Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Matt Shapiro
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, I was reminded of something important that I frequently forget (the theme of remembering has been showing up in my life almost as much as it does in the liturgy for the holiday).
Shortly after services, someone came up to me to wish me a shana tova, a good year. I recognized her as a woman I knew from an internship I previously held at another synagogue in the area. After exchanging pleasantries (and graciously reminding me of her name, which I was blanking on), I asked her if she was new to services at Beit T'Shuvah. "Oh, no," she said, "I've been coming for a few months. I wanted to try something different and have been coming back since I first came." Since I only lead services intermittently myself, our paths just hadn't crossed yet. I chalked it up as a nice coincidence to start the year with, and made my way to the exit.
Within five minutes, I had bumped into yet another person I knew. She had participated in a program I had staffed for Jewish young adults, which emphasized the different expressions of Judaism and Jewish life and encouraged them to "step outside their comfort zone." Though she's also local, I hadn't seen her in over a year, and was completely unaware she'd be at BTS for the holiday. She joyfully informed me that she had become a synagogue member just the other week, and thoroughly enjoyed showing up because of how comfortable she felt. In her words, "I can wear spaghetti straps to the High Holidays, and nobody even cares!"
One interaction like this, and I'll consider it a random occurrence; twice, and there's something deeper going on.
What speaks to me here even more than the reminder that Beit T'Shuvah isn't just a place for addicts, but anyone looking for a connection to relevant Judaism, is that both of these women took it on themselves to seek out a place where they could find meaning and joy. We each have an obligation to find the places where those key components of life are for us. Frequently, however, wherever we find ourselves is where we stay, because of inertia, perceived comfort, laziness or fear. For myself, for a long time, I stuck with what I knew because I thought it was comfortable, even as I could feel the discomfort itching inside of me. These two interactions remind me not only of how awesome services at Beit T'Shuvah are (and, yes, they are awesome...in fact, if you didn't get to come to services with us, you can see them for yourself right here....OK, I'm done now), but of the importance of continually finding the ways in which I can access more meaning, more joy. This is something I already know quite well, yet I still need to remember it, regularly, otherwise I forget, get stuck, and miss opportunities like those that are right in front of me. Hopefully, I'll be able to actually live it regularly, throughout this year, and well into the next one.
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September 4, 2013 | 11:30 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Adam Siegel
T'Shuvah, both as an action and a process, is a topic we talk about year-round here at Beit T'Shuvah. With the High Holy Days upon us, this topic tends to come to the forefront of many of our activities. As one of our community's foundational principles, it is not just talked about, but more so, it's a way of living that all of us (residents, staff, and community members) are encouraged/expected to engage in on a daily basis.
When I was younger, 't'shuvah' was singularly translated as 'repentance' and I mainly associated it as an act of turning away from someone/thing/behaviors that were harmful. Since then, I've learned that, as much as it's about turning away, it's also about what one is turning towards. While this may seem obvious, it's an aspect that's continues to be a challenge for me as I strive to live a spiritually-oriented life. I've learned that if you don't know what you're turning towards, you'll likely end up just turning around in circles. Whether out of blinding fear or sheer obliviousness, there are times I find myself dis-connected with the higher ideals, which I can potentially manifest through my actions. It is these higher ideals (i.e. love, honesty, truth, etc...) that one needs to connect to in order to move the t'shuvah process along. Accordingly, it's been the times when I've had the strength and/or grace to acknowledge my Higher potential that I've been able to openly acknowledge my missteps.
Conversely, this sense of disconnection (from my spiritual potential) provides me with the grounds for giving up or neglecting to push further along on the path of t'shuvah. Feeling like I'm unable to recognize where I'm going or what I stand for, I'm content to stay put and "wait" until things become clearer. While this may occasionally be a productive short-term strategy, it usually becomes an impediment and a way to justify my apathy.
