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.
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February 13, 2013 | 3:39 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
I hate sobriety. Let me rephrase, I hate the idea of sobriety. I don’t like the Styrofoam coffee cups and powdered creamer they have at AA meetings. I don’t like talking about my feelings to older men and women, watching their faces contort with judgment as I tell my story as candidly as possible. I abhor the concept of “fellowshipping,” the idea of making friends with people with drug problems because they could, one day, drop a line of knowledge on me like Hiroshima, spurring me out of a potential relapse and into a recovery that only Superman could be proud of.
Meetings are just the tip of the cake and the icing on the iceberg. I don’t like working a 9-5 job, making sure that I do “sober” things that “real people” do, like waking up when my alarm clock pulls me away from my safe place known as sleep. I don’t like wearing collared shirts. I’d rather rock a torn t-shirt likely stained with blood and some kind of Alfredo sauce. Don’t even talk to me about dress shoes. That will just make me angry.
I go to school and I do my homework. Sometimes, I even get it done before the due date. I always opt to sit up front in the class, and try to raise my hand at least once per session. I form study groups that don’t revolve around Adderall and cocaine. I don’t take Xanax when I get tired--I simply fall asleep watching Netflix’s House of Cards while I think “God, this show is so poignant.”
I like the idea of drugs and alcohol! I like the idea of always having a small collection of the Drug Rainbow on hand, just in case I get a little too jittery or a bit too sad. I like that large sheets of acid have pictures on them, creating the trippiest puzzle ever, and I like that heroin comes in ridiculously tiny balloons in Los Angeles. I like playing pharmacist and I like spending my money on something that creates a feeling of immediate adequacy.
But I am sober, even though it seems stupid. And even though I seem like a sellout, I can still have fun. I’m the resident Unqualified Doctor at Beit T’Shuvah. I still like puzzles, even if I can’t absorb the pieces sublingually. It feels pretty damn good to spend enough time on a paper that I have enough knowledge to edit the Wikipedia page on the subject. I still opt for my trusty Vans instead of my dad’s dress shoes. But I’ll take a southern Kevin Spacey and half a tablespoon of NyQuil over Xanax any day of the week.
February 12, 2013 | 11:26 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
If you’re looking into getting sober don’t look at the statistics. I also caution you against listening to the stats given on the other end of the phone when researching for help. The chances of staying sober within the first year are 1 in 5. Then there is another 15% drop off into the second year, and another 20% within 5 years. These numbers could shy you right away from getting help; it’s as if addiction needed another excuse to prolong getting the necessary support to combating this ever-morphing disease. If you get lost and are defeated by the numbers, it’s ok. I’m here to convince you otherwise. I’m going to use the next 475 words to educate you in why those figures are appallingly low and millions of shifts are still made.
The most important component in getting help and finding the right rehab for you has nothing to do with their acclaimed success rate. In fact, the work that goes into finding the still sober members of one’s program look a bit like this:
Caller: Hello, are you still sober?
Caller: That’s great, take care.
Or Caller: Hello, are you still sober?
Caller: That’s not so great, we are currently offering a discounted rate for our Alumni, and instead of the normal $45,000 it’s going to be $40,000. But because you’re not paying our full-rate you won’t be able to partake in any therapy and will have to take a cab.
If this seems dark and distant it’s because that’s exactly what it is. Not only does this process lack legitimacy, it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. What is important to note is the culture of the program. What do they offer that is attractive to you? What is their mission? Is their understanding of addiction immeasurable? Is the understanding in the treating of addiction also vast? If not and it appears finite then it implies gimmick. Things like a “cure” and a “guarantee” don’t exist. If it did the same clients wouldn’t be getting cured two and three times with the same product… I’ve been “cured” 23 times. Or am I missing something? What you need to buy into is the truth and program presentation. Wait lists mean something, credentials can mean something, write-ups in your local paper, and published articles mean something. Take note in the tone of the literature out there. Especially if you’re deficient in an area and that just so happens to be the area of expertise being offered.
The people who get the help are the following: those who are ready, those who aren’t ready, those who are forced, and those who aren’t forced. Successes are not measured on just time, but what’s changed. What has changed within the time entering rehab to now? What shifts are being gained and how is the person interacting with the world in ways they were unable to do so previously? For some, abstinence from the drink or drug is enough, and for others they need to experience a life that’s worth living. I’m not one to judge, I just caution you on the representation of sobriety. I’ve been combatting these mistakes for years.
I know thousands of people who have been helped who also know thousands of people as well. AA has helped millions and is “confidentially” found throughout the world. There is a movement going on that uses words such as “service”, “do the right thing”, “live well” and “action.” I’ve bought into this and those who knew me before I found these ideas cautiously attest that profound changes have been made. I see it in others that I could have declared hopeless and unworthy of being saved too. It’s radical and contagious. It’s been done by people who started and couldn’t stop. This makes sense for relapse; this is why without the lapse we wouldn’t get the shift. Of course relapse is necessary; you just don’t have to do it.
