Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Zoe Ogulnick
I never would have guessed that being a “normie” would cause me to feel like I am less than. The residents and employees (typically) at Beit T’Shuvah have all struggled with addiction. The fact that I never went down that path makes me an instant minority. I worried that my patients and the kids I spoke to would think of me as a phony. How could I possibly understand what they’ve experienced? The truth is, addict or not, we are all a slave to something. We have all experienced traumas and devastation. However, some of us were provided with a different set of tools to make life just a little more manageable.
Since coming to work in the prevention office I have found that I am able to relate to a lot of the daily struggles that inhibit these adolescents’ growth and maturation. You would think that having a Masters degree in clinical psychology would allow me to feel more equipped to help these kids. The fact of the matter is that these kids couldn’t care less about my education. They want to know that I “get it.” They want to really feel like I know what it’s like to sit where they’re sitting. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a battle with addiction to really understand the crux of the struggle. I remember how hard it is to feel left out. I remember the intense pressure to succeed. I remember feeling like being myself wasn’t ever good enough. I hope that I am able to provide these kids with proper tools to deal with this everyday scuffle without falling into the hands of substances that are much more powerful than they will ever be.
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October 1, 2013 | 11:11 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
Living in the present can be so difficult at times with all the history and experiences of our past undergirding how we view life, both today in our current reality, and with regards to our future and the possibility it holds.
How often do we recognize what we really bring to the table daily? I for one can recognize little prejudices or judgments, which crop up towards others based on past similar experiences or fears and anxiety when confronted with situations that I have failed at before. Often my first inclination is to shrink away from opportunity rather than meet the challenge. Thank God for many years of recovery and learning not to always listen to my first thought or inclination. I have many more friends as a result and I am much more at peace inwardly. And having more success in life!
I recently spent some time reflecting on why I was feeling so frustrated lately. I felt like I have been treading water and not getting anywhere. I have many things going on in my life towards a better future and yet I was uncomfortable. I spent time with mentors and after much dialogue found that my focus was so engrossed in the future, I was taking for granted everything I had right here right now. I had become overwhelmingly caught up in the outcome and frustrated with the process of getting there. In short, I wasn’t living in the present!
This week I hope to reflect on what I have and be grateful. There are so many blessings in my life that I often miss because I am not present in the moment. A friend of mine from Indonesia once said, “God is not in the past or the future, God is in the present.” May we find time to spend with God in the present this week, and be grateful for what we have. Peace
September 25, 2013 | 10:59 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Dean Steinberg
So last week the U.N. came out with their most comprehensive, declarative, and unwavering update on climate change ever. The basic message is that now there is IRREFUTABLE proof that the planet is headed for catastrophe. Done. Case closed. Yet, as recent as this past weekend, I had a conversation with someone I deemed to be an intelligent soul, arguing that we still don't know if the warming is do to human consumption, and actually this moron was still debating if the planet was warming at all, or "just going through one of its cycles."
Man, does this shit frustrate me. This guy I was arguing with has two small children. That's what I really can't wrap my head around. How people like this, parents, all the conservative right wing organizations like Family First, or the Family Coalition, or any of the right Wing Conservative Family types who still argue against Global Warming. Where do they think their grandchildren are going to live when the stages of global calamity are upon us? Actually, the World Meteorological Organization (the ones who've been studying this shit for 30 years) has indicated this will happen before the end of the century, so it may be their children as well as grandchildren.
Now I am far from any genius on this stuff. I only know what I see, hear, and feel. Like last time I was in Australia, been there lately? Remember that cool attraction called the Great Barrier Reef, well it's like not that cool anymore. As in disappearing not cool. I saw more fish the last time I was in Cabo and the skippers on the boat were throwing tortillas off the bow, than I did in Australia. Along with Canada, and of course the United States, Australia is still denying the presence of Global warming. I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone. Australians, while super friendly sorts, are not the most ahead of their time. I used to have nothing but mad love for those Aussies, it is the homeland of my two children, Australian Cattle dogs, but I should have known that something was up when I was there last year and the waiter in the restaurant asked if Los Angeles is up on adding Chicken to the classic Caesar salad for a new delicacy.
Back to the geniuses, yeah, I'm not one of them. Not on Physics, or topography, or ice caps, or whatever it is these super freaks stay up all night analyzing, but what I am a genius in is Meta cognition, which is knowing what you don't know. What I do with that with which I don't know, is refer to those who do. And these left brain MIT nerds seem to know plenty. Hell, most of them study the shit for seventy plus hours a week for like their whole lives. What a silly, stupid presumptuous bunch we are, to think that these scientists, working at the most brilliant universities in the world, are bullshitting us. I read a lot on this topic, and the consensus is that pretty much ALL of them, the whole bunch of brilliant scientists at MIT, and Harvard, and Yale, and so on, all say the same thing. It's real bad out there.
