Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
After two and a half years of being a member of Beit T'Shuvah, not much can faze me. My rabbi is a convicted felon. My boss is vocal about her struggle to get out of the bed every morning. Most of my friends are crackheads and heroin addicts. A staff member without tattoos would probably be considered an outlier.
If one were to listen to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, they would probably be surprised to find the rooms filled with laughter. We laugh when we talk about our dark pasts; we chuckle at the idea of robbing a Toys 'R Us, we smirk at the excuses we used to use to disguise our drug use: “I'm not high, I'm just tired.”
CGA is one of the programs at Beit T'Shuvah that makes this treatment center so different from the rest. Criminality is viewed as a behavioral addiction, a lifestyle as addictive as heroin. Our alternative sentencing department has helped in the rehabilitation of these compulsive criminals, enlightening them with teachings of Judaism, kindness, and 12-step work.
Even though the taboos of robbery and drug use are broken down relatively easily here, there is still one taboo that is difficult to face: murder. There are people who have lived at Beit T'Shuvah who have served 20+ years in prison for [the assistance of] murder. One of the key ideals in Beit T’Shuvah is that everyone deserves redemption, the right to transform and administer goodness to the world.
And while some of us have not murdered people, others have murdered trust. We have murdered respect for our fellow human beings. We have murdered relationships, killed friendships, and scarred our families forever.
Even if I had started my recovery with doubts, all of them have since been squashed. Some people from beyond our community believe that there are some who can’t be helped, that they have gone too far and must never be given a second chance. I believe that if they could see the people that I work with everyday—people whom society had labeled as evil, broken, and worthless—they might think twice about writing these people off.
You can follow Ben Spielberg on Twitter @benspielblog
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December 25, 2012 | 2:38 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
A little over 33 years ago I was introduced to a woman who would change my life. This precipitated changing the lives of those around me as well. I wouldn’t normally dedicate an entire blog to someone, but this is a soul that’s worth sharing with everyone.
To clarify, some of the most influential people in my life have saved countries, discovered democracy, enforced equality, and deep-fried the Twinkie. (G-d bless you hostess: Whatever you need from us we will group together to assure the continued existence of that doughy flavored goodness.) Like many others, those who impact our lives give meaning and reason to stand up and fight, to invoke our constitution at the expense of being cast away. This particular individual has done exactly that. Her life purpose begins and ends with putting others first. Her name is not as prominent as Kennedy, Lincoln, or Albright. She never wanted it to be; rather her concern was for others to be recognized for who they are. This woman always shied away from credit, and the most shocking of all was that there was never any expectation of wanting anything in return. All that she asks is that you see what she sees.
The story that comes to mind, conveying the kind of person she is—is one of heroism and survival. Her love and service of others was multiplied 10 fold with her family, and when someone was ever in need she was always the first responder. Faced with a family member’s drug addiction that had spiraled out of control, she traversed across the country to intervene. For those of you who are not familiar with an intervention, there is no amount of preparation or knowledge one could have going into such a hostile environment. Seeing the state of her family member made it evident that something had to be done. Through the process of putting together immediate and necessary services, the unexpected happened. Medical emergencies arose and it appeared that the possibility of losing this family member was becoming a reality. Most people crumble at this point, others shut down. What Lori did was exceptional. Given the traumatic nature of the situation, she refused to put herself in a position where she was helpless. At 51 years of age she decided to become a nurse. The only problem was that she was without the proper credentials for this field. Lori enrolled in school as one of the “mature” students and began her path in a career that she later claimed to be “life changing”. She finished in the national honors society with a 4.0 GPA. She was immediately chosen for an internship and is now a full time nurse. She volunteers on the board of her local hospital, has logged thousands of Hospice hours, and spent every waking moment at the side of her best friend who was taken by cancer. Her actions reveal that you cannot change the past, but can employ it as provocation to better your future. This display of the power of choice is one of a kind. This is how you become influential. This is my mom.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down and spend some time with my idol. I noticed the following: When we spoke I was the only person that existed, her timing was perfect as I was never interrupted and her pauses could still carry the conversation. If her knowledge base was limited, you would never know. When the influential speak we tune in, what we are about to hear is consequential, there is a message, we are called to attention. To identify our leaders is essential; they pave the pathway to progress poetically.
