Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
Michel Foucault defined the beginning of modernity as the period when human beings first took themselves as the subject of scientific inquiry. This period is commonly known as The Enlightenment, and began in the 18th century. This is the beginning of the medicalization of the body, the psychologization of the mind, and the eradication of the soul. It used to be that people walked around believing they had a soul, an eternal essence given to them by G-d. This soul was encased in the body, but that body was simply a vehicle for the soul. Science has yet to find this elusive soul, so they freed us from this childish idea and replaced it with a new and improved one, the self. The self is kind of like the soul, with a few exceptions: the self is not eternal; it dies when the body dies because, in fact, it is created by the body. It is kind of a magic trick the brain plays on us, making the self think it is indeed a self, when in reality it is just a few organs wrapped in skin, trapped in space-time, heading for oblivion. The soul needs confession; the self needs therapy. The soul suffers, the self feels empty. Actually this is one of the most interesting things to observe about the self when it has problems. It says things like: I don't even know who I am? I feel so empty, so numb? It feels as if there is a G-d shaped hole in my life. Duh, we extracted the soul from the body because it was a huge pain in the ass to be eternally accountable. We gained a lot of freedom from this procedure but there are some small side effects: we feel a little empty, a little robotic, a little, well, dead.
In all seriousness I am frightened by how removed we have become from our souls/selves. Whenever I am in class or hearing a psychological lecture they talk about people, human beings as if they are objects. There is a total and complete denial of essence, of all of that which makes existence unique. That which you feel to be most essential about your life (namely YOU) is being denied as real. The deeper we inquire into the nature of ourselves, the more we create language and systems to understand the pieces and their relationships, the further we are getting from the capital Truth! I believe this is a law of learning. The more you know about something, the less you know about something, it is a paradox. The reason for this is we are inquiring into infinity—the more you look, the more there is. I don't, therefore, promote ignorance, rather I believe true genius is the ability to delve into the small components, and simultaneously not lose sight of the big picture. To hold both ways of seeing at the same time is one of the defining features of man; to hold a vision of the universe in all its glory, from the most minute to the possibility of eternity; from the vibrating potentials in the flutter of a butterflies wings, to the infinite potential of the human spirit. I believe there are certain eternal concepts that help us to not lose this vital vision of the whole. These concepts are (for lack of a better language) sacred. The soul is one of those concepts. It means there is a you in there that is significant beyond its parts, that is more than an existential experience, that loves, hurts, strives, and most importantly... LIVES! There is one other reason the soul should not so quickly be discarded; the soul is accountable to G-d, the highest measure. The self is accountable to itself, embarrassingly pathetic at times. I believe, as we can see that modern life presents as many crises as it proposes to solve, this old raggedy soul might need to be pulled out of the linen closet, dusted off and placed back in our complicated selves. It may not save us, but perhaps it will make us worthy of being saved.
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December 9, 2012 | 1:32 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Josh Silver
Blowing up a Death Star is no easy task. True, all Luke had to do was fire a missile into a conveniently placed ventilation shaft but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about how to destroy your own personal Death Star. Each of us has one—that looming shadow which shrouds our life. All of us must either overcome it or continue to suffer. For me that Death Star was addiction. For years my addiction to drugs overshadowed all of the good that I tried to accomplish. Every time I thought I had made steps in the right direction, my addiction pulled me back into despair.
That was, of course, until I entered Beit T’Shuvah. While there I realized something that I think Star Wars had been trying to teach me for years. First of all, the Force is real. No, I’m not crazy and no I don’t think that if you try hard enough that you can make objects fly around a room. What I do believe is that inside each and every one of us is the potential for good and the potential for evil. Judaism refers to this dual nature of humanity as the yetzer tov (good impulse) and the yetzer rah (evil impulse). One of the many lessons that I learned at Beit T’Shuvah is that in order to have a balanced life we must all occasionally give in to both sides of ourselves. Star Wars offers a simplified view of human impulse. According to the films, if you lean towards the dark side then you will be pushed in that direction until it eventually destroys you.
This leads me to one other aspect of the films that people seem to overlook. Darth Vader wasn’t the bad guy. Yea, I said it. The real villain was the Emperor and who killed the Emperor? Darth Vader. Who ended up saving Luke Skywalker’s life in the final minutes of Return of the Jedi? Darth Vader.
