Tag Archives: Judaism

A Message on Chai


By Jaron Zanerhaft

In the Jewish tradition, the number 18 is said to bring luck, happiness, and health through its mysterious, divine powers. In Gematria, the Jewish numerology, each letter of the Torah and Hebrew alphabet is given a numerical value. With the right combination of letters, any number can be calculated. This means that not just every letter, but every word as well has a number that corresponds to it. Many of these numbers are believed to have mystical powers contained within. Of these, the most well known and most powerful is the number 18, which corresponds with the Hebrew word Chai. Chai, which translates in English to Life, is spelled with two Hebrew letters— Chet and Yud. In Gematria, Chet = 8 and Yud = 10. Therefore, Chai = 18.

Chai Five!

Judaism holds life in the highest regard. Though we believe in an afterlife, we are taught to focus our efforts on improving our situation here on Earth. We believe that life on Earth is what we were created for, and therefore is the most important and noblest cause. The number 18 reminds us to be present for our lives and not to just watch them as if they were playing out on screens. Chai embodies fervor and awareness, letting us know that we can control our lives, we can determine our own directions, and we can improve the physical world around us. It is why, when Jews make a toast, they toast ‘To Life.’ So let’s raise our sparkling apple juices and make a toast to making this life on earth, the only one we’ve got, count. “L’Chaim!”

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Sam Rosenwald: Spiritual Warrior, Mentor, & Friend


RIP Sam Rosenwald

One of the great spiritual giants of our community died yesterday.  Sam Rosenwald was a man who lived with deep faith.  His respect for human dignity and love for people was evident in all of his interactions. With divinely inspired compassion, Sam cared for the widow, the poor, the stranger, and the orphan. He was smart and kind, passionate and loving. Sam was devoted to his wife, his children, his friends, and his community.

Though incredibly ambitious and philanthropic, Sam never sought nor needed recognition. We, the Jewish Community, and the greater city of Los Angeles, have all lost more than a man.  We have lost a true mensch, a tireless fighter for the best in and of all of us.

May he rest in peace.

 

-       Rabbi Mark

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Chai Five!: A History*


By Jaron Zanerhaft

Since the dawn of time, our ancestors believed in powers beyond the limits of our senses.  When Prehistoric Man found himself on the brink of self-awareness, he forged within the fires of his very soul a single gesture that contained the power to unite all people and maintain peace in the world.  And when the gesture was complete, Man named it… Chai Five! It was a blessing of unfathomable strength, a potent force of untold skill.  However, the power of Chai Five! proved too strong for early Man to wield, and the gesture was lost for many ages.  Throughout time, Chai Five! has appeared briefly, testing our species to see if we were ready for its mighty and awesome gift.

The first known Chai Five! to go wrong

In Biblical Egypt, Moses invoked Chai Five! on his 9th try to free the Hebrew slaves.  Unfortunately it backfired and a plague of darkness ensued.  Chai Five! next surfaced in Ancient Rome circa 435 A.D. when Emperor Valentinian III attempted to congratulate one of his Gladiators with a gesture greater than “thumbs up.”  But Mankind was still not ready, and Chai Five! collapsed much of the Coliseum into rubble.  Most recently, the Chai Five! was called upon by a young John Lennon who, in 1960, heeded the world’s outcry for a band to champion in an era of love.  Though initially successful, Chai Five! broke in 1969, leaving in its wake more crappy cover bands than the world had ever known.

Ancient Rome circa 435 A.D.

But now the time has come for Chai Five! to clap again!  At long last, we have reached the apex of anticipation.  The air has never been more ripe, the universe never more fertile for a new age.  Chai Five! has completed its incubation so that it may bequeath its jubilance upon us.  And of all the worthy hands by which to gesticulate Chai Five! into being, it has chosen two— yours and ours.  Yes, we cannot Chai Five! alone, so, believing that the time of Chai Five! is here, we have exposed our open palm to you.  You have but only to slap it with yours to bring into being paradise beyond the farthest borders of imagination.  The choice is yours— Will you Chai Five!?

