Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Joan Praver—Board Member
At one time in my 65-year-old marriage, my husband and I moved cross-country from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Angeles, arriving on April 20, 1970. We had also lived in Flushing, Long Island, but left there in 1952 to build low cost housing in the outskirts of Kansas City after the Missouri River flooded the entire downtown. Every May we listened to sirens warning us that a tornado had been sighted that was heading our way and to keep on the news to determine whether to move into the basement. In 1957 our housing project was struck, killing 38 people and bringing 350 homes down to rubble. So when we finally landed in L.A. we felt we had found not Oz, but paradise.
It amazed me when I heard people complain about the consistency of the weather. They longed for a rainy day when they could stay at home, clean closets, put on the fireplace and cuddle up with a good book.
Our previous locations had bitter cold spells where we hibernated during fierce snow-bound weeks and didn’t take our cars from the garage unless it was necessary to take our children to school or to dash to the market to refill the refrigerator, and by then you were forced to use snow tires.
Having lived in places where the weather determined whether you played tennis, golf, went swimming, took a long hike or was able to go out to visit a friend in the hospital, I will always elect to live in L.A. and feel pity watching the news of Louisiana’s floods, Chicago’s wind and snow storms, Florida’s hurricanes, the Midwest’s tornadoes; even the threat of an earthquake will never change my mind. I love L.A.
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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 20, 2013 | 11:54 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Lance Wright
The ability to sit and be silent with oneself is a gift. I just returned from a three-day spiritual retreat in the desert where I was again reminded of the gift of silence, apart from the hectic pace of everyday life. Sitting, listening to the wind blow through the bushes and trees, hearing crows and other wild life, taking in the night sky full of stars and wonderment…To simply be present in the moment, in the silence, with an openness and appreciation for the Creator…Peace and serenity.
How often I forget this gift in my daily life. Finding those brief moments of reprieve where I can be silent with the Creator and take in the peace those moments bring are few and far between in the business of my life. Two Jobs, an internship for my school, sponsees, a few hours of sleep here and there, and the occasional afternoon visit to the golf course or beach are the norm…But what about simply being present in the moment, in the silence, with an openness and appreciation for the Creator.
I begin anew the journey after such a refreshing weekend with a renewed sense of making time to sit quietly in the moment, listening and appreciating the gifts of life. Perhaps some of you are finding a piece of this blog rings true for you in your life. I invite you into a moment of silence this week, a moment to take in the gifts of life, to sit before the Creator and embrace the peace and serenity it brings.
To the gift of sitting in silence, in appreciation, before the Creator I say Amen.
July 31, 2013 | 2:03 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Matt Shapiro
With our son turning two this week, Sarah and I have begun to think about the years ahead and what they’ll look like for us, both personally and financially. One of the big questions marks, of course, is education. As two Jewish professionals, we hope to send Jonah to a private Jewish school, and also have the opportunity for him to participate in the variety of Jewish organizations and programming that have become the norm for mainstream affiliated Jews in the US. At the same time, we can’t ignore the logistic challenges this very well might present to us, given the very high cost of day school tuition, among other Jewishly-fueled expenses. How do we balance financial concerns with spiritual goals?
To further problematize the issue: yes, it’s true that most Jewish organizations have scholarships available, should we need them, and make a point to help those who may be financially at need (it’s also important to note that things are different in the Orthodox community, but I think that’s part of a much larger conversation). This potentially problematic dynamic, in which one needs to repeatedly ask for help, was highlighted for me a few years ago in an conversation I had with someone I grew up with. Though we both grew up in the affluent suburbs of Chicago, her family had come upon some tough times and was struggling. She shared with me that once her family lost their resources, they were essentially unable to be a part of the Jewish community. I attempted to make the argument that scholarships would have been available, but it was about something deeper than that. Once they were less well-off, she felt distant, apart from the other people around her. Even if they received scholarships for whatever they needed, the expectations of financial success and resources are still high, implicitly suggesting that this is what’s required to be a full member of the Jewish people.
American Jews have recently, by and large, been tremendously successful financially, and, in turn, I believe we have become desensitized to how wealth-acculturated our communities are. Many young families are struggling to make ends meet (the frequently cited thought that we’ll be the first generation to be less well-off than our parents might not end up being true, but it’s certainly possible) and tuition and program costs continue to rise. It’s no surprise then that people might very well not want to have to ask for material help just to have their spiritual needs supported. Questions can very well be asked about if day school is necessary to begin with, and perhaps there are ways to develop new, cost-friendly alternatives than currently exist. This doesn’t change the fact that we have grown accustomed to a standard of living that much of the country, let alone the world, can barely touch, which may in turn implicitly reinforce misplaced priorities.
