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.
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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.
February 19, 2013 | 1:11 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
I believe where I’m the most tortured is through my brokenness. It’s the concrete regions of where I exist. All-in or all-out. If I’m dieting, I’m eating 500 or less calories a day while exercising to the point of exhaustion, if I’m eating unhealthily I’m consuming 7000 calories a day while shouting at the roof tops how fat I am. I do this with everything; it’s debilitating and it’s never allowed me to sustain anything. It’s a set-up and my sobriety’s number one enemy. It makes me absolutely nuts and my neuroses are directly linked into this tennis game of thoughts because honestly, both places are awful.
I achieved quite a bit when I was young; this precipitated the “hook” for external esteem. Nothing came from within, so I lobbied from person to person/entity to entity to be fulfilled. This obviously comes with emptiness and limitations, making fulfillment quickly depleted (if it ever even existed). The main defect that comes with my inability to demonstrate any internal esteem is shortened relationships. I call it “burn out,” where people can only exist in my life at a limited capacity. Once a person has met said requirements of getting too close to me there is no longer any use for them. It always ends ugly and this cycle has repeated itself for years.
What I am aware of is that I have never had the ability to integrate the “2” selves, the demonstration of making “1” person. Honestly, I loathe ambiguity, it feels disingenuous and fake. It is usually followed by an excuse or explanation of how something appears so wrong, yet isn’t. It is already a contradiction when explaining that to make a whole person you have to live in the “both and.” I’m not a fan of this concept; it feels destructive to creativity, potentially problematic for initiative. Ambiguity feels like touching a hot stove. I would love to allow the embrace of both sides of misery that I jockey back and forth with. I have been in positions recently where I’m clear on what I’m feeling/not feeling. But I do not know how to embrace my brokenness. I have only begun to get out of the results of today. My current growth is defined as survival; I’m fucking terrified because at some point it will have to wear off. I come across as arrogant and a know-it-all, I speak to people with condescension and as if they are unintelligent. I get why I do it; I understand the empty broken Michael that is in there just crying for help. So maybe that mask is my cry for help, it may not appeal to those who take my charge personal, but maybe I can fine tune it to not look so abrasive. So if I’m stuck on the integration piece then that is where I’m best to identify where I am broken and also how I need to embrace it.
February 18, 2013 | 3:05 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
I woke up this morning thinking about creation. There were several aspects to this thought. One is the formation and creation of light and darkness. The other is this idea of harmony. I'll start with the second and move to the first. What is so amazing, truly remarkable about the harmony of the universe, I would say, is the harmony of the universe itself. The fact that the universe itself contains some order, some harmony, is a fact most take for granted on a daily basis. It is so close to our existence, it is so embedded in the fabric of creation that it hides in plain sight. Whether we perceive a lot or a little harmony in the world at any given time is not the point, if we own even the most infinitesimal bit of harmony in the world, it has infinite significance. I look at this idea like this. You see even the smallest, tiniest bit, of a true miracle, one tiny little true miracle at any point in all of the history of the Jews, means that there are miracles, the same holds true for harmony.
As remarkable or more remarkable, is that correspondingly our minds can perceive the order of the universe. Human beings have the ability to align our thoughts with reality. We also have the ability to check out completely, but that's a different story. We can perceive and put our own consciousness in tune with the harmony of the universe. We can do this on many levels. We can do this in the world of true ideas; a true idea is an idea that simply corresponds to a truth in the world. Of course there are deeper truths and more surface truths and more than one axis of truth but all truth nonetheless. That’s only one level and the levels go on and on. There are emotional truths, a truth of the heart and soul and I could discuss this for hours. Just to make this point stick, let’s ask the question directly, what is truth? Truth is Harmony. It is those things that ring true. The deeper the truth the harder it is to perceive the harmony, the more work it takes to understand, to get in tune with.
Now I’d like to get into the formation of light and creation of darkness. If I Steer away from the literal and traditional interpretations and move further with some of the ideas we've started to discuss, the leap is clear. It is human beings who form light in the darkness G-d created. This takes some wrapping your head around. The darkness is the material world, the deterministic machine that is our universe, every cog in its place, the cold dark universe. Hashem burrows a tunnel from his non-material plane and pierces a hole in his cold dark universe in his world of things and shines an eternal light on it. What is this light? It is consciousness. It is corresponding harmony. When we open our eyes, our hearts, our spirit, G-d shines light through us.
It is our obligation as Jews to seek out the greater truths and harmonies of this world and shine light, more specifically be a light unto the nations, when we do this, when we discover this, there is no worthier purpose or path, and until we discover this for ourselves, we are not in our proper place. When we are not in our proper place the world can't find its song, so in this week may we all be on the road to discovering our place in the harmony of the universe as creators of light.
February 17, 2013 | 11:23 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rachel Goldman Neubauer
I spent much of my Shabbat thinking about our dearly departed Ira Skolky. What plays through my head more than anything are little snippets from his funeral. Death in our community, like any other community, is never easy. By the same token, though, I never am ceased to be amazed at the level of care, compassion, and support that can be brought out by a death.
