bother," etc.
Bureaucrats and Bureaucracies, on the other hand, do feed on "whatever," "why bother,” "we can't do this,” "you don't fit our criteria,” etc. I, like all of us, have dealt with these people often. Customer Service is an oxymoron these days. They don't serve the customer; they serve the company/bureaucracy. The "I'm sorry you feel this way,” "these are the rules" responses are designed to never admit error and turn the issue into someone else's fault (usually ours)! This is the exact opposite of Dr. Buss and Redemption.
We are in a Great War in our Country. We have the example of Dr.Buss who saw his own errors and worked hard to change them. We have the example of large and small companies, Government, individuals who blame errors on "the other guy.” This Great War is being fought every day. We are the soldiers and the battlefield is our living well or settling for mediocrity and mendacity. I am "Addicted to Redemption" and I fight for living well. I have the scars and wounds from this war. I am not perfect and therefore I can be written off by many. I have a sordid past and this can be used against me. I am a Rabbi and I don't "act like a regular Rabbi.” I co-lead a community that is invested in living well and not settling. I believe with every fiber of my being that mediocrity and mendacity are against God's Will. I believe in and fight for the dignity and uniqueness of each individual.
Bureaucracies work to make everyone the same. They take individuality, creativity and dignity away from people. They want everything vanilla. Dr. Buss saw the individual worth of his people, players, fans, office, family and friends. He respected and encouraged their individuality and taught and inspired them to be part of the collective. Dr. Buss created and kept alive SHOWTIME! Bureaucracy kills and buries uniqueness.
While Dr. Buss wasn't Jewish and I don't know his connection to religion, he lived a life that coincides with Jewish Thinking. He lived with passion, purpose, error and brilliance, kindness and love. He lived a life of Redemption of Truth, being the best he could in any given moment and unafraid to show and be a whole human being.
This Great War will be won when all of us, or at least 51% of us, follow Jewish Thinking and Dr. Jerry Buss' examples and not Bureaucracy! Please join me as a soldier in this Great War and let's stamp out mediocrity and mendacity and be worthy of the legacy Dr. Buss leaves us with.
February 21, 2013 | 10:23 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
Upon the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008, many claimed that this was the final indicator that our nation had moved beyond Plessy, Jim Crow, and Ole Miss—that we finally live in a post-racist nation. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Bigotry still seeps through the underbelly of our country, from Neo-Nazis to satellite groups of a fledgling Ku Klux Klan.
But in many ways, overt racism is now a thing of the past. Equal opportunity laws make it clear that nobody is to be denied employment based upon race, color, or creed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of professional sports. Though the NBA and the NFL have integrated black, white, brown, and yellow—a new plague of segregation has arisen from the ashes of past battles. In the locker rooms of professional sports, where racism has been silenced, homophobia now whispers. In a world that promotes the male ego and misogyny, athletes are ostracized if they come out of the closet. The ethics of machismo far outweigh the value of inclusion.
This is why I was drawn to an organization named “Athlete Ally.” Its mission is to “encourage all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and to lead others in doing the same.” Last week, Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried joined the organization. Raised by two lesbian mothers, Faried is now doing his part to erase the stigma of homosexuality in professional sports.
Athlete Ally is just one organization and Kenneth Faried is just one man. But together, they are part of the redemption of professional sports. As role models for our nation’s children, athletes are an integral piece in the country’s movement toward complete equality.
February 20, 2013 | 1:44 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
Age .2: I have just been circumcised for no apparent reason. A bearded man prayed to me. I cried throughout the night.
Age 4: I have begun to notice that there are other people in this world known as “Christians.” My favorite television shows all have specials during this time of year. I don't understand how that tree got inside those houses. I learn about a “mistletoe,” which is an evil contraption that will make any girl kiss me. I carefully plan how I could use a mistletoe, should I ever find one.
Age 5: My classmates have started talking about an elderly Caucasian man known as Santa Claus. I ask my mother who this obese man is, and if he will come to our house bearing gifts. She tells me that he's not real. I smile and think about this secret; only my mother and I are aware of the foolish beliefs of the rest of the world. I wonder what eggnog tastes like.
Age 6: It's some Jewish Holiday, which means that I have to read aloud, as I am the youngest of the group. My sister begs my father to let us “find the matzah,” which is a hidden piece of stale bread. The yeast-less substance is always behind the oven, and my father very socialistically gives each of us a $20 bill. I make sure to remind my siblings that I found the matzah, and I take note that it tastes delicious when smothered with peanut butter.
Age 7: My brother has something called a Bar Mitzvah. He is 13 years old and now considered a man. He reads in a foreign language and discusses the Holocaust. I become even wearier of the German-sounding Santa Claus.
Age 8: My family has recently moved to Los Angeles and made friends with a Christian family. We are invited to church. I spend the next three hours thinking about my next move in Pokemon. I learn that my mother accidentally drinks the holy water.
Age 9: I feel uncomfortable sitting next to a German girl in school. I wonder if her parents are Nazis.
Age 11: I grow angry and fed up with religion. My thoughts of God have become dark. I read my first Bukowski novel. The idea of God seems stupid. I brush off the thought of planning for my very own Bar Mitzvah, despite the large sums of money my friends have accumulated.
Age 12: My father sends me to Stephen S. Weiss for one year and I am miserable. I don't understand the Friday morning prayers. The uniform is uncomfortable and the grape juice too sweet. I began to exercise silence during the “Under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance. I spend much of my time in the principal's office.
Age 13: I make it clear to my father that I will not have a Bar Mitzvah. I grow embarrassed of my Jewish ethnicity and decide to change my last name. I ask people for change at school and they call me a Jew. I hate my nose and try to find the best angle for photos of my face.
Age 14: My parents are talking about the Israeli-Palestine conflict and I tell them I don't care. They are shocked and disappointed.
Age 16: I tell myself that people believe in God because they are too weak to believe in themselves. This idea comforts me and I feel superior to most human beings. I debate becoming a Satanist, opting instead for the sanctity of atheism. Later, I decide instead that I will simply have no religion.
Age 18: Heroin.
Age 19: I am dope-sick and I go to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. They talk about God and they hold hands. They are weak. I pop Imodium until the prayer at the end. I don't know the words and I stay silent, just as I had during my years at Stephen S. Weiss. I swear off AA for one year.
Age 20: My father gives me an ultimatum. I can either go to temple for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, or I can find an alternative place to live. I have been kicking dope for two days and I go to temple. My stomach is churning and there are families everywhere. I think about the hidden track marks on my arms and begin to weep next to my mother. My anxiety skyrockets and my sobbing becomes uncontrollable. I tell my parents I am going to use the restroom, catch a ride to Highland Park, and get high. I ignore the phone calls from my family for the rest of the day.
Age 21: I have been inserted into a Jewish-based rehabilitation program. Shabbat services are not unbearable, even though I still don't know the prayers. I enjoy a respectable 50% of the things Rabbi Mark discusses during Ethics. Somebody gives me change and says it's a “mitzvah.”
Age 22: I recognize that there is nothing inherent in Judaism that I am ashamed of. The Torah, just like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is filled with stories that are meant for us to be good and righteous people. I am still filled with anger at the thought of stereotypes and religious fanaticism.
Age 23: I work at a Jewish rehab and am educated at a respectable Jesuit university. I have generally abandoned my 16-year old thoughts of Godlessness and instead opt for a balance between my yetzer h'ara and my yetzer h'atov. Religion no longer makes me cringe, and I no longer feel shame in Judaism. I am proud of the fact that I was brought up to wrestle with different ideas. Still, I deny my father's pushes for a Bar Mitzvah.