Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
The ability to sit and be silent with oneself is a gift. I just returned from a three-day spiritual retreat in the desert where I was again reminded of the gift of silence, apart from the hectic pace of everyday life. Sitting, listening to the wind blow through the bushes and trees, hearing crows and other wild life, taking in the night sky full of stars and wonderment…To simply be present in the moment, in the silence, with an openness and appreciation for the Creator…Peace and serenity.
How often I forget this gift in my daily life. Finding those brief moments of reprieve where I can be silent with the Creator and take in the peace those moments bring are few and far between in the business of my life. Two Jobs, an internship for my school, sponsees, a few hours of sleep here and there, and the occasional afternoon visit to the golf course or beach are the norm…But what about simply being present in the moment, in the silence, with an openness and appreciation for the Creator.
I begin anew the journey after such a refreshing weekend with a renewed sense of making time to sit quietly in the moment, listening and appreciating the gifts of life. Perhaps some of you are finding a piece of this blog rings true for you in your life. I invite you into a moment of silence this week, a moment to take in the gifts of life, to sit before the Creator and embrace the peace and serenity it brings.
To the gift of sitting in silence, in appreciation, before the Creator I say Amen.
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August 19, 2013 | 2:43 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Joan Praver—Board Member/Volunteer
I try turning my motives into actions. If a friend had advised me to consider becoming a teacher or social worker when I questioned what I planned to take in college, I would have laughed. After trying to evaluate my tendencies or supposed talents, the only answer that moved me was my interest in fashion, my obsession with style and design. I selected the field of economics, hoping to go into merchandising, expecting to become a buyer for a department store. My hope was also to find the man of my dreams. The year was the end of 1945; the war had ended and servicemen were either returning to college or seeking an education through the GI Bill. I found the man of my dreams but never became a merchandiser.
I didn’t find out who I truly was until I hired a babysitter and began volunteering in charitable organizations. I learned how to take on various responsibilities like decorating the meeting room, writing the invitations to events, and was so imbued with the Jewish cause that I began making speeches to raise money, sticking with that until Annette Shapiro asked me to join the Board of Beit T’Shuvah. I then questioned myself as to what I could offer to do that would contribute to the residents seeking help with addictive behavior. I volunteered to conduct a creative writing group. That was almost 15 years ago.
Right from the beginning I knew I’d found my true career. I am both teacher and social worker…thank you God!
August 16, 2013 | 1:12 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I am on an airplane from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles as I write this Blog. This is the month of Elul and I have been on a whirlwind Family Tour since before it began! It has been an introspective journey for me, not really a vacation. This is not pejorative, just descriptive.
I spent the first few days with my mother and daughter and then the next two with my mother and brother. It was healing to spend a plane ride and two days with Heather. We always know each other's thoughts and moods. Mine was contemplative. I was going "home" for my mother's birthday, to see some family and visit graves. Heather was joining me to visit her Uncle Stuart's grave and see her grandmother. We had a great time, my mother and I showing Heather our old neighborhoods together. On Sunday, we went to the Cemetery, as is our custom. I don't know why Cemeteries are so comforting to me, maybe because I could always feel my father's presence at his grave; all I know is that they are. We visited my Uncle Harry's grave and it was there that I was transformed again. I realized that I hadn't honored him by keeping in touch with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren enough. I don't really know my cousin's children and their children nearly as well as I would like to and I am going to remedy that, if they will let me. I realized that this is the T’Shuvah I owe my Uncle Harry and it is a debt that I am going to repay!
Why is this so important to write about? I believe that as we get in touch with ourselves through our own Cheshbon HaNefesh, accounting of our souls, it is important to repair and repay those who have died for their kindness and love, for their gifts of life and values. As I stood at my father's grave with my mother and brother, I realized that my T’Shuvah with my dad, Jerry, was complete. I owe every good thing, every decent principle to my father and I have a living T’Shuvah to and for him. Yet, I stood there without guilt or shame. I stood there as that three-year-old kid whose father was proud to call him "my boy.” This is what was lacking at my Uncle Harry's grave! This is why this is an important value to write about. We will say Kaddish at Yizkor on Yom Kippur, lets say it knowing that we can either stand guilt-free or with a plan of T’Shuvah at the graves of all those we love.
August 15, 2013 | 10:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Nicole Goodman
“Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I'm not perfect—and I don't live to be—but before you start pointing fingers...make sure your hands are clean!” - Bob Marley
Since checking into Beit T'Shuvah about 20 months ago, I constantly try to help spread the message of addiction in the Jewish community. As a young "nice Jewish girl" from Calabasas, to many people I am not the usual addict. Yet, still people do not want to hear what I have to say. They head nod me off until I shut up and then they give me the "not in my house" speech. Usually goes along the lines of my child gets great grades, they are in all AP's, they are involved in extracurricular activities, we have Shabbat every Friday, or another excuse to make me believe they are perfect. But I too had all of those traits, yet I checked into rehab at 18 years old.