If you look more closely at the films, the story of Vader is really just a tale of redemption. According to the teaching of my Rabbi, Mark Borovitz, we must all perform T’Shuvah (redemption) the day before we die. Since none of us know what day we will die, we must do T’Shuvah every day. This is exactly what Darth Vader did. He was the ultimate bad guy—the so-called “unredeemable.” Yet, in the last moments of his life, he saved Luke and fatally wounded himself in the process.
How did I destroy my Death Star? First I realized that every situation in life can be related in some way to Star Wars. More importantly, I learned that no matter how far I had gone to the side of darkness, there is still a person worthy of redemption inside of all of us.
December 8, 2012 | 12:41 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Adam Mindel is the Family Program Coordinator at Beit T’Shuvah. He is also a former resident of the program and has now made it his mission to help fight addiction both for the individual and their family. Here is what he had to say about Beit T’Shuvah and the process of redemption.
What is your idea of redemption?
My idea of redemption is to come to know yourself as a decent man. To live your truth, to live a life as best you can according to your beliefs and morals. I don’t think it’s possible to redeem ourselves and to go against ourselves consistently. I think that we can grow into the people that we want to become. I think redemption, true redemption, is knowing your own decency.
What was BTS’s role in your life?
Beit T’Shuvah was the 10th treatment program that I went through. And obviously something happened for me here. I have 9.5 years sober. It was the only place that I went to that spoke to a part of me that I didn’t know existed and that was my soul. I saw here how that little spark, even though I couldn’t really comprehend what that was, I knew that if I could grow that piece that it would be a path to wholeness. Through wisdom, community, support, love, and encouragement I have grown as a man.
What do you like most about yourself?
I think I have developed a sense of compassion in myself and for other people. I’m pretty proud of that.
What quality do you value most in your friends?
If they can make me laugh, that’s really important. But I would say that the quality I value most in friends is really love. Love in all its forms. It’s really about them being true to themselves and true to me.
What is your favorite occupation?
I love what I do here at Beit T’Shuvah as a therapist. I get to be a part of change every day. It’s amazing that I get to share all of life in one day. All in one day, we share in the whole fabric of life. From sorrow to joy, from success to failure. The other thing I love to do is I get to work as an interventionist for Beit T’Shuvah. I really love it. I get to change people’s lives and it’s really incredible to take somebody from a hotel room and then the next day they’re in treatment and their life is changing—it’s incredible to be a part of that.
Who are your heroes real or fictional?
I was never one who really had heroes in life. I was talking with one of the spiritual counselors the other day, though, and we were talking about who we would like to meet the most. So the one we ended with was Moses. Right? Because he actually saw G-d so we thought that’d be a trippy conversation—I’d like to hang out with that dude.
What inspires you?
The idea of Tikkun Olam, of healing the world and healing myself, that seems to have a real meaning. Sometimes I’m inspired by the fact that in this crazy universe, that I’ve been put in a role where I get to help people. I forget how blessed I am sometimes.
What is your major fault?
My biggest fault is impatience. I am learning patience every day. I meditate and I continue to learn patience. It’s really about the mind. It’s really about changing your ideas of how fast things can happen.
What is your motto?
Life is good.
What is your present state of mind at this moment?
December 7, 2012 | 10:26 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Continuing my "day in the life" and my struggles with being human: My entire Rabbinate is based on listening and being open to the souls of others. In order to do this, I must be able to “Re-spond” and not “Re-act” when I encounter a disagreement.