My friend Michael Shefrin wisely pointed out that it actually costs almost nothing to be a Jew; it costs a lot to be a part of the institutions we've created. I see this dichotomy, between what God asks of us and what we set up for ourselves at the end of this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh. We’re taught that when pilgrims came to the Temple for the three pilgrimage festivals, each person was supposed to bring what they could afford. The standard was set that it was individualized, based on personal resources, not uniform, to a lofty financial standard. The opportunities are indeed there in many Jewish organizations today to recognize personal financial situations, but I also don’t think this is the only message about money being communicated. The cultural expectations we set, the way we determine what’s feasible for the population being targeted, the bigger picture goals beyond the budget: all these and more play a role in how we set financial expectations that can either bring people in or push people away. I know there aren’t any easy solutions here, and I’m not so blind as to think that no one else notices this. I do think the bigger problem is that this isn’t being addressed as a larger existential question within the Jewish community. It’s a complex problem with many different dimensions. But we can’t begin to figure it out if we aren’t even asking the question.
July 26, 2013 | 11:21 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I have been engaged in a great civil war, most of my life. I call this a civil war because it is a war I fight, or give in to, each day inside of me. It is a war for and of my soul. It is a war for living decently and doing the next right thing. It is a war for not "losing it" and becoming bombastic. It is a war for the "both/and" of life.
Last night I had the honor of leading a Minyan (prayer service) for Robert "Bobby" Rosen. Bobby was a man I knew, not a famous man, and a REAL man! He embraced everyone, didn't care about fame or fortune. He didn't care about anything except being a decent person who truly, as we are taught, loved his neighbor as he loved himself. He treated the stranger well and cared for all he encountered. At a memorial celebrating his life, in Florida where he lived, people from all walks of life attended and spoke stories of his warmth and kindness. I was reminded of my father and grandfathers and those generations of men who just embraced life and people. Bobby taught us all how to live well by the way he lived. His children and grandchildren extolled him in life and in death. They honor him by living his principles and values.
Thinking about Bobby brought me to the realization of this civil war that I am engaged in. I don't embrace everyone, unfortunately. I get bombastic and angry at people instead of embracing them. When this happens, I am losing this civil war. "But you are a Rabbi," people say to me. This is true and I am a human being. Bobby's generation, my father's generation, is/was "The Greatest Generation" according to Tom Brokaw. Their greatness wasn't in their fame and fortune, it wasn't even in fighting the Second World War. It was in treating people well. It was/is in embracing all people as human beings. It is/was in setting the standard of living well through deeds of loving kindness.
I am made small by Bobby's kindness and his example. I am very emotional as I write this. I see how I fall short and how I hit the mark; it is simple to live this way and very difficult. Bobby, my father, their generation all rebuked people who acted poorly and did it with a love that made their rebukes feel like embraces. I realize, this morning, again, how and where I fall short and I am so remorseful. I am committing to do better, to embrace more and to not worry about being right. I commit to embrace the "both/and" of myself and everyone else more. I ask you to honor this "Greatest Generation" with me by embracing life, people, God and living well one grain of sand more each day.
July 22, 2013 | 2:53 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Conducting a particular variety of creative writing, in a group setting where everyone writes and reads his or her piece aloud, can act as a catharsis, particularly when they live in a rehab and have been requested to write something truthful and revealing about themselves.
For the past 14 years I have brought in a paper that has two metaphors and five unrelated words, and asked the attendees to choose one of the five topics and create a short story, poem, or essay. I write along with them, putting myself on an equal footing, and am the last to read.
The results can be highly therapeutic. Most residents have sordid pasts that they've buried deep inside themselves and hearing the exposures of others makes them realize everyone is in the same boat, praying to reach a new destination in life where they gain self confidence and the desire to learn how to love the person they've been hiding within.