We all have issues. Every family is dysfunctional in its own way. The question is when do we stop leaving the dirty laundry at home and start talking about our problems? Judaism is rich in sources of comfort and teachings about the possibilities for change. When it comes to the social ills of our own, however, we often seem to prefer denial. People are coming into treatment younger and younger and from all different types of homes. But how can we stop it? My advice is to stop living in denial. Break the taboo and start talking about personal issues and stop hiding behind a mask. Learn how to cope in a healthy way with issues rather than just pretending they don't exist. Without learning healthy coping mechanisms we turn to escaping through drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, work, food, etc. Addiction does not discriminate. If kids and adults believe that this disease CAN happen in their own backyard, they will become more aware of how their actions affect their lives.
August 14, 2013 | 1:29 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Dean Steinberg
Heidi Klum and Seal. Donald Trump and his model wife. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Hugh Heffner and any wife he's ever had, including the current one. Have I got your attention? I knew I had to stick in the celebrity names, now you’re interested.
But shall we go in a different direction. At first glance the title perhaps conjures up images of these public figures, or better yet memories of the classic tale of a super vain prince transformed into a hideous man, forced to look at his values and interpretation of love. Whether we were exposed to the story through the book or film, it is hard not to reflect on one's own perspective regarding how we interpret inner and outer beauty.
This piece however, will be about the beauty and the beast both within me, and Disney, if you’re reading, I am open to negotiations for the sequel, “B and the B part Deux”. Like a supernova, so fantastic and beautiful to see, but also containing the power to destroy a solar system, I have these parts as well. I will explain in a situation that anyone who drives in LA should be able to understand. My recent move to the valley has also moved me into a new traffic sphere, getting to LA to work in the morning. Just when I had fully mastered the art of getting around LA without driving my car into a wall out of frustration and impatience, I up and move to the valley, setting myself up for a brand spanking new set of frustrations and intolerance in my morning commute. A more suburban, family friendly type of inconsiderate driver if-you-will, and this is where the driving version of my internal Beauty and the Beast first showed himself to me. I am making it my mission, and my life’s work, for the time being anyway, to figure out the best route from Sherman Oaks to Culver City, without having to leave at 5:00 in the morning. I'm doing ok but the occasional nasty, insensitive, selfish beast will interrupt my life’s work as if their job is more important than mine. What I've noticed, is that after this sociopath cuts me off, I now make it my new life’s goal to get his/her attention and let them know how dangerous, destructive, and downright hurtful they have treated me. I always, inevitably, get one of three reactions.
1. A wave of apology, when accompanied by a mouthing of sorry, to go along with the wave, it is even better.
2. Complete lack of acknowledgment of any wrongdoing, in fact a lack of awareness that I even exist or was almost just annihilated by them. Hands firmly on the wheel, 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, looking straight ahead as if they are the most focused, efficient driver on the road. Either that, or they are tripping on mushrooms and they think they are in one of those drive-through safaris, and so want to find the tiger trails.
3. The obligatory middle finger, nasty look, sometimes accompanied by the mouthing of F#%K You.
Enter Beauty OR the Beast! If I receive reaction number 1 from the other driver, Mazeltov, "I'm sorry too", flies from my mouth. We could be best buddies, I want to hug them, kiss them, buy them a steak at Mortons, and clear Beauty shines from every pore in my body and soul. If I get reaction 2, not so much beauty from me, perhaps retaliation, but there will be no hugs or medium rare steaks. Reaction 3.....and here comes the beast, as easily as I would embrace you with reaction 1, just as easily I could speed up, get in front of you, slam on the breaks, rip you out of your ridiculous Range Rover, or BMW, and kill you with my bare hands. The beast has awakened and he wants blood.
So these reactions from me got me thinking. So vast are they in difference from such tiny insignificant (are they) gestures. From one, I have a new bff, from the other, I go to prison, and in prison I believe reaction 3 comes up a lot more.
So that’s my spin on the classic, timeless story. If we do make the sequel, maybe the other drivers can be dwarfs, or mermaids, or some shit like that.
August 13, 2013 | 10:48 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
As I sit here before my computer, contemplating what to write, my thoughts drift to the value and meaning of freedom. Not too many years ago, I wondered what freedom would be like and if I would ever enjoy it again. I had become a slave to a lifestyle of drugs and criminality from a very young age and as a result, spent many years away from society. For many years (and even in some ways today) my humanity was and is defined by the destructive actions of the lifestyle I lived, and in truth I am responsible for both. Taking ownership of my destructive past from a heartfelt place of repentance before our Creator was my beginning towards a future of freedom.
