Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer
It’s hard to forget that Thanksgiving is this week. I go to the supermarket and see pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING on display (yum), my favorite Thursday shows aren’t on this week, and I’m already being bombarded by Christmas decorations in the malls and on the city streets to warm the whole world up for Black Friday. Yup, it’s definitely Thanksgiving time.
Minus the excuse to gather with friends and family and enjoy an awesome spread of food, Thanksgiving has, in the past few years, been one of those days when I ask myself “what’s the big deal?” Yes, I know the holiday originally served the purpose of marking something great in history, but culturally it has become exactly what its namesake suggests: a day to give thanks. A day to be in gratitude.
Now listen, don’t get me wrong—I love spending time with friends and family. I love fighting over the last slice (or entirety) of a pumpkin pie. But a day set aside to be grateful? Just one day? Those of us in recovery, in the Beit T’shuvah community, and/or living lives of T’shuvah do this on a daily basis. I personally know that I live in gratitude. I am constantly aware of it. It’s something that I’ve worked for, but it’s pretty much a constant thing for me at this point. Gratitude is my rule, not my exception. This is why I personally struggle with this concept of setting aside ONE single day to be grateful. Why not just try and have every day of my life be a Thanksgiving of sorts?
I would like to wish everyone reading this a Happy Thanksgiving. But I would also like to encourage everyone, like we encourage at Beit T’Shuvah do on Yom Kippur, to remember that the sentiments behind the holiday do not disappear with the turkey leftovers. Try writing a gratitude list in the morning or at night. Remember that T’Shuvah is not just saying sorry when you are wrong, but realizing that your life is full of things to give thanks for, and knowing that those things exist is exactly what helps you “return” when you find something you want to run away from. So what I’d really like to wish everyone is a grounding Thanksgiving. May we all find the things that we are thankful for and want to hold onto no matter what, and may we keep holding onto it even when Hallmark doesn’t remind us that we need to.
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November 19, 2012 | 11:08 am
Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
I came home after work and immediately got into it with my six-year-old daughter about not doing her homework. She got upset, I got upset and we both went to our rooms. Later she came to apologize, and I wouldn't accept her apology. Three hours later I realized I was being ridiculous, about two hours after she did. We both had long days at work (first grade in her case); we’re very well behaved amongst our coworkers and wanted to come home and relax (except she had homework). Whenever I find myself in an embittered battle with my six year old daughter I am shocked by how quickly I revert to a child: emotional, hypocritical, controlling, always needing to get my way. But then wait, this is not the description of a child; this is your average adult!
This got me to thinking about all the ways we are like children: sensitive, naive, playing dress up everyday, trying to save our money so we can buy the newest toy. We are jealous, narcissistic, competitive, creative and surprising. In Los Angeles, every time I see someone in a Bentley or a Ferrari, I think of my children who spend their hard earned allowance on the best Barbie castle and can't wait to show their friends. I think ”honey, wouldn't you rather do something valuable with that money? Help other kids in need? Or save up for something meaningful?” Nope, they like their toys and so do we. They like to have fun and so do we. So what are the differences between adults and children? Adults are great at rationalizing, in a way that children are not. Adults are craftier and perhaps more self-assured. On the positive side, adults clean up after themselves or at least have the decency to pay somebody else to do it. We also have a bigger schoolyard. Our games our played on a huge socio-political scale and the consequences are more than scraped knees and hurt feelings. We play bully in the boardroom, baby talk in the bedroom, pick teams in the workplace, and whine when we get home. So yes, adults are just like kids. My advice: start singing and dancing in the hallways and own it.
November 18, 2012 | 2:01 pm
Posted by Harriet Rossetto
Gracing us with the gift of her wisdom and honesty, Harriet Rossetto has given us a sneak peek into her book, Sacred Housekeeping, A Spiritual Memoir. The official release will be in March of 2013.
Sacred Housekeeping…It’s All In The Details
I hated routine for many years, but now I perform my rituals and routines with missionary zeal so I don’t lose my footing. These are my “mitzvot,” sacred acts. They are personal, not communal; chosen, not commanded. They remind me to be grateful to God for life: to “eat, be satisfied and bless.”
I have the same conversation with myself every morning when one part of me wants to sleep an extra hour and the other one wants to get up and work out, and every night when one of me wants to drop my clothes on the floor and the other one is committed to hanging them up. Leave the dish in the sink? Wash it and put it away. It builds spiritual muscle.