So all you fossil fuel lovers, who are still clinging to your sad sack rhetoric, like, “there's more ice in Antarctica then ever," or, "the climate may be changing, but human activity has nothing to do with it,” or, "whatever happens, we can adapt,” or, "the pace of warming has slowed in the past 15 years,” go fire up your Hummers, but while your at it, help those children of yours figure out a way to help their children grow some Gills.
September 24, 2013 | 10:11 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
Earlier today as I was driving down Rossmore Avenue on my way to Hollywood for a speaking engagement. I was, and always have been, amazed at the beautiful homes and well maintained landscapes. Everything looks so perfect. The lawn, the trees, nice cars in the driveways, the occasional jogger in their running clothes looking like they just ran home from the gym. It’s something right out of a movie. It’s so amazing, so impressive, that it almost doesn’t seem real…almost as unreal as the feelings I get driving south on Crenshaw or Vermont where poverty and gloom fill the air. It’s like night and day, and yet within both communities dwell people. In one the make-up looks better, much like good plastic surgery functions to change what one feels inside about themselves (not saying that’s the case all the time just to be clear) and in the other no amount of make-up will suffice…people just have to live with what is or so they believe. And the whole time I am thinking about this topic with you, I am curious as to what dwells within the people of both communities.
I am of the opinion that they are not that much different. Surely financial and social status play a part in how we define differences, but within the people that live in both communities lie the Divine. Yes, the Divine. In both we can also find fear, anger, resentment, judgment, as well as hope, love, mercy, and so much more. These parts of our humanity are not unalike and yet the disparity is so great.
Is there a place to bring the two together at a much deeper level, perhaps the level of the Divine. It would be easy for me to judge and resent those along Rossmore Ave, for I was raised in a community not unlike south Vermont or Crenshaw, or to think the same towards those who com from there because I am no longer there. A wise Rabbi, whose advise I cherish, taught and continues to teach me that when it comes to people my humanity is to see the humanity in others, to see the Divine within them helps me discover the divine within myself. I guess I will spend the rest of the day practicing seeing the Divine in you, in my neighbor, and possibly touch the divine within myself…what about you?
September 23, 2013 | 12:59 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Joan Praver—Volunteer/Board Member
The high holidays are over for the year but I will take the memory of this Yom Kippur with me for years to come. The singing of the choir was exceptional, the sermons inspiring, but the middle of the afternoon has always been dedicated to people being called upon from the congregation to stand up, come to the front of the auditorium and discuss their feelings about the day or their thoughts regarding belonging to the Beit T’Shuvah Congregation. It begins with Harriet Rossetto, the founder, giving an introduction then follows by her calling on a resident, staff member, benefactor, or guest, to speak. It tends to last around an hour or more before we return back to the final confessional of the service, when the shofar is blown.
This time Harriet called on the Rabbi first. He thanked one of Beit T’Shuvah’s creative volunteers, expressing his gratitude for the obligation she had taken weekly with the residents in her group over the past fourteen years. Included in his words of appreciation, he held up a copy of a professionally printed booklet, containing 12 poems, essays, and stories.
The Music Director had asked me some months ago to look through my writing collections and to allow him to print some of the best pieces people might wish to read. I conformed, not knowing what he intended to do with them. He had submitted all the work to a particular alumnus, who then read and chose what he considered the best and BTS publishing did the rest, titling it ‘Ode to Joan.’
When he called out my name I cam forward…It was nicer than having a surprise party!
September 22, 2013 | 5:34 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Matt Shapiro
At Kol Nidrei services for Beit T'Shuvah (which can still be viewed here, in case you haven't checked them out yet!), Rabbi Mark shared the thought that there are words within the Torah for each of us to learn and internalize for the coming year. Accordingly, he had the two Torah scrolls passed around the entire congregation for people to hold and have the words enter their hearts; no small feat, considering the hundreds of people we had in attendance. As one of the two designated "Torah sentries," I engaged in a bit more physical activity than I usually do when beginning a 25 hour fast with no eating or drinking. Instead of the effort weakening me, however, it deeply energized me.
Not everyone wanted to hold the Torah, and a few people just sort of passed it along to someone next to them; one gentlemen was particularly cavalier about the sacred scroll, doing an odd sort of balancing demonstration with it, perhaps unaware of the stringent precautions against letting a Torah scroll fall (the common consequence of fasting, though not always enforced, isn't quite nullified if the drop happens on a fast day). This group was far outweighed by the people who seemed to be truly touched by the opportunity to hold the Torah close for a moment. A few were hesitant, asking if it was really OK to touch it. A few more said that they had never held a Torah before, and their caution and awe was clear. One woman simply said, "wow....oh wow...," two or three times before handing it back. There was a power to this process that I did not anticipate. Since I'm used to officiating at services and carrying the Torah, I've forgotten how moving the simple act of holding a Torah scroll can be for people.