In last week's Torah portion, the text actually describes two types of T’Shuvah; one the Israelites can engage in while in exile from the Promised Land of Israel and the other upon their eventual return to the land. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandatory Palestine, makes a distinction between these two types of t'shuvah; actually describing the former as an inherently incomplete form.** In his mind, t'shuvah, as a process of spiritual return, is only fully possible (for the Israelites) while they reside in the Land of Israel. However, he goes on to say, that t'shuvah is nevertheless an essential activity which the Israelites needed to pursue whether in exile or not. He describes why, even in its incompleteness, it is necessary to engage in t'shuvah because it serves to get us just a little bit closer to being ready for spiritual completeness. My take away from this is the encouragement to walk forward along a path of t'shuvah, regardless of not knowing exactly what I'm moving towards or even if it's ultimately possible to make the return that I'm seeking. The spiritual growth that may occur while walking along this path can be considered an investment in allowing me to experience a more wholly (holy?) complete return in the future.
**Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion from the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook by Rabbi Chanan Morrison
September 3, 2013 | 12:00 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
Yesterday I attended a memorial for a past client who had fallen back into the struggle with his inner demons and sought relief through a substance. It was emotional to see the family’s grief and know that their loved one wouldn’t be coming home again. The priest spoke of the journey to the other side, and yet all that weighed on my heart and soul were those who shared about his life and what he meant to each of them. From his early years growing up we saw photos of the holidays, school, girlfriends, and so much more. The lives he touched were amazing and the warmth and kindness of his soul were evident in each tear shed, each heartfelt word spoken.
Sometime during the service I was struck by that inner voice that asked, “What would my family say if it were me being memorialized today? What legacy would I have left behind?” I cried then thinking of the hurt and sadness they would feel, and I cry now in writing this. I would want my loved ones and friends to know I love them and cherish all the experiences I have with them, of how special they are to me. Perhaps this experience is a gift for not only myself, but for you the reader as well. We still have the opportunity to say and do these things, to overcome past hurt and or bitter experiences, to forgive…to honor those closest to us while we still have them.
Are there friends and family we have estranged ourselves from, are there those we think of often but just can’t find the time to reach out to them? I can only speak for myself, but I will be reaching out to many this week for I want those I care about to know I love them, no matter what. ☺ As we enter the New Year we have a gift to give and receive. May the Creator guide each of our hearts now and in the coming year.
August 29, 2013 | 2:11 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Nicole Goodman
This week if you open your internet browser to any page you are most likely going to see something about Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. One side will say how trashy or tasteless her performance was and the other will talk about letting her be the sexual person she is. Why is this topic so intriguing? You don’t see anyone talking about Lady Gaga’s risqué performance, or Miley’s co-partner Robin Thicke. I believe it is such a controversy solely because she grew up as a child star, living her life as a role model to young girls. She was never meant to be ‘sexy’ like Gaga or Thicke. Her whole previous career was living this innocent life, being controlled by Disney and her young fan base. But what does this have to do with us Jews?
Jewish parents to their kids are like Disney to Miley. In today’s world we see more and more of what we call helicopter parents. These common parent breeds try to control every aspect of their kid’s lives. They need to know at all times where they’re going, what they’re doing, and who they’ll be with. Even more so they want to know what homework they have every night, what their exact grade is in every class, what they ate for lunch that day, and monitor their outfit choices. Even though this seems to have minimum consequences, how is it really affecting kids? I believe that when kids are overly restricted when they are young, there is more of a chance they will lash out when they get older.
Most people want what they can’t have. When I see parents restricting kids from normal teen experiences such as going to a party, going out with friends, eating what they want, or sexual relationships, the end result is often not up to par with the parent’s initial goal. When the kids turn into young adults and go to college, or just move out of the house they feel that they NEED to do everything they were restricted from for so long. Usually it’s not in normal doses. They excessively make up for all the years they believe they missed out on. Just like how Disney held back Miley from being a normal teen, having her constantly portray the innocent role, helicopter parents make teens feel like they are being restrained from the norm. The real question is will you wait until your son/daughter lashes out on stage twerking?