8:30am- My first meeting was with a staff person who passionately disagreed with a decision I had made concerning his counselees. I realized I hard hurt the counselor's feelings and I felt guilty about that and also angry that the person hadn’t realized I knew better. We get involved in a passionate argument about my decision and the counselor feeling hurt that I disagree with their solution. I start to play spider solitaire on the computer and continue to talk to them. I do this because I feel my emotions get very intense and I go to diffuse my passion by multi-tasking. I explain to the counselor that I have to divert myself so that I don't go overboard in our discussion. The person knows this idiosyncrasy of mine and is still upset. I explain my reasoning and talk about the need to be right vis a vis knowing when one is right and keeping an open mind to learn something new. I know I am getting frustrated because as a graduate of the program, my expectation is that he/she will understand the way we do things at Beit T’Shuvah. I find myself having to manage and tone down myself otherwise I will miss a teaching moment and an opportunity to learn more about the issue, the resident and the counselor as well as myself. I find that I have to continue to be open when I just want to say "I am the boss and just follow my directions.” We resolve to agree to disagree and both of us feel heard and can see the reasoning of the other person. It is a win-win. In this instance, the counselor comes to me a few days later and says that my decision was, after all, correct. She/he asks me "how did you know?" I laugh and say it is God, not me.
9:00 - Spiritual counseling w/residents - this is one of my favorite activities. I am working with a person who has built a life based on lies and bad vision for so long, that they are jaded and want to use psychological reasoning with me. I have her write "lies I tell myself.” This is an amazing exercise because they start to see how their core beliefs have led them to live a life of lies, hopelessness, despair and selfishness. We engage in a discussion about her actions and her lies. After defending for the first 10-15 minutes, I ask some questions and when her ears turn red and her face starts to blush, this young woman starts to laugh and yells at me, " that's not fair, Rabbi! You get into my head and I can't defend myself.” I smile and say, "I am the advocate for your soul. I am only giving voice to the other part of you that you have refused to listen to and act on, your authentic, God given knowledge." She looks at me and laughs and says, "okay, I am going to follow that voice this week. See you next week". I am left with my own feelings of triumph for God and my own memories of how I shut that voice of God down for so long, causing so much pain. I reach for the phone and call my daughter, mother, sister, friend, brother, whomever I had harmed in the same way and do T’Shuvah with them. We end up laughing about how often I realize these types of errors after counseling someone else and how my calls help the other person see their own priors in acting the same way. It is 10:00am and I know the day is a great day already. I have learned and done T’Shuvah, connected with other people, and feel totally present and alive!
I struggle each day with the same issues I always have. I realize that the difference is that I am able to come out on God's side, the side of decency, truth and authenticity much much more often.
Follow Rabbi Mark Borovitz on Twitter @Rabbi_Mark
December 6, 2012 | 12:25 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
“But Mom, Johnny’s mom let him do it!”
“If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
Does this conversation sound familiar?
Since the dawn of Jewish parenting, The Allegory of the Cliff has been used to illustrate the hazards of peer pressure. The pressure to get drunk, to smoke weed, to ditch class is supposedly analogous to a suicidal death leap. But this is not the reality. Peer pressure—especially the pressure to do drugs—is more like seeing your friend jump off a cliff, walk back to the top unscathed, and tell you how awesome it was. In the days before my first puff,
I was under the impression that jumping off a cliff would leave me in a pool of blood, thousands of feet below— this is what I had always been told.
But then I saw the truth with my own eyes. I saw classmate after classmate return from the apparent death leap, choosing to take another jump. They never once pushed me, prodded me, or told me that I had to jump after them. They didn’t need to. All I had to do was observe.
I didn’t see that some of those kids were jumping off the cliff because they were miserable. I didn’t see that some of those kids ended up in rehab, some ended up in jail, and some ended up dead. I didn’t see the whole picture. All I saw was the immediate reality, and the reality was that The Allegory of the Cliff was a lie.
Maybe we should stop lying to our kids. Maybe, instead, we should start telling kids the truth. If we don’t, they may do the unthinkable— they may start thinking with their eyes.
December 5, 2012 | 2:46 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
When an addict is submerged in their drug, beverage, or behavior of choice, they tend to lose skill in terms of realistic reasoning. As a result, addicts tend to overcompensate by using faulty logic. The very same logical fallacies that Aristotle warned Athens about end up being used by scrawny dope fiends, obsessively compulsive gamblers, and only-after-5pm alcoholics. As a result, these are the most likely logical fallacies that one might hear if they hang around somebody in the act of addiction:
1. Tu Quoque
The fallacy of “you, too.” Also known as the appeal to hypocrisy, this fallacy is largely used by adolescents on the verge of a grounding. For instance: “Why can’t I drink if it is okay for you to drink?” The fallacy usually goes even further, especially with opiate users: “If you do Oxycontin, why can’t I do heroin?”