All these years later, it’s still a daily battle. I still get lazy and busy with distractions and acquisitions. I buy new underwear at Costco and don’t bother to throw out the old. I keep things that I don’t wear for over a year, a gross violation of The Organizer’s Manifesto. I buy things I don’t need because they’re a bargain, another violation. But what’s different is that now, from time to time; I force myself to face down the monster and to weed the overgrowth.
I no longer view my defects of character as evidence of my failure or as enemies to be vanquished. They are evidence only of my humanness. My daily spiritual struggle is to own them and “invite them in for tea,” as Ram Dass taught.
During group sessions at Beit T’Shuvah, I began to notice that residents were adapting my evolving insights and epiphanies. A sweet and sardonic 24-year old girl who had been in eight rehabs lit up when I told my story about housekeeping as an antidote to existential despair: “I finally did my laundry after putting it off forever,” she said. “I was folding the towels when I got that it’s not about finding God in the Burning Bush… it’s about doing your laundry. God really is in the details.”
Harriet Rossetto, Sacred Housekeeping
November 16, 2012 | 11:33 am
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I am struck this week with 2 events, one global and the other personal. Remember, as I think and write about these events, I am Addicted to Redemption.
The global event, of course, is what is happening in Israel. While I have issues with the way the deterioration of peace talks, I have no issue with defending oneself! Israel is engaged in a war for its survival. No country would put up with rockets being fired into their cities over and over again, nor should Eretz Yisrael! My question is, how can Israel and the Arab countries be redeemed? How can they extricate themselves from this distress they are in?
It will take combined support for redemption rather than "winning a war" of military strength and PR. There is no moral equivalency to hiding behind/with civilians while you fire rockets. There is no moral equivalency to sending rockets into a neighboring area without warning vis-a-vis sending leaflets that a bombing is going to occur. War is messy and I commend Israel for making it less messy. I do also call on Israel to work with its allies to find a way to redemption, and to move toward getting out of this messy situation. I understand it takes partnership by the Arab nations, yet it has to begin with us, the Jews. We brought redemption to the world's consciousness through T’Shuvah and we have to take our place as the moral leader of Redemption again. I don't have the solution; I only know that the path is through redemption, not more war and death.
The second event is dealing with the healthcare system in our country. A young member of our community, a pro-social, tax-paying young woman was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The hoops that she has had to go through in order to get the best care are ridiculous! In this country, the fact that people who have no medical training are deciding what procedures are allowable is ridiculous! The fact that some doctor decides that the same procedure done in a small rural area should cost the same in Los Angeles is stupid! Jewish law calls for us to judge each case on it's own merits. Yet, our healthcare system says everybody and each illness is the same. WE HAVE TO REDEEM OUR HEALTHCARE delivery and system. We have to extricate each other and ourselves from the distress of fighting "the system" as well as the disease we contract.
Rabbi Heschel teaches that God is concerned with humans. Are we concerned enough with humanity to redeem our friend and ally Israel and ourselves and our fellow American’s healthcare? I pray we are and will spring into action immediately.
November 15, 2012 | 2:29 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
“Is it safe?”—This oft-quoted line from Marathon Man is one that is being issued not by Nazi Doctor Christian Szell, but by parents throughout the country. Our fear-based society propagates the containment of middle and upper-class children into a bubble of safety. Safety is the number one concern of parents—rightfully so—but it is often espoused even at the expense of our children’s identities.
Kids can’t play catch with their friends because a kidnapper might be lurking behind the residential bushes. Sons and daughters can’t hang out at the mall because of 20/20’s exposé on food-court peril. Parents test their children’s Halloween candy, throwing away the poison-susceptible jujubes.
This is creating a world of trapped children. On one hand, they are told that when they grow up they can be whatever they want to be. On the other hand, they are told that they can’t go anywhere without a tracking device. Eventually, children must leave the bubble and venture off into the world by themselves. And they are not prepared. Kids call from college cafeterias to ask their mom what kind of salad dressing they should put on their chopped salad. They don’t know how to take the bus (note: you put money in the machine and sit down until you get to your stop). And they don’t know how to deal with the world on their own.