August 28, 2013 | 1:12 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Dean Steinberg
I find myself watching less and less television every day. TV used to be the great available disconnect for me. Mind numbing escape into the wonderful world of the N.Y. Sex crimes unit, or experiencing who's getting wacked on whatever mob show or movie I'm watching for the umpteenth time: Goodfellas, Sopranos, Casino, you've seen ‘em. But the risk, while tuning in to my idiot box, of hearing a commercial, lately, has been keeping me away. Yes the lovely women slinging their dreck at me, (always women right, because the men want to screw them, and the women want their slender hips), broadcast at volume levels far louder than your regular program lest you are not paying full attention, you might miss a chance to better your odds at being perfect, whole, and complete. Somehow, the advertisement, which is in no way limited to television ads, has become a guide to helping society understand their FAR from perfect lives are in someway lacking, and purchasing whatever is being sold—toothpaste, a car, a shoe, even a vacation—will not help those in need of reaching perfection, but one will be that much closer to being perfect than they were prior to obtaining said product. How do we get perfect? Well, simply buy the next product advertised: a couch, a shampoo, maybe a different type of kibble (garbage, road kill) for your dog and low and behold you will be that much closer. Get it.
The problem, however, is that we are all (well, most of us) spiritual beings, and spiritual beings cannot be limited to the shallow solicitation of computers, phones, beer, or soap, as a way to help us evolve. That is done through connection to others. Through empathy, compassion, friendship, and attachment. That is why you can visit a community, (usually outside the U.S.) and see a low-income area where people are happy. Children are playing, adults are laughing, and these guys didn't even know the iPhone 5 was available. But wander down Stone Canyon Dr. in Bel Air, and your bound to hear some wife throwing their brand new Lladro Vase at her husband’s head.
The funny thing is, it seems that most ads are geared towards women. Even the ones for masculine products. Why? Because women have the power, and especially the buying power in the relationship. The inundation of women's handbags on consumers over the last decade has been nothing short of paralyzing. But it is all a mistake, either that or only advertised for Lesbians. Because women, if you’re spending three grand on the latest Louis Vuitton bag thinking it will help you grab a man, I've got the cheat sheet for you; those men you want to grab, it’s not your handbag that they’re looking at when you walk by.
August 27, 2013 | 1:30 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
That voice which speaks to us from deep within our soul, the one that speaks the truth even when we don’t always listen, the one that after we’ve done or said something out of character has us saying to ourselves, “I knew better!” So many times throughout my life have I chosen not to listen or justified going against it, and found myself worse for the ware. Some call it the conscience and that may very well be true, but I personally believe it is the place where, if I listen, I will hear the Creator’s guidance.
I was sitting in the back of a Prison Chapel 13+ years ago and for all intents and purposes, had very little direction. I remember asking this question in the silence of my thoughts, “What am I doing?” It was a universal question and in the spiritual, small voice I heard, “Continue to do the things I set before you and I will show you ever greater things.” I could go into detail about the many ways this has played out in my life, both when I listened and also when I didn’t, but the most important truth I’ve learned is that when I listen and act on that internal voice or conscience things always seem to work out for the better and the opposite has been true as well. Thankfully I have chosen to listen and act accordingly more than not and indeed I have seen and experienced ever greater things; Freedom from addiction and prison, healthier relationships, integrity and good self-identity, and so much more.
Another way in which I hear that ‘Still Quiet Voice’ is when I listen to others who show in their words and actions that they are living along spiritual lines. Early in my recovery, I used to argue with my peers about listening to anyone aside from God. I remember saying that if God didn’t speak from the burning bush I wasn’t hearing it. After a while of my obstinate behavior, a friend asked me this profound question, “Do you think the Creator stopped talking to us when The Books were finished being written or do you think that the Creator can still speak through us if we listen.” Today I rarely make any significant decisions before talking with several good people in my lives and sitting in prayer with what I’ve heard.
I can honestly say that my life is better as a result of listening to that Still Small Voice and to the voices of others who I have come to respect for their truth with me. Thank you.
This blog was about my experience with guidance as I have written on. I would love to hear how that Still Small Voice is showing up in your life and how the voices of your peers are helping you on your journey. Perhaps if we share and listen to what we hear within our soul and from others we can universally hear and be directed on a better path, where we all can live and experience ever greater things.