As we approach the New Year I am reminded of the chains of guilt and shame that bound me to the Egypt of my own making. Feelings of unworthiness and sinfulness permeated my soul. It had become much easier to hide in the dark rather than to be seen in the light. And I was not alone. There were many I have met along the journey who were and are trapped in a similar Egypt; and many are not even living a destructive path. Many ordinary members of society experience the same Egypt. Being caught or convicted of a destructive act isn’t the definition of sin…it is the act and there are many who in word or deed still carry the stigma of wrong actions in their soul. Perhaps a judgmental attitude, a word spoken or action taken in anger, a responsibility neglected, an important date missed, and so on. Chains of guilt and shame don’t discriminate.
What can liberate us from the Egypt of our soul? I remember the first time I met the family of Matthew (The man whose life I took while caught up in drugs and criminal behavior). I was in a room and heard Betty, his mother, tell the story of her son’s life and how much they missed him. Each word they spoke pierced my soul. I heard of his kind spirit, loving heart, and I wanted to die. To know the value of Matthew and that I had taken him from his mother Betty, wife Tina, son Brandon, and brothers and sisters was overwhelming. I wanted to run and hide where I would never be seen. And then Betty looked me straight in the eyes and said, “We are Christian. To hate you would serve no purpose. We forgive you. We just don’t understand how you could have done this to our loved one and our family?” I was without words. Forgiveness? How? After all I had taken from them. And yet it had been genuinely spoken and opened a space in my heart and soul that the Creator poured into. At the time I was unsure of the future, but I knew I had to honor Matthews family and that was, and still is, at the core of my being. And it all began by taking ownership of my destructive past from a heartfelt place of repentance before our Creator and was grounded in a forgiveness I can never forget. The power of heartfelt repentance and forgiveness are the gift we all have to give as we approach the New Year. Who can we liberate from Egypt this new year?
In tears I end this in remembrance of Matthew and his Family, of the gift of repentance, of true redemption, of freedom. To the Creator be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
August 12, 2013 | 2:30 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Joan Praver—Board Member
The look on my face is not a façade. Sometimes I wish I could hide my true feelings but somehow over the years, much to my chagrin, I’ve become totally transparent. I no longer can fake a smile, a frown, or tears. How I react to my emotions is not an act performed for the public to believe. Perhaps it is less important at my age than when I worked at trying to sell a product or made a speech attempting to convince someone to make a donation of money to a cause I believe worthy of his or her support, but in my senior years my face gives my sincerity away. I stand before the congregation of Beit T’Shuvah on Shabbos giving reasons why they need to become members to our unusual Synagogue, why the residents and their parents are spiritually uplifted and feel the warmth of welcome to new members to the House, the joy of singing with the choir, the musical accompaniment and the uplifting delivery of the night’s sermon. I never even try to cover my passion because I can’t. It is all a part of why after 14 years, my husband and I still attend most every week.
We may be weary from the week’s responsibilities when we arrive, but when we go home after the Service; he too cannot cover the smile on his face.
August 9, 2013 | 2:19 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By David Mattis
I am reminded that the Hebrew word "khet" - often translated as "sin" - should be rendered as "missing the mark." As the month of Elul has just begun, it is an opportunity for me, and everybody in fact, to prepare for Rosh Hashanah by doing kheshbon nefesh - an accounting of myself. Where was I good last year? What did I mess up? Who have I helped, hurt, or ignored?
That is my responsibility before I come before God and "pass under his staff like a sheep, being counted by the shepherd." That is the metaphor of the powerful high-holiday prayer Unetaneh Tokef. Yet members of the ovine flock cannot do kheshbon nefesh; that is human work. It is the work of the month of Elul.
Talking to people here at Beit T'Shuvah, I noticed something this year. To reckon whether I've "missed the mark," I have to know what the marks are! Some marks are internally driven: I want to learn French, I want to be a good husband, etc. Some are societally driven: I want to avoid parking tickets, I want to look presentable, what have you.
The traditional Jewish framework of "marks" is the mitzvot. They are actions to perform or avoid in order to lead an integrated life with God and society. It can become a checklist: Prayer? Check. Kosher? Check. Visited a sick person? Check. But the checklist has its limits. Was it only one sick person I visited? Did I make a real connection with them? That's where kheshbon nefesh comes in. It's not just what I did or failed to do, but how. Was I whole-hearted, half-hearted, or downright fake?
My problem is I tend to be vague. I plan to be responsible this year, I plan to be helpful, etc. While it is fine for me to have overarching goals, the real work of kheshbon nefesh is in specificity. What did I really do last year and what do I plan this year?
So here's Elul again. I've done a bunch of good in the year 5773, but I've missed plenty of marks. And I'm not alone. We've stolen, we've slandered, we've done nothing instead of acting, we've sent harassing texts under the name “Carlos Danger.”
Ve-al kulam - "regarding all of these things," God has the way to forgive us. Let us find the way to avoid “khet” and be whole-hearted. Let me find marks that benefit myself and others and then hit those marks!