Ira’s funeral must have had 300 people at it. The entire chapel at Mt. Sinai was packed, and almost the entire population was in one way or another Beit T’Shuvah. Residents. Alumni. Staff. It makes no difference in this situation. As the casket was lowered and earth was placed on the grave, EVERYONE lined up to help bury Ira. The whole community. Beit T’Shuvah is not just a community that will hold onto you no matter what in life, but will stay by your side even in death. I was floored.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein gave a beautiful d’rash in honor of Ira yesterday morning. He told the congregation—residents and VBS members alike—that to truly honor Ira’s memory, we should finish living it for him. This struck me as odd, but then I realized he didn’t mean Ira’s individual life…he meant Ira’s life as part of our community. When we lose a community member, we can choose to become weaker or stronger. I think Rabbi Feinstein meant that we should choose to be stronger. We should all choose connection over isolation, inclusion over exclusion, kindness over bitterness. We should choose to incorporate those things that Ira added to the world into our own community’s values even more so than they already are. Everything is a choice, even in sadness…it is best to go with the choice that will be the most healing.
Memorial services for Ira will be held this evening at Beit T’Shuvah at 5pm.
February 15, 2013 | 11:35 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Redemption takes a community. This realization came to me this week in a very tragic, powerful way. One of our staff members, Ira Skolky, z"l, died from a massive stroke. It is a great loss to the Beit T’Shuvah community and to the greater Jewish and Recovery communities as well. Dealing with this ordeal has strengthened my resolve to spread the word of Redemption and to try hard to get more of us to become "Addicted to Redemption!”
Ira was a Counselor, having gone through the Beit T’Shuvah program for Living Well. He was also a member of the cast of our original play, Freedom Song. On Saturday, the cast was leaving for 2 shows in South Florida. Ira was late and this was cause for alarm, as Ira was always the first person everywhere he was supposed to be. Yeshaia Blakeney and Laura Bagish went to his house and through a series of God Shots, found him lying on the floor of his room and called 911 and then me. We found his relatives, told them what was happening; the paramedics did their best to help and he went to Cedars-Sinai Hospital. The Medical team there did their best and, sadly, there was no brain activity. Ira passed away on Sunday, February 10, 2013. The fact that he was a recovering alcoholic never mattered to anyone helping him. He was seen as a human being in need of help and everyone responded accordingly. His friends and family prayed for him and were at the hospital to be with him. The entire Beit T’Shuvah community rallied to his side and prayed, hoped and showed our deep love and need for Ira. The cast went to Florida and dedicated the performances to and spoke about Ira. I have been told that they were some of the most powerful performances ever!
Ira's Redemption has had profound effects on people for these past 5 years. He has helped, loved, scolded and guided many of us to reach places we never knew were attainable. Ira's life is a testament to Redemption and that it is never too late and/or no one is "too far gone" to do T’Shuvah and Redeem themselves. Ira's Redemption happened because of his work, the work of others who helped him and the work of those he helped.
In arranging his burial, the family has no money, there is only a sister left. I had to call the Burial Fund people of Jewish Family Service and I spoke to Len Lawrence of Mount Sinai Mortuary and Cemetery. While I understand the need for checking things out, I was getting frustrated when they asked for paperwork that was not readily available and I spoke to Len. I asked him how he would feel if I made someone go through all this when he referred someone to Beit T’Shuvah and told me there was no money for the services. Leon's response was, "Mark, you will have the go ahead in 10 minutes.” And I did!
A Shomer watched the body and Bruce Bloom performed Taharah free of charge. All of the Clergy of Beit T’Shuvah are leading the services, free of charge. On Sunday we are having a Celebration of Ira's Life at 5PM with food and refreshments, free of charge to everyone.
I am proud of JFS Burial Fund, Mount Sinai Mortuary and Cemetery, Len Lawrence, Yeshaia Blakeney, Laura Bagish, Ira's sister and cousins, the Medical Team at Cedars-Sinai and the entire Beit T’Shuvah community for helping Ira redeem himself in life and in Death. Witnessing this coming together of community is one of the reasons I am "Addicted to Redemption!”
February 14, 2013 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
A few days ago, 10 women were arrested in Israel. Their crime?—wearing talits at the Western Wall. I understand that traditional Jewish factions forbid this practice, and Israel must hold fast to its Jewish identity if it is to survive in the Middle East and remain a safe haven for the diaspora. But survival in the modern world means adapting to and embracing change. The Western Wall is arguably the most sacred site in the Jewish World and this is why Israeli authorities have upheld these seemingly antiquated laws.
The Kotel has become a wall of division. It separates religions: the Jewish quarter from the Muslim quarter. It separates time: past temples, a current mosque, and prayers for the future. The wall separates degree of faith: strict observers sway in prayer while secular tourists snap pictures. And it separates men from women; not just with a physical barricade between genders, but also with a law that led to the arrest of 10 women in the midst of prayer and peaceful protest.
These arrests do not protect Judaism. They are contributing to a polarization between Orthodox and Secular and to the disappearance of those in the middle. If Israel is to grow and thrive and if Judaism is to remain relevant, it must embrace the equality of Jewish faith and interpretation. It must be a religion that brings people together rather than tearing them apart. The Western Wall should be a symbol for Judaism—a wall of cohesion rather than one of division.