I wish everyone saw the world as you do mom, because if they did you would still shine as the extraordinary women you are. That’s just who you are. So from me to you; I am a better man, you have given me a standard. I’ll never forget what you went through and how you were able to turn a tragic situation into grace. I’ll never be you, but if there was anyone I’d want to be it is you. Thank you. I love you.
December 24, 2012 | 9:50 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Danny G.
For forty years I have been an addict, alcoholic and criminal and on September 1st, 2012 I was released from prison after almost 12 years of incarceration. I learned of Beit T’Shuvah about a year prior to my release and started writing to Carrie Newman in Beit T’Shuvah’s Alternative Sentencing Department. Being tired of my old way of life, Carrie gave me hope that Beit T’Shuvah could help me start over and learn how to live well. When I finally arrived at Beit T’Shuvah it was 1 am and that’s when the magic started. I was greeted with open arms by a warm and compassionate staff and residents that made me feel like I was someone. I felt like I was part of a family. I was given a treatment team to help me transition from the past and guide me into a future I could have only dreamed about—being a productive, sober man. Soon after I tried to locate my daughter Heather who I had not seen in over 6 years and after 30 days of searching I had no results. On one of monthly visits to my parole agent he said to me, “your daughter called she’s looking for you and wants to see you.” I just about broke down in his office after he gave me her number. And strangely enough two weeks prior I told my therapist I had a vision of seeing Heather at our Friday Night services. Putting the plan into action I arranged a ride and when I called Heather she mentioned Bruce wanted to call me. Bruce is my brother who I hadn’t seen in 12 years. That Friday night they both came and we got to see each other, spend time enjoying the service, dinner and being reunited. Beit T’Shuvah has given me back a life—clean and sober and with spirituality I didn’t know I still had. I was raised Orthodox and thought that feeling was lost forever and with it the desire to do the right thing. The miracle of having my daughter back in my life and the way it all came together in this place is truly magic— Beit T’Shuvah changes lives. I am living proof this transformation has happened in just three months and it’s just beginning. I am learning to love myself and live well. I owe Beit T’Shuvah my life, and the magic has just started.
December 22, 2012 | 7:55 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
At some point in the midst of life’s successes, everyone must eventually fall. When you do, what’s the thing to do next? With what method do you move forward?
Sometimes, in order to keep moving forward, you need to move forward in a different direction. By recognizing that the path you are on does not lead to where you want to go, you commit the first step of T’Shuvah. Sometimes it’s difficult, however, to know in which direction to turn and how to proceed.
T’Shuvah is a complex concept and quite pervasive ‘round these parts. It’s what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to represent to the outside world, and what we venture towards within ourselves. But what does it mean?
Traditionally thought of as “return” or “repentance,” T’Shuvah is what we are commanded to engage in during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It’s the act of considering and accepting our misdeeds and the active attempt to both rectify our actions and return to holiness.
Different from other methods of forgiveness such as absolution, T’Shuvah is not something that you are granted but rather something you seek. It is up to the person who committed a regret-worthy act to make amends to all he has harmed. It’s about responsibility, and that’s not always easy.
Now, this is the difficult part. This is where you change your life. To continue T’Shuvah, you must take the necessary measures to ensure that a hate of the same nature will not reoccur.
At Beit T’Shuvah, T’Shuvah claims a large portion of everyday actions and practices. Groups, meetings, study sessions, and more involved projects here are all in some ways created for residents to engage in T’Shuvah for their own past. This way, similar mistakes in the future may be prevented. Here we learn that T’Shuvah is a way of life that drives a person to constantly excel and improve on his being. By continually examining our lives for actions we might regret, we take strides in becoming integrated human beings who face truth and righteousness instead of deceit and shadows.