The parental reasoning for their child’s imprisonment is typically a nostalgic, “The world is more dangerous than it was when I was a kid.” In our media saturated world, where kidnappings are live-streamed and terrorist threats are given the colors of a Crayola crayon box, the representation that our world is more dangerous is quickly accepted as fact. But the containment of children can be more dangerous than the real or imagined fears that exist outside of a home’s locked and alarmed doors.
Yes, the world is dangerous. Yes, terrorism is real. Yes, random kidnappings occur throughout the country. But protecting children from these threats often precludes them from the beauty of living. Perhaps Szell’s line “Is it safe?” should be reframed. Maybe it is safer to let your child take the bus and play in the street than it is to keep them inside of a bubble.
November 14, 2012 | 2:53 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
When I was younger, I would pride myself in my rebellion. In high school, I would habitually leave class and venture off campus. On the weekends, I would stay in bed for as long as humanly possible. I would hook up distortion pedals to my bass, play only songs in minor keys, and whisper and yelp gibberish into microphones.
My mantra was “question everything, no matter what.” My jeans were torn and lazily sewn back together with unflavored dental floss and most of my t-shirts were sleeveless. I read just enough Sartre and Camus to hate the world, but not enough to find the beauty in meaninglessness—or, as Harriet likes to call it, “spiritual housekeeping.”
I stole individual pieces of string cheese from small bodegas just because I didn't want to support those damn cheese lobbyists (Kraft is, after all, owned by Philip Morris).
I arrived at Beit T'Shuvah when I was 20 years old. My rebellious nature was immediately compromised; I was forced to make my bed and not allowed to live in it. I, along with dozens of tattooed reoffending criminals, had to sit still during Shabbat and clean up when it ended. What stung the most was the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous: admitting powerlessness. I wrestled with it in my head, but it always seemed like I was the one who had the power; I was the one who had control. In the end, all it took was a little bit of blind faith—I temporarily let go of my questions and just believed. There were no peer-reviewed studies to dig through or five-star Amazon.com reviews to glance at.
Today, I am 22 years old and I make my bed on most days. I don't wear t-shirts to work and I ask serious questions in class. But I am still a rebel; my mantra remains the same, even after rehab. But I finish my books this time, I buy string cheese at full-price, and I keep my basslines distortion-free. But I still have trouble admitting things like powerlessness; I always question simple terminology. Maybe I didn't sell out. But I definitely bought in.
November 13, 2012 | 2:46 pm
Posted by Michael Welch
Taking care of ourselves and the practice of emotional maintenance has evolved into far more than what our Ten Commandments originated as.
When Moses and the Israelites first faced G-d's covenant, they were both terrified and obedient.
I generally have the opposite reaction when I hear about modern day, alternative therapies. I would have to suspend my disbelief to buy in, a personal impossibility.
I, like many others, find it necessary to rebel when posed with "cutting edge" cures including Equine Assisted, Hyperberic Oxygen, and Reiki Therapy. Although I am confident that there must be some usefulness in these methods (much like lobotomies), they are no match for the profound and simple road map of the Commandments: Don't murder. Worship God. Do not injure family bonds. Do not bear false witness. Honor your parents. Tell the truth. Most importantly, don't take my property and put it on your lawn claiming it's yours.
These countless alternative therapies, risk a grassroots approach to living and coping with emotions appropriately. The Torah and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provide a parallel message of serving G-d and our fellow man/woman. If you ever question the validity or relevance of your existence, these two texts provide answers no matter how hard you try to bastardize or blaspheme either one. Each point to the ultimate reference of existence as the extension of one hand to another and staying connected to our common welfare of unity. These texts say that, “without you I don't exist,” and visa versa. The power of the group is stronger than a strayed individual.
Moses and the Israelites showed us this. It couldn't be more clear. They didn't need analysis; were was no moment of “floral group processing.” It was a poetic display of faith. Faith in G-d and faith in others.
So if you, like I, know these simple truths, and struggle with the notion of paying (x) for an individual therapy session, have an expectation of making life less complicated, then how is it that I find myself in line at the new high-end "magnet therapy" clinic in Beverly Hills?
November 12, 2012 | 2:14 pm
Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
Absolutely not! Well, kind of. The Rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah and I have a decade-long argument, which for the purposes of this blog, I'll label the Cwon’t (can’t/won’t) argument. He believes (in general) that people willingly won't change. I have always said that if they could they would (can't), and that they are stuck in behaviors that have a hold on them. That makes him the tough Rabbi and me the empathy. It makes me the cynic and him hopeful, but frustrated.
