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.
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October 16, 2012 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
This morning, Harriet Rossetto, my wife and partner, was reading an article from the New York Times about the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Mix It Up At Lunch Day" designed to break up cliques and prevent bullying. The American Family Association, described as a conservative evangelical group, has called the project a "nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools" and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on October 30, the day most schools plan to participate. What is going on? When I was in school, people were bullied for their lunch money, because they were nerds, etc. I am sure the same is true today. Jocks pushed the non-jocks around, I was made fun of because I was fat. There are so many reasons for bullying, the American Family Association has gone too far, in my opinion.
I am a person of faith. I am a person who works hard to respect the dignity of each person. According to the Bible, we are all created in the Image of God. Bullying another person because they are different goes against every Religious and Spiritual Teaching of every faith! Every person of faith and non-faith who respects the inherent dignity, the Declaration of Independence and the founding principles of this nation must stand against this attack by the American Family Association. Edmund Burke said it best :" Evil flourishes when good people(sic) do nothing! I am asking everyone to stand against this Evil of bullying and the American Family Association.
October 12, 2012 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Harriet Rossetto
The house I opened 25 years ago was for “society’s throwaways.” I know now more than ever… there is no such thing. At the time it was very taboo to open a place like Beit T’Shuvah. When I told people that I was going to create a home for Jewish convicts to live in after incarceration, people thought I was crazy.
We all have potential for good and bad. Just because you throw them out of your house, doesn’t mean they are being thrown out of your heart. The first group of people who came to Beit T’Shuvah 25 years ago ended up leaving in the dead of night, having stolen all of my jewelry. If I had given up then, there would be hundreds of people today who may not have gotten their shot at redemption. We are all fallible, and we are all holy. T’Shuvah keeps us holy.
I also discount this arbitrary “who’s worthy in the American Jewish world” idea. The socio-economic statuses of those who arrive on our doorstep are irrelevant to me. I refuse to discount people… whether they fit into the societal norms or are accepted by cultural myths, or the media, or pop culture. Since everybody has a soul, the possibility of redemption is always there. I don’t discount even those who have committed crimes because there is always a possibility for someone to be touched and returned. So even when I “throw residents out”, who are not ready to make T’Shuvah… I never throw them out of my heart. In fact, even the people who are “thrown out” of Beit T’Shuvah are able to come back when their soul is ready to be redeemed.
We are all children, including our parents, and life often ends up looking different than what we planned on despite our best efforts. Many parents feel that their worth is dependent on their children’s achievements. They believe that the success of their child is a barometer of their own worth. Our children are not capable of defining us. However, we are capable of conditioning them to believe they are dispensable if they make a mistake. Families do themselves a disservice when they feel ashamed of one another. They dismiss those members whose struggles are embarrassing.
Many of the greatest artists, thinkers, writers, mathematicians, and musicians have also been unacceptable in the eyes of their own families. That is the shame.
If you were to come and do a study on the residents of Beit T’Shuvah, you would find that they come from all backgrounds, have tremendous capability, and are vibrant charismatic souls. It would be a sin to throw them away. The disease of addiction does not discriminate. Thankfully, neither does Beit T’Shuvah.
October 5, 2012 | 1:28 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, in a building constructed to remember those lost years ago, sits a man who has made it his mission to give people back their humanity. Shai ben Yehuda is the Chief Archivist for Yad VaShem in Israel. My friend and teacher, Rabbi Edward Feinstein told me a story about him recently. Shai is able, thanks to a super computer, to take the 140+ million documents and fragments of information about people who died in the Shoah and put them together to bring these victims to life, to bring them back to living, breathing human beings instead of just being one of the 6 million who died. When asked why he does this painful work, he responded with this phrase: WE NEVER THROW ANYONE AWAY.
This is, to me, the motto and work of Beit T’Shuvah, and the process and work of redemption. Never throwing anyone away is God’s motto as well. We have, in Jewish and non-Jewish spiritual literature, many instances of redemption stories. T’Shuvah was put into the world before the world was created because God knew we humans would mess up and need a way back. As I sit here writing this blog, I am struck by the Grace that God and you, the community of Los Angeles and the world, bestowed upon me when I was released from Prison in 1988. You did not throw me away even when I threw myself away.