December 21, 2012 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Continuing my blog about a "day in the life" and my own struggles to live well and do the next right thing.
I meet with different staff people all the time and I find myself wrestling with my upbringing and what is the reality of today. I was brought up in a working class family. My father, Z"l, and my mother worked long and hard each day. They taught all of us, my brothers, sister and me, to give a day and a half's work for a days pay. This is my way of working and living. I don't know how to work any other way, nor does my brother, sister, nieces, nephews and daughter. I find that this is not the way of the world a lot of the time. I see it in stores I go into, people I talk to on the phone regarding services, in speaking with other employers/bosses and, at times, at my own place of work. I know everyone at Beit T’Shuvah is doing the best they can in each moment and I believe, rightly or wrongly, that many people are still doing the minimum to fulfill their job requirements. While this is really all I can expect and all I can pay for, I am finding myself frustrated that people don't want to give more.
I was talking to one of the staff at Beit T’Shuvah and asking, maybe loudly and in frustration, why they didn't tell me "bad news" earlier. I asked them when they realized that there was a problem and why they just left the information on my desk rather than ringing the alarm bell to me. They just shrank and said that they didn't think to tell me earlier. I was aghast, mad and definitely not calm. I told them that I always want to know what is happening ASAP so we can correct our errors quicker and change what we are doing so we don't compound our miscues. They walked away feeling like I was mean, unreasonable, etc. Once I calmed down, I walked into their office and asked them what the problem was. This person told me that they were overworked and underpaid and felt put upon to do the "extra" work it would take to be "on top of everything.” Then they told me that they think I am not human because I can keep so many things in my head and work as many hours as I do. I thanked them for their honesty and said we would talk about it next week.
I walked into my office, actually my other office-the garage- to have a cigarette. I had to blow off steam and I did not want to yell and scream and stomp around in front of everyone. I am trying to act less maniacal:). I paced up and down the garage and talked to myself. I then called one of my guides to check my reaction. I went off for about 10 minutes on the phone and the person on the other end, Abe, just laughed and said welcome to management and my world (he is CEO of a major company). We talked about my expectations and the reality of the world. We talked about if I am clear enough in my communications and in writing. I understood all of what he was saying and agreed where I had missed the mark.
Then we talked about the reality of my world. Abe said that not all people were raised with the same work ethic as I was. What I think of as simple and clear, others struggle to understand. What I see as just doing the next right thing, others are lost and bewildered by. What I think people should do, others think is too much to ask. Who is right? That's not for me to decide. I just have to be clearer in my communication, expectations and inspecting to see if these things are happening. I thanked Abe for his wisdom, lit another cigarette and thought about what he had said. I am not patient, I know this. I am not included in many groups of Spiritual Directors because I don't meditate. I am not "in many clubs" because of my ways of doing things, because I am too blunt and not willing to "play the game" most of the time. I felt defeated during this period. All of my insecurities came up, all of the times when I felt/feel different from everyone else came up and I paced more and more. I had a conversation with myself about how I was going to be, responsive or reactive. This experience took about 2 hours of my day because I could not settle myself into a course of action that I could live with. I wanted to fire the person and realized they were being who they are and this is whom I hired. I took Abe's wisdom to heart and decided to be clearer and know that I have to hire better as well. I spoke to this employee and we agreed to work together to meet the needs of Beit T’Shuvah rather than the needs of each other or ourselves. I don't know if this will work, I do know that this is a better response than the immediate reaction I had.
December 20, 2012 | 10:45 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
When I had a drug problem, my parents were begging me to check into rehab. They saw that I was dying and wanted to do whatever they could to save my life. But I have noticed that there is another trend—the kid wants to check in, but it is the parent who is terrified.
Kids want to free themselves of the parents who have always taken care of their every need—they are no longer content to stagnate. But parents are afraid—they view rehabs as places that contain people from the bottom sect of society. They worry what family and friends will think. Parents think, or hope, that their child is just going through a phase and that they will grow out of it. They believe that their child will go to rehab and come out with a tattoo of Kurt Cobain on their forearm.