2. Two Wrongs Make A Right
It may sound obvious and cliche, but it is used a lot. For instance, somebody might rob a CVS because CVS is a chain store that puts smaller stores out of business. In another case, a sick addict might rob a drug dealer.
3. Ad Hominem
This is where the fallacies tend to hit home and get brutal. When somebody uses ad hominem, they do not attack with logic; they attack the person behind the logic. This tends to become intertwined with tu quoque, resulting in a vicious verbal blow Example: “Why would I listen to you? You never even finished college.”
4. Ad Populum
Appeal to the masses. This means that if a widely affirmed belief is held by a large enough group of people in one social circle, it becomes true. This can be especially dangerous, depending on the type of crowd one spends time with. Example: “All my friends do ecstasy at raves in the desert, therefore it is safe to do ecstasy at raves in the desert.”
5. Ad Misercordiam
This means the appeal to misery, or pity. After the grace period before substance/behavioral dependence kicks in (“pre-addiction”), user ends up feeling bad about themselves. As a result, they deflect their emotions and use them as an excuse to continue in active addiction. Example: “I have no one to get sober for,” or “I’m too sick and depressed to get a job.”
BONUS: The Gambler’s Fallacy
This is a classic statistical fallacy in which the gambler believes that they can be “due for a win.” It goes like this: “The roulette wheel landed on black and I bet on red three times already. Next time it has to land on red and I’ll get my big win!” This is incorrect and faulty logic because each spin is an independent event, and the previous spin has no effect on any spins in the future.
Follow Ben on Twitter @benspielblog
December 4, 2012 | 12:40 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer
To quote from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”
I take a lot of things seriously. I’m a Type A person that will drive my coworkers up the wall with my organizational ‘tactics’—ones that usually involve color-coding systems, timelines, mass emails, and a lot of post-it notes. If you had met me six years ago, you would not be shocked to discover that I was someone who trained in classical music, because classically trained individuals are bursting with seriousness. We take those notes on the page VERY seriously…every dynamic marking, every rest, we observe it. Recovery is one of those things that requires the same level of seriousness. This concept of living well is meant to be your strong foundation in which you build an amazing life on top of. It’s a similarly meticulous process.
Something that needs to be worked into this seriousness, though, is the concept of FUN. At Beit T’Shuvah, any money placed into our tzedakah boxes (before we light Shabbat candles and officially welcome in the Sabbath bride) goes towards something Harriet devised, “mandatory fun.” It’s some sort of weekend programming, ranging anywhere from movies to field trips to the theater to museums, that comes with a philosophy of “you’re going to have fun, whether you like it or not, because it’s just as much a part of your recovery as everything else you’re learning.” Being around Beit T’Shuvah, I also had to learn how to adopt the concept of “mandatory fun” into my music. Find the “both/and.” Respect the notes on the page AND give them a free spirit. It sounds so contradictory (or at least it really felt so to me), but it’s not. It’s synergistic, actually. I forced myself to sing things that weren’t in my comfort zone—jazz, pop, anything that could push me into HAVING FUN. Six years later, I’d like to think I’m a whole new type of musician than just someone who is classically trained.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of producing Beit T’Shuvah’s very first “cantorial” concert, Sing to Save a Soul. I put the word “cantorial” in quotes here because, while the performers were all cantors (and certainly some of the most talented in this city in my opinion), I tried my best to shatter the rigid seriousness that seems to be in so many other concerts that feature cantors. I took the concert very seriously, and at the same time I applied the concept of mandatory fun. Everybody had to come with music that they had fun singing…that was my only rule for song selection. I stuck to my guns on it (nobody seemed to complain).
The result was far greater than anything I could have ever comprehended. It felt like everyone was letting their guard down, both on stage and in the audience. As cantors, we have years of training in voice, language, Jewish law, liturgy, and a million other things I could list off. But when you throw some occasional fun into the mix and make it a requirement alongside the required meticulous seriousness, then real spirit can thrive. I can’t describe G-d that well, but I’d like to believe that where seriousness and fun meet, He is right there smiling in that convergence.
