Tag Archives: Shabbat

Sacred Space: Our First Shabbos in the New Building


By Eliot Godwin

Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Our leader and CEO, Harriet Rossetto, didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her life. A small advertisement in the paper was the spark that ignited Beit T’Shuvah, our singular organization which has blossomed into a diverse and expansive community. Last Friday, the doors of our beautiful new sanctuary were opened for an incredibly moving service, the continued realization of a vision that has spanned four decades.

The building is bright and modern; its lofty, vaulted ceilings an ideal symbol of the freedom Beit T’Shuvah residents feel from the struggle of their addiction. Nearly 400 people attended and witnessed the Hachnasas Sefer Torah (moving of the Torah) before the service. Members of the board, along with several dedicated community members, performed the ceremony under the fresh lights and celebratory applause, and the night was off and running.

Rabbi Mark and Yeshaia opened the service, which was anything but usual. In an earnest sermon, Rabbi Yeshaia expressed the importance of how this is our synagogue; a holy place where we gather together to observe Shabbos and celebrate each other. Rabbi Mark echoed that sentiment in his delightful sermon, preceded by an extended gratitude in which he expressed how grateful he is to the board and everyone who helped create this new space. Atop that list was the lovely Joyce Brandman, who gave a heartfelt speech and thanked the community for inspiring her in so many ways. It was a generous gift from the Saul and Joyce Brandman Foundation that made this new building a reality.

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Several other board members contributed with gifts of their own to ensure the completion of the new campus. Dr. Bill Resnick and Annette Shapiro, who conveyed their excitement and gratitude, also acknowledged the entire board for their leadership and generosity. The event became transcendent, so many people giving so much gratitude; it was truly an awe-inspiring experience listening to generous, soulful people thanking the very people whom they’ve helped immeasurably.

Rabbis Matt and Shira also spoke from the bima, offering their take on why Beit T’Shuvah is truly a holy place unlike any other. New residents were welcomed in and families were recognized for their participation in a family weekend that serendipitously coincided with the grand opening. Sober birthday celebrants were overcome with emotion inspired by the occasion, their success made sweeter by the remarkable setting.

A Torah is considered pasul (void) if a single brushstroke is missing or out of place. This evening was a collection of individuals, unique brushstrokes who comprise something larger than themselves. Without each of them, the community is not whole. On this night, as we gathered outside for Kiddush (taking no risks with the new carpet!), holiness and wholeness was achieved. It was clearly a special night for an extraordinary community. As Harriet found years ago, what she wanted and what G-d wanted for her were one and the same. Someone just had to show it to her.

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Saturday Morning Shabbos Services At Beit T’Shuvah: A View From The Stage


Saturday Morning Shabbos Services At Beit T’Shuvah:

A View From The Stage

By Matthew Greenwald

I’ve had many fantastic experiences performing with the Beit T’Shuvah band on Saturday mornings. Like many residents, I prefer Saturday morning services. The laid-back atmosphere, the funkiness of the music and the overall communal camaraderie of the event is something that many of us take through the weekend. Through this informality, the reflective nature that is Shabbat becomes that much more comfortable and immediate.

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 But aside from this, to be able to see the transformation of residents during their stay in primary care is for me, an extraordinary thing to witness. Once, several years ago, there was a new resident that came into Beit T’Shuvah. She was a newly-transplanted Canadian, coming off a lengthy run with speed and alcohol, and her first few days were bumpy indeed. She was in a new town, a different country, newly-sober, and in this…unusual place. On the first Shabbat she attended, she was clearly overwhelmed by the emotionally-charged atmosphere. As the service progressed, she seemed to know the prayers, and was making some tentative effort to sing along with the congregation. However, she was painfully shy, and spent most of the service looking around the room, wondering what exactly was going on.

 A couple of weeks later, I was playing another Saturday, and during the service I was wondering if she was still in the house. I scanned the seats near the front, but didn’t see her. However, a few minutes later, during “Ashre,” I finally saw her: she was standing on her chair, screaming with exultation, “Happy are those who dwell in this house…

 To witness changes such as these and many others make the experience of Saturday services that much more rewarding for me. As a footnote, the resident I’ve mentioned successfully completed the program, and had lengthy employment at Beit T’Shuvah before going on to another job. While she no longer works here, she is still sober and will always be a part of this community.

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 Among current new residents, the feeling of having a place to be part of is underlined on Saturday mornings. “I’ll admit that I don’t always like waking up to go to services on Saturday mornings,” said one new resident, “but something happens during the first half hour; I don’t know if it’s the music or the message, or both. But the fact that this service is all about the residents is what brings it together for me, and I get to carry that through my weekend.”