Funnily enough, I got told about 30 minutes into my Torah squiring duties that I was doing it wrong. The typical tradition, I was told, is for the Torah to be passed down the row, then moved on to the next row. The way I was initially organizing the procedure was for people to stand up if they wanted to hold it, and I would bring it to them. Still, I think I got more out of my "incorrect" way than I would have otherwise. Not only was I able to have more direct contact with individuals that way, but there was also an embodiment of an important principle: bringing Torah to people, wherever they happen to be. In the physical act of handing the scroll to someone, no matter where they were sitting, I was bringing to life the message that the teachings of our tradition can reach people in any place, physical or spiritual.
I can't help but to think about how Torah is frequently compared to water in Judaism, and also sometimes equated with bread or food, a kind of holy nutrition. Appropriately enough, this process was more than enough spiritual sustenance for me to get through the day. It's also fitting for me to be reflecting on this experience now; this coming week, to close out the holiday season, we celebrate Simchat Torah, the holiday on which we both complete the annual cycle of reading the entire Torah and begin it anew. I'm moved to think about the variety of experiences different people had holding the Torah that night, and can think of few better encapsulations of what making Judaism personal and meaningful can look like. I'm still feeling the power of that experience, and hope it sustains me well into this coming year.
September 20, 2013 | 10:30 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I am basking in the Glow of the Holy Days! Services were amazing and the brilliance, depth and soulfulness of all the people who explained the prayers brought Joy to everyone. Joy is the theme this week. Sukkot is here and we say Moadim L'Simcha, therefore I thought Joy was an appropriate blog topic.
As I experience Joy, I find it different from happiness. I am joyous that I am alive today yet I am not happy about the state of affairs of our nation. I am in joy that I can invite people to the Sukkah and yet not happy that so many have died in the past year. I am joyous that I have a life of meaning and purpose and still not happy with everything that my life requires. I am in joy that I love and am loved, however I am not always a barrel of fun to be around.
What I am trying to say is Joy is a state of being, not an "emotion.” During Sukkot, we are living in huts—shaky, fragile things—and we are commanded to be joyous. Why? Because Sukkot is teaching us about life. Life is fragile, ask anyone who has experienced loss, illness, etc. Yet, we have to be in joy. Joyous that we have family and friends. Joyous that we have community. Joyous that we are alive and have an opportunity for change. Joyous that the gates of T’Shuvah, Tzedakah and T'Filah are never closed. Let's live every day in a state of joy. Hag Sameyach!
September 19, 2013 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Nicole Goodman
I’m currently taking a class on media, gender, and race and this week I was involved in a controversial topic we were discussing. Our focus for the past few classes has been on Native Americans and how the media has portrayed them throughout history. On Tuesday, we focused on the argument for and against Native American sport mascots. Current teams include the Cleveland Indians, The Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, etc. These franchises portray their mascots with head dresses, face paint, drums, and other stereotyped fashion. There is no doubt that their image of Native Americans is inaccurate and offensive but countless schools and teams nonetheless continue to follow this trend. In class I raised the argument along the lines that the situation is only racist if you make it racist, going on about how all teams over exaggerate mascots to pump up fans and market their franchise. I also went on to say that, although I believe it is offensive and wrong, why do we go after sports teams to fix the problem and not go after the real source, Hollywood. After being antagonized by a few of my classmates over my opinion, I became heated and more curious about the argument.
I came into work this morning discussing what happened with a few of my colleagues and came to an interesting self-realization. One of the spiritual advisors here at Beit T’Shuvah was explaining the situation to me in a way I could personally relate. He asked what if there was a Jewish mascot, something along the lines of let’s say, The Houston Hasidim. To that I responded that I would be honored as a Jew, and in fact would love to be on the team! Then he asked what if the team was The Houston Hooknoses? To that I was personally offended. He then went on to explain how that is the same situation with the Redskins or Indians. So I wasn’t offended by the Hasidim idea but then very frustrated with the Hooknose idea. So where do we draw the line between honorable and offensive? Some schools and teams have already made the effort to ban certain stereotype outfits such as helmets or feathers. But how do we ultimately fix the situation? My idea of just going through Hollywood and the media to fix it will not do the job. He explained to me that just like most things in life it’s not just going after Hollywood and not just going after sport teams but it is a both/and.