These parents think that their child’s addiction is a reflection of their ability to be decent parents. They see addiction as a disease from which their children are exempt. But nobody is exempt from addiction—whether young or old, rich or poor, Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight, smart or dumb—it does not matter.
So, instead of worrying about what other people think, start thinking about what is best for your child.
December 19, 2012 | 1:45 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
If you have spent any substantial period of time with either Rabbi Mark or Harriet Rossetto, you have probably heard of the both/and. In short, this idea means that two seemingly contradicting things can exist at the same time. For instance, I can feel happiness and sadness at the same time. In high school Chemistry, we are taught that light is both a wave and a particle. In addiction, we both like our addicted selves and loathe our addicted selves. In fact, I even could argue that, in addiction, there is a both/both/and/and: We like to loathe our addicted selves and we hate that we like being dependent. The point is that there is an incongruence--a schism in reality. A split.
Many would argue that the media portrays addiction lightly--either in a way that appeals to young people (mainly through glamor; see: Lindsey Lohan and Courtney Love), or in a way that spotlights the cycle of addiction and subsequent recovery as a requisite to being from Los Angeles (see: any novel written by Bret Easton Ellis). I would argue that addiction is portrayed as accurately as it needs to be: people who are unable to stay sober are slandered, while those who do stay sober tend to exceed expectations (see: Russell Brand and Robert Downey Jr.).
The reality is that the media doesn’t skew addiction; the media skews the split. Award winning TV shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad are not well-received because drugs are involved. Walter White is a cultural icon because we see his split; we see how manufacturing meth is both bad and good for his family. We identify with Nancy Botwin because we understand that selling marijuana is morally wrong, but also ethically necessary. These stories are entertaining because they showcase the virtue of contradiction, of paradoxes in real life situations, of total inevitabilities.
Characters with the biggest splits tend to feel conflicted. How many times have we seen Walter White try to save his partner Jesse from the perils of crystal meth? How many times have we heard Nancy Botwin say that she wants to live an honest, tax-paying life? If this were the case, those shows would be boring. We don’t want to be bored. However, just because we are enthralled with the split does not mean that we have to live in the split.
December 18, 2012 | 10:44 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rachel Goldman Neubauer
After Chanukah, especially when it is earlier in the year than Christmas, I find myself getting lost in the shuffle. Christmas takes over my surroundings. I can hardly visit a retail establishment—including the supermarket—without it being completely overt. I start to realize that the year only has a matter of days left (WHERE DID THE TIME GO??), and everything we had focused on during Chanukah—mainly this concept of focusing on light in the darkest time of the year—has been quickly forgotten.
How do you keep the spiritual light going?
I don't have an answer for this, but the "first step" is at least admitting you have a problem...and let me tell you, I really struggle with this. Why is it that it takes eight days to remind us of spiritual light, but takes far less time for us to completely forget it?
We learn in Judaism that each human being has a Yetzer HaRa and a Yetzer Tov, an evil inclination and a good inclination. In each of us there is darkness; yet, in each of us there is also light. The proportions are supposed to be equal—a person has as much light as he or she has darkness—so why does it seem like one is so much easier to grasp than the other? Why is it that darkness can overwhelm and swallow a person, even when they have an equal amount of light in them?
Chanukah has also provided me with a powerful image that seems to be the thing that gets me through times when I get pessimistic and I feel like I am swallowed in darkness. A tiny candle on the first night of Chanukah, which is obviously far outnumbered by the amount of darkness that surrounds it, cannot be swallowed up by darkness. Other forces like wind or water can put it out, but darkness itself cannot extinguish light. The only way I can let my light be swallowed up by my darkness is IF I LET IT through other forces...even the smallest amount of light has a great fight. Even the smallest spark can keep the darkness at bay.
I wish everyone an end of the year not necessarily filled with light, because that usually isn't realistic and sounds a little idealistic. Instead, I wish for everyone to realize that even the smallest bit of light they have in their life can be, perhaps, their most powerful asset and their greatest ally. Let it shine.