This is the main point of my discussion. Leaving the Gates of Redemption open all the time is our way of being God-Like. In the Talmud, we are told that God cries each evening because God’s Children are in exile. Being separated from God, family, and community causes everyone else to cry. This is one of the consequences of bad behavior.
Redemption means that we can undo the past. Not actually, of course, we undo it in the present and change the context of our living. Redemption allows us to restore the dignity to another. It says to others that WE CARE. Our belief and practice of Redeeming People is our way of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY!
We are engaged in a great debate in our worlds. We listen to people speak of entitlements and what they are owed. What they are willing and unwilling to do to and for others. This is happening in our country and in Israel. What we are not talking about so much is Redemption. What we are not talking about is the dignity that each person deserves and has as a birthright.
I am asking you and myself: Whom have I thrown away as unredeemable? How have I redeemed myself and others? How am I living the Jewish and American Dream of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY?
Hag Sameach and Moadim L’Simcha,
Rabbi Mark Borovitz
September 28, 2012 | 9:58 am
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Recently I asked you to believe me that anyone can make good on their past, remember … I am the Spiritual Gangster. I am the Holy Thief. I am an ordained Rabbi and I am flawed. This Blog is about Redemption and it is about Truth. This week was Yom Kippur, a time for true reflection - and it is as important to continue to take stock thereafter.
Without Truth, we can’t be redeemed. This is an Eternal Truth. Our Entire Bible points out the flaws and redemptions of our heroes. Beginning with Adam continuing on to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Samson, King David, all of them made errors and then redeemed themselves through T’Shuvah and Tzedakah and T’Fillah. They were confronted with the Truth of their actions and they could admit their errors.
The question for us, American Jews, Israeli Jews, is: How do I be more afraid of hiding than of looking bad? In our society we have tried to fit in, assimilate, acculturate and still look good. We have spent millions on being in the “In” group, the power people. Yet, we haven’t lived like our Ancestors, we have hidden from God, from others and from ourselves. Rabbi Hillel asks the question, IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
The world is in need of Redemption. Our country is need of Redemption. Israel is in need of Redemption. Our Jewish Communities are in need of Redemption. We, as individuals are in need of Redemption. The only way is to do a Chesbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. This is an inventory of where we have missed the mark and where we have hit the mark. Where and when we have been Holy and where and when we have been profane.
In conclusion, for this month, I am challenging each of you as well as myself to make sure that these days after Yom Kippur are reflections of the work we did on Yom Kippur. This is the work of transparency, authenticity, openness and love for self and others. It is the work of building communities that help the needy be self-sufficient.
It is the work of being a Spiritual Gangster, going up against our toughest enemy, our own Ego’s. May all of us enjoy this year of being one grain of sand more of our true selves each day.
September 14, 2012 | 11:34 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
"Beit T’Shuvah, “The House of Return”, is exactly that. It is a community of lost souls looking to find themselves. As a former resident, I am one of the thousands of individuals that found myself after many painful years of searching. A community built on the allowance for second chances and redemption is a testament to faith in others. Harriet has never turned one person away who is seeking help regardless of his or her ability to pay. To put it simply, against all odds she chose to believe in us, society’s throwaways, and was right."
- Former Resident of Beit T’Shuvah
… 25 years later, Harriet addresses an audience comprised of 1000 people at the annual Beit T’Shuvah Gala.
January 29th, 2012
“I’m Harriet Rossetto, founder, CEO and Rebbitzin of Beit T’Shuvah.
I am the serious note in this evening’s frivolities. I want to put into context what you will experience this evening, L’Dor V’Dor – from generation to generation. What you will see here tonight is Beit T’Shuvah’s response to Jewish continuity.