February 8, 2013 | 11:36 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
I AM GUILTY! I have made mistakes, I forget to return calls, I have to reschedule appointments, and I don’t call my mother enough. I lose patience too quickly. I don’t rest enough some weeks so I am irritable and ‘fly off the handle.’ My anger is fierce and I am too demanding at times. I forget to see the person in front of me and sometimes I am too wrapped up in my own stuff to notice another. I hold people and myself to higher standards than may be possible. All of these things and probably others are true.
Taking responsibility seems to be very hard in our society today! Reading this week’s news has been very interesting to me. I have seen an Ex-LAPD officer kill others because he feels wronged. I have read about doctors who take no responsibility for participating in the death of a young man due to their constant and increased prescriptions for Adderall. The Royal Bank of Scotland has made a settlement regarding wire fraud and the 2008 financial debacle. No one takes responsibility, however. No one is guilty. JP Morgan Bank has emails proving their fraud regarding mortgages and selling these mortgages, yet they say they are innocent. “Too Big to Fail” has turned into “TOO BIG TO ADMIT GUILT “ and ” TOO BIG TO SPEAK TRUTH.”
What is going on? Doesn’t anyone remember the teachings of our youth? When I was young, my parents always told me that the Truth mattered most. While it took me a long time to incorporate this lesson into my daily living, I use this mantra to guide me everyday. What has happened to our Morality? We are told that Faith Matters, yet all faith has Truth at its core. All faith has at its core, admitting where we were wrong and doing T’Shuvah, amends, restitution, repair, etc.
I am so upset about this. My Rabbinate is founded in Truth, T’shuvah and Tzedek, righteousness. I understand why people will tell me “you do such wonderful work” yet not apply these concepts to their own living. They think, like we read in the papers and hear on the news; the rules don’t apply to them!
WELL, they do! Every one of us has to do T’Shuvah one day before we die and since none of us know the day of our death, we have to do T’Shuvah every day. This includes corporations, this includes professionals and this includes those of us who don’t want to. We, as a country, as a people, as individuals have to demand Truth, T’Shuvah and Tzedek from ourselves and everyone else.
The quote “To err is Human…To forgive Divine,” written by Alexander Pope, has been bastardized and/or forgotten. We blame, deny, forget, etc. in order to not take responsibility. This has to stop. Bosses can no longer abuse their workers and not repent. Workers can no longer slack off and not repent. Companies can no longer take advantage of the public and not repent. People can no longer sue others because they feel like it and not repent. Too Big to Fail cannot mean do as they please and not repent.
I am Addicted to Redemption because this ADDICTION has made me and others better people. Truth, T’Shuvah and Tzedek make us more human and more Divine. As Rabbi Hillel says: “If not now, when?” Please join me in living these three principles each and every day. Let us change the world, one at a time, and bring more Truth, T’Shuvah and Tzedek into everyone’s life.
February 7, 2013 | 1:06 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
One of our blogs from last week entitled, “Can you judge other people’s sobriety?” got me thinking about how my own sobriety is judged by others.
Those devoted to Alcoholics Anonymous ask me a variety of questions. They ask how many meetings I’ve been to this week. They ask if I’ve worked all of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They ask if I have a sponsor. If my answers don’t match their expectations, then my sobriety— and therefore my character— is judged negatively.
They don’t ask if I’ve been honest this week. They don’t ask if I’ve been productive at work. They don’t ask if I have been kind and loving to those around me. They don’t ask if I have lived in accordance with spiritual principles. They don’t ask if I have worked to become a better person this week than I was in the week previous.
To me, these questions, the ones that are not being asked, are the ones that should hold more importance. Going to meetings is a good thing; for many, attendance is essential to their sobriety. Working the steps and reading the text of Alcoholics Anonymous can provide a spiritually transformative experience. However, I do not believe them to be necessary prerequisites to the redemption of my soul.
Living decently, active engagement in redemption and the other metrics by which success is defined here at Beit T’Shuvah— these are the necessities. So, be my guest, judge my sobriety. But I suggest that you use different methods in your measurement.
February 6, 2013 | 1:33 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
In my line of work, I deal with potentialities on a daily basis. When clients are admitted to inpatient care at Beit T’Shuvah, the staff as a whole assesses each client’s potential for sobriety. We assess whether or not they can internalize our words; we judge their spiritual principles by default paradigms and ancient dilemmas. When we send clients for IQ tests, we see predictions regarding where their IQs “could” be. We judge whether or not a client will be successful later in life by them going to groups now.
However, it may not be productive to afford so much responsibility to potentialities. In other words, while everyone may have the potential to get sober--not everyone fulfills that potential. I have the potential to do well on a meteorology quiz I have later tonight (but I probably won’t, because I’m writing this blog instead). The problem here doesn’t lie within futuristic terms; the problem is that the potential makes us unable to appreciate the moment.
When I miss a couple problems on my quiz tonight, I’m going to determine that it was because I didn’t have enough sleep. I should have studied cloud formation instead of write this blog. If this is the case, when will I have enough sleep? Surely undersleeping or oversleeping could just as well be the culprit to an obvious mistake.
