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Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
I was one of a handful of people at Beit T’Shuvah asked to write a weekly blog from my perspective as a Jew in recovery. This is the first shot, an introduction if you will. Before I introduce myself, I want to speak about what this task brought up into my consciousness. I wondered why the Jewish Journal was interested in our perspective. I believe there is dead knowledge and living knowledge. Recovery is the process of change and renewal, transformation and growth; in short the process of keeping life fresh and connected. This relates to the practice of Judaism which at Beit T’Shuvah we label “relevant Judaism” (not that you’re practice is irrelevant I’m sure it means something to you!). Relevant Judaism is living knowledge; living tradition applying the spirit of the Jewish tradition to everyday life where it is most needed. My Rabbi, Mark Borovitz, is continually preaching about the poor the widow and the orphan as examples of that need. It is in the problems and tragedies of living, those of us who are hurt, forgotten and lost, that this recovering relevant Judaism becomes alive. So I imagine the Jewish Journal wanted our perspective because the recovery movement at Beit T’Shuvah has breathed new life into the practice of Judaism, and has different insight into what it means to be Jewish. M. Scott peck in his sequel to his bestselling book The Road Less Traveled describes addiction as a spiritual disease. He believes this to be so because in order to recover from addiction one is forced to wrestle with all that they are in the depths of themselves. As Rabbi Hillel taught: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?"
So who am I? I’ll let you know after I’m dead. However, I can give you some background information, some memories, some facts—a short story. Yeshaia Blakeney. Yeshaia named after the prophet Isaiah. Blakeney is English; it is the name of the slave master who ran the plantation that my ancestors on my father’s side worked. I come from slaves on both sides, my Jewish ancestors were enslaved Israelites thousands of years ago, my black ancestors were slaves to Americans a few hundred years ago. My own slaveries have been to Alcohol and drugs, women, fame and fortune, and a misplaced urge to transcend. Not to mention being a slave to our current society’s ills: injustice, moral paralysis, violence, mindless entertainment, distraction, fundamentalism, image, racism, sexism (and all the other isms we have categorized since the beginning of the enlightenment) and disassociation from ourselves, each other, and G-d. “The old G-d is dead,” Nietzsche famously said (of blessed memory (G-d not Nietzsche)). He has been replaced by YouTube and if Nietzsche had known that, he would have tried to revive him. I digress (one of my favorite things to do). Back to me, my parents are both Harvard Psychologists, which gives you little insight into who they are but seems to get people’s attention none the less. I am the Rabbi in training at Beit T’Shuvah, fondly referred to as the “Rappin’ Rabbi” because I am a hip hop MC and have been rapping since I was 11. The Rabbi part is because I’m studying to be a Rabbi, specifically the next head Rabbi at Temple Beit T’Shuvah. I am 31 years old. I am married to a wise successful entrepreneur named Emily and we have two daughters: Eden, our six year old, and Stella, our two year old. I am an alumnus of Beit T’Shuvah which means I went through the program because I had the kind of problems that our society frowns upon and sends you somewhere to deal with (unlike greed, or workaholism which our society rewards). I am pretty radical and impulsively honest and am uncomfortably comfortable writing this much about myself. (Do you ever think about how if you put something online it’s there forever? Scary, fortunately were not (here forever that is)(except in the world to come of course!)). I can’t wait to talk about addiction, politics, philosophy, and G-ds great drama that we call life with you. And your feedback and comments are welcome.
G-d bless you
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October 19, 2012 | 11:33 am
Posted by Michael Welch
Since the dawn of my conscious self, I have been ruthlessly preoccupied with productivity. My father initially instilled the belief that being productive was paramount for success. As I matured, I began asking myself questions; where did I finish today? Was I in the black or the red, up or down? I fallaciously believed that if I was not creating or building, strategizing or negotiating, then I was not living.
King Edward VII and I share a similar demeanor of persistence. While I likely will not have an era named after myself, and he likely did not fill syringes with cocaine, his last words became my mantra: “No, I shall not give in. I shall go on. I shall work to the end.” But eventually, I lost the spirit of the words and could only reiterate the letters; I failed to apply my whole self, and remained only partly working. I could never feel fulfilled throughout my busy life, and I never experienced any sense of wholeness. Because of this, I have fallen and lost my way more times than I care to account for.
A good friend of mine recently pegged me as a “serial redeemer.” I’m not just addicted to redemption; I’m addicted to climbing out of the hole. I’m addicted to the malicious cycle of working hard and feeling low, unable to simply be. I want contentment and obligation to be balanced, and I want to understand my existence in terms other than profits and losses. I have been stumped looking for the answer because the answer is ridiculous, petulant, and unfortunately necessary. I have been living in the familiar comfort of my despair and I have been avoiding uncharted territories. I always thought that new experiences meant vulnerability, and vulnerability meant failure. And then I realized that successful people are vulnerable, too; top executives and other influencers display vulnerability with grace and ease.
To clarify, being vulnerable is not the same as being weak, or helpless. Vulnerability has been defined to me as “being able to live in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The answer to my problems is what I had avoided all along: human connection by vulnerability. This is where Judaism saved my life, and this is the inception of me learning how to come whole.
Beit T’Shuvah has proved to be the catalyst to my vulnerability. I have slowly been striving to become whole by learning how to stand up for myself, how to ask for help, and that it’s possible to say “I love you” without knowing if I’m going to be loved back. I can ask for forgiveness when I have wronged, and I can ask for help when I am afraid. I always thought that vulnerability would be my Achilles Heel, but it is instead my secret weapon. By showing up defenseless and bare, I have learned how to live outside the prison of what I thought I was supposed to be. Authentic connection has led me to live courageously, without the social and financial hindrances that I was once consumed with. And Beit T’Shuvah has proven me with the tools to access my own vulnerability with confidence, so that I can free myself from the cycle of misery that I’ve been so accustomed to.