Board Member / Volunteer
July 19, 2013 | 10:22 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Harriet Rossetto
The Zimmerman case has confronted us, once again, with a basic flaw in our judicial system. “Justice” is the result of what is legal, not what is moral. Due process is not to be tainted by issues of right and wrong—this is irrelevant! I heard Justice Anthony Scalia say (with my own ears) that if someone is convicted and sentenced to die, proof of his innocence cannot be considered if due process was honored.
Ekow N. Yankah captured “The Truth about Trayvon” in today’s NY Times. Racial disparity cannot be mentioned in the court of law although it is always the Big White Elephant (excuse the racial metaphor) in the room. He points out wisely that “reasonable doubt” and “reasonable suspicion” cannot, by definition, be free of bias. Despite the legal instructions to the jury to disregard their feelings, their certainties and doubts are rooted in their conditioning and personal experiences. We are not color blind. The same evening I heard Justice Scalia say that innocence or guilt is irrelevant in a court of law, I heard Rabbi Adin Steinsoltz talk about Jewish justice; a justice that includes both mercy and morality; a justice more restorative than retributive.
There is no justice without morality, without the nuances of right and wrong. Justifiable or non-justifiable can only take place in the Higher Court. As a person of conscience, I am horrified by a system of justice where due process overrides innocence, where moral monsters escape consequence.
July 17, 2013 | 3:20 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Matt Shapiro
Yesterday was Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we recognize numerous tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through the centuries. We are taught that the destruction of the Second Temple, which happened on this day, occurred because of sinat chinam, causeless hatred between one person and another. I’m hearing that message, of how destructive thoughtless hate can be, echoed loudly this week. Over the weekend, with George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin, vitriol and vindictiveness are the order of the day. There are those calling for calm, but the eminently personal forums of social media enable our deepest emotions to come to the surface, and the dialogue is ugly. I feel my own desire to respond with rage and fear, the sense of helplessness fueling my desire to speak with anger.
As all this bubbles below the surface, I have an obligation to try to see my part. The words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel ring in my ears: "in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible." This quote disturbs me on a number of levels. The first is superficial, and keeps me where I already am: somebody must be guilty here! Any situation has someone who’s guilty, so we need to hold that person to the fire. But that’s not what this teaching really has to offer me, the lesson that will move me forward. What this thought teaches me is that I too bear some responsibility here. I make judgments against people without thinking, I take action without playing out the consequences, and I hold prejudices and biases that I don’t necessarily work to overcome. As long as I have these parts of myself internally, how can I expect them to be overcome on a societal level?
One of the most frequently cited commandments in the Torah is to care for the stranger, since we were strangers in the land of Egypt. If I truly care for the stranger, not just those who are like me, but also those I would be inclined to see as “other,” then my eyes can be freed from the lens of prejudice, a lesson I need to internalize. Prejudices and biases are inevitably part of how I’ve come to see the world, and this larger situation is a reminder to me of my own obligation to move from a place of fear and distrust to a place of love and acceptance. This applies even and especially with people I might initially see as different from me, “strangers.” If I can’t do this for myself, how can I expect others to do so?
This is troubling for me, to see my own internal responsibility for what I have an obligation to work on, challenges that seem difficult, if not insurmountable. In this moment, I’m blessed to remember the teaching "lo alecha ha'mlacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorin l'hevatel mimenah." This translates roughly to "it's not your job to finish the work, but neither are you free to ignore it." I don’t have to completely fix myself all in one day, one month, or one year. I do, however, have an obligation to take on the work, one day at a time; otherwise I’m being negligent in what I have to contribute. Each of us can and, in fact are required to, commit to do our part, the work that we each have the capacity to do. Then, we need to try to have faith that what we’re each doing is what needs to done, both individually and collectively.
These texts, and others, help me grapple with the feelings of helplessness and frustration that I’ve been experiencing when I think about these events. This is relevant Judaism, as discussed last week. It's not a purely intellectual exercise, hiding out in rooms filled with arcane books; it's not a purely "spiritual" exercise, trying to connect mystically while removing myself from the world around me. It's about both searching the wisdom of our tradition for insights that can inform the situation in which I find myself today and utilizing those resources to see how that wisdom and the corresponding actions make me a better person than I would otherwise be. It also helps immensely to see that I’m not doing this alone, that this is a task and responsibility that we all share. I still feel a deep sense of sadness over not only the verdict in this trial, but in the loss that preceded it. By bringing the Jewish tradition into the conversation and seeing how this can connect me to others, at least I have some wisdom and hope to guide my actions as I move forward.