December 3, 2012 | 1:07 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
In this week’s Jewish Journal there is a heated exchange between Rabbi Daniel Gordis and Rabbi Sharon Brous. If you look closely at their arguments you will see very important principled positions. Rabbi Gordis speaks about the reality and necessity of loyalty to the Jewish people, and the state of Israel, emphasizing the importance of that loyalty, over empathy for the Palestinians and particularly Hamas. He then accuses Brous of preaching "universalism", that we should essentially care as much about others as we do our own. Brous for her part states explicitly, " I did not challenge Israel’s right to respond to Hamas rockets. On the contrary I said, ‘Israel had not only a right but an obligation to defend it's people.’ Nor did I suggest a moral equivalency between Hamas operatives targeting Jewish civilians and Israeli soldiers targeting Hamas operatives but inadvertently hitting Palestinian civilians." However Rabbi Brous never goes as far as saying that there is a moral in-equivalency and walks a very fine line of supporting Israel without taking a side. Rabbi Gordis wants Rabbi Brous to take a side, and he puts up a good argument as to why. Rabbi Gordis' argument has been labeled "particularism." However if you read his response to Brous carefully, it is more a "universal particularism.” He believes starting with family, and working out towards nations and ethnic groups, that as a universal principle of connection and loyalty to one’s own, in his words "make us who we are and enables us to leave our distinct fingerprints on the world." I do believe that both Rabbis are making important principled arguments for the sake of Judaism, and for the sake of the world. One leans toward the former the other the latter. Why their opinions caught the cover of the Jewish Journal is another matter. Both Rabbis climbed down from their principles to throw mud at each other. Gordis accuses Brous of being a sellout, and Brous accuses Gordis of having a history of selling out for publicity. It is this personal piece that caught the eyes of the Jewish community, not the principled piece (at least it's what caught my attention). Rabbi Feinstein did an eloquent job of calling each Rabbi back to their higher selves (or their corners as the case may be). Bringing back a vision of a living, breathing, Judaism with a thriving tension between the poles of particularism and universalism. He makes the outstanding point that both are true, and invites Rabbi Gordis to Ikar to see the other side. I would have added that Rabbi Brous should bring an Ikar service to Israel and feel the weight of the conflict beneath her feet in the ground and soil of the holy land. (or both could come to Beit T’Shuvah and dance to the music of redemption and hear the passion of my Rabbi Mark Borovitz!)
I remember being a Jewish kid in the eighties and feeling uncomfortable with the term "chosen people." Rabbi Brous and I are of the same generation, I wonder if she felt the same. I remember all the explanations about chosen being obligated, and not special, about each people having a unique function etc., however in my mind I was still always uncomfortable with the term. Practically speaking, in my heart, I know I consistently care more for those I am closer to than those further out, my kids, my parents, my people; I choose them over the other. However I am inspired by a vision of weeping for my enemies, with the same grief I have for my own. Judaism offers us glimpses of this ideal, which I try to incorporate into my life, however I am human, and humanity by its very nature has its limits. It is a deep and difficult issue, in a world where at times you are forced into these moral/spiritual dilemmas, and what's on the table is people's lives. How do we make peace? At even the highest levels of man/women there is conflict. Conflict is a necessary function of growth in any system as Rabbi Feinstein points out, but sustained conflict can also bring out the worst in us, whether that is slinging mud, or worse, slinging bombs. I do think Judaism offers us a deep insight and that is T’Shuvah. The mystics say G-d created T’Shuvah before he created the world, G-d must have anticipated Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, Jacob, Esau and the ensuing drama that we call human history. The conflict was built in, in the form of a snake in the beginning and in the form of free will now. Judaism offers us a vision of peace in the reality of one G-d, and the practice of T’Shuvah, to return us to G-d, to ourselves and to each other. Judaism calls on us to transcend, it tells us we can fight against the strongest pull and choose life, choose peace, choose G-d. I agree that differences of opinion are what defines Judaism in many ways, but when those differences pull us away from each other, we are simultaneously pulling ourselves away from G-d or G-dliness. Far be it for me (a rabbi in training at a crazy little Shul called Beit T’Shuvah) to tell a rabbi what to do... But at my Shul we have a saying. It goes, "oops I made a mistake, how can I make it right, I'd like to make a T’Shuvah."