The medical community has adopted a disease model of addiction that centers on physiology, possible genetic components, and habituated behavior. The story goes like this: addicts have a pre-disposition in their genes (or temperament) toward a particular sensation, engage in use of a substance, get stuck in a cycle of behavior against their own will, create strong neural pathways and get more and more entrenched in a destructive pattern of substance abuse. They label this phenomenon a disease. From this point of view the addict is a victim of a vicious disease that ravages the life of the addict and creates turmoil in their circle of friends and loved ones. From this point of view the addict CAN’T get sober without serious intervention and long-term care to arrest the disease. However, if an addict goes to see a psychiatrist for their condition, nine times out of ten, here’s how the story goes: psychiatrist assesses client; tries a little therapy, maybe some medications; client does not stop abusing; and after a few months (or years) the psychiatrist says, “I can't help you unless you get sober. Go to AA.” What are the things that happen in AA? Well, moral inventory and belief in a higher power are the fundamental building blocks of the program.
So we have a real conundrum, on the one hand the medical community will say addiction is not a moral problem it is a disease, on the other hand they are quick to prescribe a moral solution. So here’s the deal: this controversy around addiction is tied to an age-old philosophical question around freedom, free will that is, and its limits. Are people (addicts) choosing to destruct their lives, consciously making negative moral decisions? Or, is something choosing them? Hence, we have the Cwon’t dilemma. Choice or no choice—that is the question. The answer is...Yes! Addiction is paradoxical, intrinsically. It has two incompatible, polar opposite characteristics that define it: addiction is both a choice and not a choice. Addiction is a malady of the body and the mind. It confuses emotions and weathers the spirit. Addiction is a condition that gives great insight into the paradoxical nature of human beings and points to a richness and complexity beneath the surface of reductionist views, and detached systematic thinking.
If I reflect deeply on my life, it has these same contradicting polarities that shape it. My life is both mine and not mine at the same time. Think deeply about your existence, how much of it can you really take credit for? I recognize that I play a part in my life, am responsible for it in ways, but much of my life is way out of my scope and is driven by an infinite amount of variables. My existence is immersed in mystery, internally and externally, my choices in life, at times, seem unconscious, automatic, driven by instinct and plucked from a random stream of thought that I myself have little to do with. On the other hand some choices flash in from the depths of me with exacting certainty guiding the general course of my life. In this mysterious cauldron of potential and happenings, where does our free will lie? Who or what is directing the course of our lives? Is it our genes? Our environment? Is it our minds? Our souls? G-d? Some admixture of all of those? That answer lies beyond the horizon of time and space and dwells in the land of the source of all. In Jewish thinking every single thing in the universe does exactly what G-d commands, except for us, we (at times) have the freedom to do the opposite, but that freedom is not all encompassing, it has limits. The fabric that weaves our existence together is this constant tension between our real human capacity to choose and create in the world and our powerlessness, even in our own lives. We are both matter and spirit. Sometimes we make choices, sometimes choices make us. It is this paradoxical admixture that causes our pain, allows us to triumph and most importantly creates our freedom. We understand small bits of existence and will never understand all.
Addiction plays a part in the daily life of every human being. Some addictions we label as destructive, some we label as constructive and those labels are contingent upon various social and cultural trends. Addiction is a necessary component of living, it is rote and automatic, and without that mechanical function we could never have the depth of living that we enjoy, in short, we could never build. Addiction is instinctual and instinct is a necessary, but insufficient, condition for human living. To be human is to be able to override instinct or programing, it is to be able to do the right thing against everything, it is the infinite potential of the human spirit that one witnesses when someone transforms his or her life for the better.
A Chasidic master once instructed people to carry one piece of paper in each pocket, on one write, “for my sake the world was created,” on the other, “I am nothing but dust and ashes." What does this mean? We are the dust that bears witness to creation, and indeed have the capacity, the freedom to create, as well. Our lives are both dust in the wind and whirling manifestations of the inexpressible. We are all fighting against the pull of our lower selves fighting to be more than dust, and we win some and we lose some. Therefore, in the final analysis we all must stand together, humbled by the eyes of eternity, for if you are not good enough, neither am I. Addiction is a moral issue, we have the moral obligation to see ourselves in the eyes of others.