August 26, 2013 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Joan Praver—Board Member/Volunteer
Losing my temper is usually rare but the cause for doing so is reliable. Someone responding to me with sarcasm, an irritated look on his face, or someone giving me a patronizing answer or speaking to me like an authority with 'attitude,' can raise the hairs on my arms. I am forced to try to assert self-control and make a concentrated effort not to reply in a voice raised in displeasure.
I’ve often questioned why I find it so irritating. How come I can't ignore a superior attitude? I try to analyze my intolerance as to why I get riled, coming to the conclusion that I set out to do the right thing and attempt to be a halo wearer; therefore, I am appalled at being corrected. It is hard to accept when your attempts at perfection, rather than being accepted, are frowned upon.
The flaw is mine. Everyone, being individual, has their own values and opinions and beliefs as to what is right and who expects to express them whether or not they please, is not intentionally looking to offend. Just aiming to be perfect is asking for something that does not exist. It is a hard lesson but I will try to listen more and criticize less and maybe, just maybe, find better ways of avoiding anger.
My priorities in my old age are to be kinder, more complimentary, to go out of my way to say hello, to hold open a door, to wear a smile, to look someone eye to eye and put out my hand or give an idea to someone who asks for help.
August 25, 2013 | 12:00 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Matt Shapiro
Working with people as a spiritual counselor, one of the most frequent exercises I encourage residents to do is to write a list of the things they're oblivious to. This is designed to get people to notice things in their lives to which they don't usually pay close enough attention, positive or negative. This, of course, isn’t just limited to the people I work with, but is something I think is true for everyone. There are plenty of things that I’m aware of, yet still frequently choose to forget.
Once in a while at BTS, we have Immersion Days, programming through which we attempt to share the larger message and meaning of Beit T’Shuvah with current residents. Last Friday, we had a seasonal immersion day, in which we focused on the upcoming High Holidays and how their themes are relevant, even essential, to recovery. The focal point of the program was the High Holiday Repair Kit, written by Rabbi Mark, to elaborate on how he sees the High Holidays and give people an opportunity for writing and reflection on those concepts. As I’m sure many of you know, the crowd at BTS ranges from modern Orthodox Jews who have been in synagogue every Yom Kippur of their lives to Catholics who found out that morning that Yom Kippur is a fast day and started freaking out accordingly about if they would be having lunch that day.
Given that diverse group, I didn't anticipate was how seriously people would take the work. After Rabbi Mark spoke to the whole house, we divided into small groups for more personal work. When I asked people to take a few minutes to reflect on topics like how they have engaged in feelings of excessive doubt or worthlessness or how they can continue to bring out the gifts that God has given them, there was silence and focus as they wrote down their answers (I'm sure my promise of a free drink at Starbucks for anyone who completes the whole 21-exercise workbook didn't hurt either). The focus and the answers were intense, thoughtful and, in some cases, quite emotional. As people shared their responses to what the workbook brought up for them, I myself was reminded of many of the core concepts we try to teach at BTS:
-Positive and negative actions don't cancel each other out, and are both very real, necessitating their own individual responses.
- Though I can never repay the debt I owe God, I have an obligation to take action to pay it back as best I can.
-I have the capacity to change in every moment.
-T’Shuvah (repentance, return, response, atonement) is always possible.
I have learned these concepts before, but sometimes I take them for granted, and when I take these truths for granted, I begin to forget them.
Rosh Hashana is known as Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembering. Usually, I’ve thought of God as being the One who remembers, looking back on my actions from the past year. This year, I’m thinking about it differently. As the new year approaches, it’s my job to remember, not only what I’ve done, but also what I know that I have a tendency to forget. Even though T’Shuvah is possible at any time, it makes sense to me that a specific time is set aside for this work each year, because once I’m oblivious, I can go along for quite some time in that state of mind; I need a wake-up call, maybe even from a ram’s horn, to wake me up. Seeing people respond so viscerally and directly to these teachings during that program reminded me of my own obligation to connected to these ideas, continually working on how to remember them and put them into practice. Only then, awake and slightly less oblivious, can I learn something new.