John Lennon's almost successful Chai Five! attempt--unfortunately, the world was not yet ready

* No actual Chai Five!s were documented to have influenced the historical events contained within this blog.  It is purely the speculation and

opinion of the author that these occurrences are too radically similar to not have shared in common Chai Five!. 

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TKO: Totally Knocking Out Addiction


Issue #24

By M. Alexander

Seven months ago, I started a weekly newsletter to be handed out during Shabbat services at Beit T’Shuvah.  I called it Tikkkun Olam, meaning “ to repair the world.”  We are now on the 25th issue.

It started much like my sobriety, an idea, unformed and shapeless.  I did not know whether it would last or it would die.  But when I started hitting the keys on the keyboard, when I started asking residents, parents, board members, and temple members to contribute—I knew that I would keep it going.  When I started awakening to all the harm I had caused while I was shooting heroin, when I started realizing that I could only repair my corner of the world if I remained sober—I knew I would keep it going.  I would put out an issue every week and I would stay sober.

Each issue has a theme pertinent to sobriety and pertinent to Judaism.  Tikkun Olam has featured the themes of passion, community, courage, humility, and expectations.

The first issue was an introduction.  It highlighted resident stories, a drash on the haftarah, and a creative writing piece.  I loved doing it.  I loved figuring out how to format the paper, I loved looking for relevant cartoons, I loved getting other people involved—and I didn’t do it myself.  I asked for help when I needed it.

Since then, there have been times that I haven’t loved what I’m doing.  I get frustrated, I get bored, I get depressed.

I have come to terms with many “isms” I never thought I had—workaholism, perfectionism, and pessimism.  Through all of the issues, I have produced, I have kept to my commitment, and I have helped it grow. I have watched my sobriety, once shapeless and unstable, grow along with Tikkun Olam.  I have watched parents cry after reading about an addict still going through the depths of addiction, I have seen residents awaken to their long lost passions for writing and for life.

I now send Tikkun Olam via email every week to those who would like to receive it.  If you would like a weekly copy, you would just like a single issue, or you would like to make a contribution—please email me at Tikkunolam.bts@gmail.com. This week’s theme is Sarcasm.  Where does sarcasm come from? Is it insecurity? Is it a power struggle? When is sarcasm appropriate?  When is it harmful?  If you would like to make a contribution, please send me an email.  I would love to expand my base of writers, painters, and drawers.

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Project Chai Five


We’re really excited to announce our new Chai Five Project! Our goal is to raise $1,800 for Beit T’Shuvah by September 1st in order to put one resident through school for a year. Chai is the Hebrew word for life, and that’s exactly what our goal is—to give a resident the opportunity to better their life!

Chai is the Hebrew word for life. In Judaism, this word is said to have very deep & mystical powers, as does it’s numerical value, 18, and any multiple thereof.

A Chai Five is a virtual high five. A symbol of celebration, brother & sisterhood, support, and camaraderie. The most basic gesture of recognition for doing something good. But not just any high five, a Chai Five for life!

Put your hands together and Chai Five!

Our goal here is two-fold. The first- quite obviously- we need your dough (duh!). The second though, may be less obvious.  We want to celebrate your giving. This isn’t just another dollar in the bucket. This is a virtual, social experience, patting each other’s virtual tushes, slapping each other virtual Chai Five, all to help out our friends and loved ones whose hands are tied.

And we’re not asking for much. If 360 of you took a moment to donate $5 RIGHT NOW, we’d pretty much hit our goal. And in the spirit of giving, when you donate to The Chai Five! Project, we’ll send you our very own Beit T’shuvah ‘YOU MATTER’ wristband. Because isn’t that the bottom line? YOU DO MATTER, and so does your donation.

Don’t be shy. Share the love! Send Chai Five’s to all your friends by tagging them in your donation.

So, everybody hands in… Chai Five!

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T’Shuvah Means Redemption


By Jaron Zanerhaft

At some point in the midst of life’s successes, everyone must eventually fall. When you do, what’s the thing to do next?  With what
method do you move forward?