L’Dor V’Dor – the transmission of wisdom from generation to generation is the essence of the Jewish tradition. It is the hope that we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past – which each succeeding generation will progress in honoring the G-d of One-ness and living the commandments. The Torah is the Big Book of Jewish recovery – the manual for living a whole (holy) life.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a malfunction in the transmission system. We are passing down the wrong message to our children and they have closed their ears to us. They do not want to live as “golden children,” the bearers of their parents’ unfulfilled dreams and expectations. They want to be visible as themselves – imperfect, flawed – and they are frightened that they will disappoint you if they reveal themselves. Instead, they starve, stuff, pierce, mutilate and anesthetize themselves so we have to pay attention. They are even willing to die to get off the pedestal.
We have passed down the forms and forgotten the wisdom. We have paid less attention to spiritual progress than material progress. We have led our kids to believe that they must be the best at everything – the smartest, thinnest, and richest – in order to feel fulfilled. And of course, it hasn’t worked. The more we get, the more we want, always chasing, never satisfied. The Torah teaches us to eat, be satisfied and bless. Be grateful for what you have, love your neighbor and yourself. Be of service, accept your imperfections, make T’Shuvah every day, be true to whom you are. In other words, be a mensch.
Beit T’Shuvah is passing down menschlikeit from generation to generation. This is our 25th year and we have begotten several generations of mensches – we are passing down what they have learned to those who come after them as sponsors, mentors and employers – they are also creating families, passing down their spiritual wisdom to their children.
A young man I mentor said to me the other day – “you know, I really feel I went to Love School at Beit T’Shuvah.” He didn’t mean he found a girlfriend (although that happens too – Beit T’Shuvah has more marriages than J-Date), he meant he learned to value and respect himself, his family and friends, to pursue his passion, to be responsible for his actions and emotions, to do the right thing whether he felt like it or not. He had found his T’Selem Elohim – the imprint of G-d within him. So had I.
- Ms. Harriet Rossetto
My latest book, Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir, will be released later this year.
September 7, 2012 | 2:03 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Head Rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah
To introduce this blog, it’s important you meet and learn a bit about me. I am Rabbi Mark Borovitz, and to my knowledge, I am the only ex-con, ordained Rabbi that addresses an audience comprised equally of convicts and congregants at the weekly Shabbat Services I lead.
I am also the Head Rabbi, Spiritual Leader and COO of the Los Angeles- based residential addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah. I spend my days counseling, leading Torah studies, providing spiritual guidance to executives, and making sure the 156 treatment center residents of Beit T’Shuvah don’t get out of line. I also co-authored my autobiography, The Holy Thief, for which the rights were recently optioned.
I used to be a criminal, a crook, a mobster and a lost soul – 23 years ago that changed. I have made mistakes and I have made T’Shuvah. It’s my mission in life to help others do the same and to use the hustle in me – for good. To this day, there is not a single soul I have crossed paths with that was too far-gone to change. I believe in redemption; everyone can make good on their past. Believe me… I am a spiritual gangster.
In addition to my own testimony, I offer you this excerpt from my autobiography, The Holy Thief. Written by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Head Rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom.
“Someone told me about this guy who had just gotten out of prison and was working in a rehab center that his wife had set up. He was supposedly a rebel character. He had a message, though, a strong message. He was speaking about addictions and criminal behavior, and he had a lot to say about how to avoid making bad choices. Charismatic. That’s the word people used.
He spoke this language that I’d never really heard. Addiction is a hole in your soul. He was raw and crude and deeply passionate. He was a kid who went to synagogue, a kid who came from a good family, a kid who made bad choices and went very wrong. He was very compelling. And he got to me.
I discovered his brilliance when it came to interpreting the text. He came to Torah from a whole different place, a perspective I had not seen. Mark had incredible insight. It was all from his life. From the school of hard knocks. It wasn’t the way I was trained. My training comes from books. Mark’s training came from the street. He didn’t know how to read the book. He needed me to help him read the book. I needed him to show me this new, dynamic way to interpret it. We started learning together. Every week. It was a kind of symbiosis and a revelation to us both. We’re still going.
When I talk to people about Mark Borovitz and I say he is the Holy Thief who steals back souls from the devil and steals souls back from the dead… I’m one of them. I’m one of them.”