Slight deviations from my sleeping patterns could therefore affect my grade, which is a consequence that will literally make me crazy. I would try to formulaically set up sleep calculators and track REM cycles until I miss my quiz completely. If I generalize the situation, I can apply it to most instances in life: I will never be able to perfectly balance the teetering between lavish vocabulary and social reservations in a job interview. I will never begin that application to a Ph.D. program because my thought process will be too muddled with possibilities, or my focus will be unfortunately narrow.
People remark that they will get sober in the future because they are sick in the present; they will go on that diet later because their blood sugar is too low now, or they will do something really nice for Mother’s Day next year because work is too stressful at the moment. There is a reason that we are enamored with the idea of “living in the present.” We cannot be fixated by the potentialities that change our future--we can only do the best that we can right now.
February 4, 2013 | 2:31 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
If one were to come hangout at Beit T’Shuvah (and I invite you to) they would probably use one word to describe it...crazy. Really I shouldn't joke about it, there are weeks when people in our community are suffering and there's a tension in the air, when both staff and residents have difficult decisions to make and the end result is unknown. I was talking to a friend about what makes Beit T’Shuvah so unique but also so difficult. And the conclusion I came to is that at Beit T’Shuvah, human life is the bottom line. I think if the bottom line was money, or profit, or making the most efficient computer out there, it would still have its challenges but of a different kind because the point would be clear. We would know if we were in the red, or the black or customers agreed that we make the best computers, or the cheapest t-shirts, however our "business" is not quite like this. We are in the mental/spiritual health arena and even at most other treatment centers the goal is more clear: abstinence from drugs and alcohol and the appearance of smooth functioning. If somebody can stay sober and look pretty good for a descent length of time they've done their job. But at Beit T’Shuvah sobriety is not the point (at times we might settle for that) we are much more ambitious, nothing short of living well, of living a spiritual life, those are the areas which we trend towards. But here's where it gets difficult. The question that comes into mind for me is what is the point of man/woman. I mean, if I want to help you live well what criteria do I look at? How do we define living well? Socrates asked the question in another time phrased as what is "the good life?" Is it personal happiness? Social success? How much you help others? Independent? Interdependent? All of the above, none of the above?
So, from my point of view here's where some of the confusion lies. We are not sure what the point of man is, I would say these days we’re not even sure if there is a point. I would argue there is a point, and a process, a particle, and there's a wave. Man by his very nature being endowed with free will is both an ends and a means. Most wise scholars and sages would agree that no man should be a means to another man. That men are ends in and of themselves. That individual people and the lives they live are the point. Their happiness, their independence, their relationships, their creative capacity, their love, their pain, their joy, that is an end in and of itself. But here's where it gets tricky. Man is also a means. If the point of MANKIND is our individual ends, then life becomes a little absurd. One of my favorite quotes comes from a scholar named Huston Smith who says, "the self is too small for perpetual enthusiasm.” That we as individuals, our lives aren't big enough, important enough to stay jazzed about, eventually most descent human beings get sick of their own petty desires, opinions, thoughts etc. Now a psychologist might say I’m suffering from self-esteem issues, but a religious person would tell me I'm missing the point if I think the point is me, because mankind is also a means, I mean a wave, a process. Our sources tell us that history is leading somewhere, That mankind is of the utmost importance for the sake of something greater healing, for G-d and Tikkun Olam healing our broken world.
Our choices have sacred consequences in a larger spiritual matrix which cannot see, but in moments of great insight can sense. Are we Important? Yes as a tool to bring about redemption. Individual life is a paradox, an end in itself but also a means to an end.
So what is the point of life? To live like you are dying forever for G-ds sake, and to love each other like there is no G-d for ours.
February 2, 2013 | 6:55 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
One of my favorite things at Beit T’Shuvah is happening tonight: the Beit T’Shuvah talent show.
In keeping with the theme of addiction, I want to explain to you why this talent show (which happens every couple of months) is so important. Residents are allowed to perform whatever they want to, with a full band backing them up, for their entire community. They get to experience rehearsals, an opportunity to suit up and show up, what a commitment feels like, and then tonight they get the great payoff of performance. It is so wonderful and rewarding to see how thoroughly people enjoy themselves through this process. From my perspective, I get to see people who had once been facing life sentences now turning their lives around and singing country with a smile. People who had attempted to end their lives several times now jamming on guitar, enveloped in music. To say that being a spectator for an event like this is amazing is quite an understatement.
It is things like the talent show that REALLY makes Beit T’Shuvah a redemptive community. It doesn’t matter what your past is…so long as you can figure out what you have to offer the world (and in our philosophy, EVERYONE has something to offer the world), you can really find enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. People smile.
They make other people smile. People who had previously caused so much damage in their lives that all they did was make people frown.
…and isn’t that the epitome of redemption?
Shameless plug: keep your eyes peeled for a YouTube recap of tonight’s talent show, if you didn’t get to make it out for the actual event.