Sometimes, in order to keep moving forward, you need to move forward in a different direction.  By recognizing that the path you are on
does not lead to where you want to go, you commit the first step of T’Shuvah.  Sometimes it’s difficult, however, to know in which
direction to turn and how to proceed.

T’Shuvah is a complex concept and quite pervasive ‘round these parts. It’s what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to represent to the outside world, and what we venture towards within ourselves.  But what does it mean?

Traditionally thought of as “return” or “repentance,” T’Shuvah is what we are commanded to engage in during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  It’s the act of considering and accepting our misdeeds and the active attempt to both rectify our actions and return to holiness.

Different from other methods of forgiveness such as absolution, T’Shuvah is not something that you are granted but rather something you seek.  It is up to the person who committed a regret-worthy act to make amends to all he has harmed.  It’s about responsibility, and that’s not always easy.

Now, this is the difficult part.  This is where you change your life. To continue T’Shuvah, you must take the necessary measures to ensure that a hate of the same nature will not reoccur.

At Beit T’Shuvah, T’Shuvah claims a large portion of everyday actions and practices.  Groups, meetings, study sessions, and more involved projects here are all in some ways created for residents to engage in T’Shuvah for their own past.  This way, similar mistakes in the future may be prevented.  Here we learn that T’Shuvah is a way of life that drives a person to constantly excel and improve on his being.  By continually examining our lives for actions we might regret, we take strides in becoming integrated human beings who face truth and righteousness instead of deceit and shadows.

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My Rabbi: The Ex-Convict


By Ben Spielberg

I hate my rabbi. He makes me clean my room. He yells at me when I’m being disrespectful, and he always calls me out when I’m lying! I hate that my Rabbi makes me a better person—I mean, after all, who does he think he is? Some sort of religious authority?

The first time I had ever heard of Rabbi Mark Borovitz was a couple years ago when I read his autobiography, The Holy Thief. It was a quick read, a good story, and well written. After coming to Beit T’Shuvah for about four months for therapy once a week, I eventually set up a meeting with him. I complimented his book; we chatted a little bit, and set up another meeting for the next week. I don’t think I had ever even talked to a Rabbi before.

The next meeting didn’t go over so well. I was loaded, and he knew that I was loaded. Without so much as completing a sentence, he called me out on my manipulation. He knew I was lying to everybody around me and he knew I was in trouble. “You have a week to tell your family that you’re getting loaded, or I will.” Needless to say, I was furious. This guy I don’t even know was trying to ruin my life!

My Rabbi is a man who cares. My Rabbi has been through it all—he’s been to prison, he’s been confused, frustrated, angry, sad, and lonely just like me. And that’s why he cares so much about everyone here. He has been through exactly what all the residents are going through, and after making T’Shuvah, he has figured out that the greatest thing he could possibly do would be to help out others in positions he was in, and bring them to making their own T’Shuvah. I hate my Rabbi for making me clean my room, but I love him for it, too.

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Our Very Own Beit T’Shuvah Brand of Torah


"Adam and Eve" - Adriaen van der Wer...

Image by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr

By M. Alexander

The Torah has always interested me, both as a piece of literature and as a historic document; as a point of contention, rather than as a means of connection. I studied it in college and criticized it with my friends. I rejected it, seeing it as a document to control the masses.

It wasn’t until I came to Beit T’Shuvah that I began to see the Torah as a path, as a way, as instruction, as teaching, and as law. Beit T’Shuvah’s brand of Torah is one of personal redemption and of recovery.  Each story in the Torah can teach a lesson to the drug addict, the depressed, the gambler, and the person who wants a better life. I had been looking at The Torah through the eyes of a cynical rejectionist contrarian; once my mind was opened, even by one grain of sand, the messages were able to flood in.

