By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I was reading an article in last Saturday’s New York Times titled: No Religious Exemption when it comes to Abuse. In it, there were stories about different Religious Institutions, including Jewish places of Higher Learning, and the abuse that they “swept under the rug” because they didn’t want to embarrass the perpetrators and themselves. I got very angry about this. If we are not going to hold ourselves to transparency and Truth, then how can we preach this to others? I am so tired of the Holier than Thou attitude of Religious Institutions, Political Parties and Politicians, NGOs, etc. What part of T’Shuvah don’t they understand?? When Yeshiva University is unwilling to DO and BE T’Shuvah, what is this saying about our Tradition? It is not only Yeshiva University that does this, most of our Jewish Institutions “hide their dirty laundry,” following, as the article says, the 11th Commandment; thou shalt not air thy dirty laundry. We even used to say, “SHHHH, it’s a Shonda for the Goyim. Don’t say anything, it will be a shame for Non-Jews to know this ‘secret.’”
As a person who believes in T’Shuvah, this is antithetical to me! I am angry and upset that we keep violating the tenets and the essence of our Torah with these actions. Our Torah and our entire Bible tells the stories of our ancestor’s greatness and their flaws. It tells the stories of how our People Israel hid, violated God’s laws for living well, and the consequences of these actions, both good and not good. Yet, our leaders and institutions continue to hide and deflect and explain away our errors. Aren’t we tired of the same old lies?? When are we going to LIVE TORAH, BE TORAH and stop being afraid of our whole selves and our authentic selves? When are we going to accept our imperfections and accept the parts of us we don’t like so much?
What does this have to do with my life, you may be asking? I will tell you. This week at Beit T’Shuvah, I declared Amnesty. I do this every so often in order to give people the experience of being transparent and not needing to hide. There is no punishment attached to this Amnesty. Instead, all of the Spiritual Counselors work with their people to find ways to do T’Shuvah and change behaviors that stop them from living well. This is for the individual and the community. I read the writings this morning. While there was not any mayhem or murder, there were/are constant violations of our “rules” and hiding and sneaking around. If someone else were to read these amnesties they would not be aghast or upset, yet I am.
I am upset that the teachings of wholeness, transparency and principles of T’Shuvah are not believed in and practiced more by our residents. I am upset that the same things that people were doing “out there” and in their families are being repeated here in their recovery! I am upset that our staff can’t keep on top of these things because there are too many clients and not enough staff. I am upset that the staff isn’t getting these messages through to our clients well enough. I am most upset that I am not inspiring and communicating our belief in Truth as one of the most important principles of living.
I am excited at the honesty of our clients. I am excited by their belief that telling the truth will not bring punishment. I am excited that we can help all of them take their hidings and make them into stepping stones for living better. I am excited that we can help them do T’Shuvah and change their behaviors and be unafraid of “baring” all.
Because I am “addicted to redemption” I am excited to help people learn to live with their “dark” sides and not have these “shames” to live in. I am excited to help our staff look at themselves and help them grow in their own lives. I am excited to see where I have missed the mark and take steps to improve my own living and teaching.
I have not committed the wrongs of the institutions that were in last Saturday’s New York Times. Most of us have not and we all have things that we are hiding from. I propose that all of us do an “AMNESTY” with ourselves and find a guide/Rabbi/Spiritual Counselor to share this with and then find the ways to DO and BE T’Shuvah.