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.