I had always learned that the first sin was eating from The Tree of Knowledge.  Beit T’Shuvah teaches that the true sin in the Garden Story is hiding.  When Adam and Eve realize what they have done, they hide, attempting to avoid God’s wrath.  Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. I have committed many errors (heit, missing the mark) in my life.  I must stop hiding when I miss the mark and show through my actions that I can change.

While wandering in the desert, after leaving my master, Pharaoh Heroin, I search for other comforts.  These are my golden calves—the girl across the hall, the new job, the power, and the prestige. The battle for freedom is just beginning.  I am free from the grips of The Pharaoh, but false gods are omnipresent. I must not find false gods in sobriety.

During Simchat Torah, the celebration that marks the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis, we wrap the Torah around each of the residents and community members. Everybody is assigned a word from the Torah; mine was B’reishit (the beginning). Just as the Torah is incomplete if one word is missing, the community suffers if one member is missing.  Every word matters and every person matters.  What a novel, enlightening concept for this cynic!

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James Franco: Was He High and Why Do You Care?


James Franco at the Harvard Yard to receive hi...

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By M. Alexander

So I am reading some blogs about Sunday night’s Oscars and I see widespread gossip that James Franco was loaded.  Aren’t there enough people in Hollywood that are in rehab, in recovery, or currently drinking themselves into oblivion that we do not have to spread lashon hara about somebody else?  Maybe he was just a bad host.  Maybe he thought that his cool, calm demeanor would get him more “James Dean-esque” movie roles.  Maybe he was embarrassed by Anne Hathaway’s cross-dressing Les Miserables rendition of “On My Own”.  Maybe he wanted to look high because the younger, “hipper” viewers remember him in Pineapple Express, not Milk or 127 Hours.  Maybe that is just the way he is.

On the other hand, maybe he was loaded; maybe he was smoking crack backstage with Charlie Sheen’s hookers, had just stolen from a jewelry store, or had just been in a hotel room on Sunset shooting dope.  But the point is that we, the viewers, have no idea.  Why must we guess?  Why must we prod and poke?  Why must we believe that another person has this awful disease of addiction?  Did Charlie Sheen not say anything funny yesterday?  Did Lindsay Lohan not send a floral amends to a jewelry store? Did nobody shoot their wife?  Find something else to speculate about…or give him a drug test if it really makes any difference to you.

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Freedom Song: Just Me and Drugs, One Happy Family :(


By Jamie Zabludowski

“For as long as I could remember I felt like I didn’t fit in, in school, on the streets, at family dinners, I couldn’t shake this unbearable feeling that I didn’t belong… so I created my own escape.”

For 4 years I was immersed in a very dark heroin addiction. I lost my friends, my family, but most importantly I lost my soul. I was in and out of treatment centers and couldn’t find my inner most self. That is, until I came to Beit T’Shuvah fresh off of being homeless in Florida. I left everything that was familiar to me in Miami without looking back.

I spent two months figuring out how to speak again. Once I found that courage to open up, I joined Freedom Song as an understudy, not really knowing what to expect. Freedom Song is an original musical/play put on by residents and alumni of Beit T’Shuvah. It follows the inspiring real-life stories of 18 addicts sharing a Passover Seder very different than all others. The immensely moving stories and songs form the need for a broader understanding of the disease of addiction. More than a play, Freedom Song is a real life drama that opened my eyes and changed my life.

When I first moved into Beit T’Shuvah I couldn’t form a full sentence. I was completely closed off to everybody–I wasn’t sharing anything about myself, or my past. At first, being a member of the cast was scary. I remember at my first rehearsal, being told, “You need to project! Project Jamie! Project!” And my response was a quiet, “I don’t know how to.” I remember sitting in my room one night with a veteran of the cast and felt as if the words of my character were my own. I realized how similar my story was to my character’s story; in fact they paralleled almost seamlessly.

My first performance was in Irvine about two months ago. I projected and felt every word as I performed. This play has allowed me to find that hidden voice I shut out for so many years. Freedom Song gets every single person in the cast to not hold back and do something different. Who would have thought that I’d go from a homeless heroin addict to performing in front of hundreds of people singing and dancing in a musical?

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