I couldn’t agree more. In the end, where it’s at for me is that Saturdays are a welding of the core of the resident community, and it’s precisely this activity that forges our spirits together…from wherever you’re sitting.

 

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Coach Chris and the LA Marathon Run to Save a Soul 2012


Coach Chris at last year's marathon

“The metaphor of running with recovery is profound. One foot in front of the other, being devoted, not giving up. Pushing past the wall. Having moments of intense exhilaration and moments when you really doubt yourself.” This is how Christopher King describes the intense relationship between running and recovering. For some, running is a simple challenge, a test of will and feat. For others, it is a divine spiritual practice. Christopher King fits the paradigm of a man who shares his passion and helps others recover their purpose by coaching the 2011 BTS Run to Save a Soul Marathon.

Chris (aka ‘Coach Chris’) enthusiastically became a contributing member of the Beit T’Shuvah team a little over three years ago when he saw our own Rabbi Mark speak at Culver City’s Rotary Club. Though he’d never heard of Beit T’Shuvah before and was not Jewish, the Rabbi intrigued him, and he decided to check out our Shabbat services one Friday night. Chris had been seeking for a long time, though he wasn’t sure for what. He knew upon his arrival that this was it. A place he could be passionate about, and a faith he wanted to learn more about (Chris is now in the process of conversion). He wanted to give back to the community that had begun to give so much to him, so he offered to do the thing he knew best: to run.

Chris had already run 7 marathons before joining up with the BT team. He embraced marathon running after college as an opportunity for self-discipline and to cultivate a sense of purpose. Three years later, Chris is just as excited about coaching BT as when he started. He thrives off of motivation—more specifically, he thrives off of giving people motivation. “I understand it having run before,” Chris says, “especially when the mileage starts to increase and your body starts to get the natural aches and pains, waking up early in the morning, going out again and again…[that’s when] being able to reach people and keep them motivated is a challenge but its one of the things I like the most about it. It’s a lesson that translates to real life, the principles you need to run a marathon are the same principles you need in life.”

The culmination of all the training builds to the night before the marathon—the team feasts on a big meal, but everybody still has their doubts about whether or not their body can make it the 26.2 miles, and more importantly, whether or not their minds can surpass nagging uncertainties. Chris takes this moment to impart a personal story (which will go untold, unless you run the marathon!) of doubt and triumph to help inspire the runners before they go to sleep.

After passing the finish line, Chris looks forward to the same ritual every year. First he hugs his father, and then he gets to work on his cell phone, calling all members of the team to make sure they make it to the finish line.

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Let Our Hearts and Minds Not Be Fooled By Subtle Forms of Slavery



By Gregory D. Metzger

As God’s first act in the Torah, we learn that separating the light from darkness is of primary importance.  Distinguishing between good and bad, between light and darkness is a challenge in a world colored by rich and complex shades of gray.  The subtleties are better understood by the heart than the mind, but both can be tricked.

Since the beginning, man has searched for a simple answer or rule to follow.  The best answer so far comes from Rabbi Hillel, who offered: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and study.”  -Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a

When he concluded with, “go and study”, he may have been referring to this week’s parsha, Mishpatim Exodus 21:1-24:18, which lays out a set of laws to guide us in our personal, religious and communal lives.

In the first of these laws addresses slavery.  In my professional life, I see all forms of slavery.  As a Rabbinic Intern for Jewish World Watch, where Rabbi Harold Schulweis reminds us that we must not “stand idly by the blood of our neighbor”, I see a world  where oppressive chattel slavery is even more prevelant, claiming even more victims than there were at the height of the North Atlantic Slave Trade.  There is no mistaking light and darkness when it comes to this chattel slavery.  It is clear that we must cry out for the voiceless and stand up for the powerless.

But what about consensual slavery?  At the Jewish Committee for Personal Service, where I counsel and advocate for Jewish inmates in Los Angeles County Jail and California State prisons, I am confronted and challenged by issues of consensual slavery.  Our Torah presents us with an ugly truth: there are people in our society who become enslaved by drugs, negativity and the worship of false idols (money. property and prestige).  Theirs is a darkness which blinds them to the beauty of freedom and allows them to willingly adopt an anti-social lifestyle so devoid of light that it is as if they are declaring “I do not want to go free” and allowing their masters to pierce their ears with an awl.

As we follow Hillel’s proposal and “go and study”, we see amid the criminal legislation and religious laws described in this parsha, that we are commanded to provide justice for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.  In fact, the call to care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan is so important to Judaism, that it is repeated no less than 36 times in the Torah – more than any other idea!  All slaves – those who are victims of others’ brutality and those who are subject to an inner oppression – are strangers, widows and orphans from freedom, from dignity and from justice.    As Jews we are commanded to care for those who have no voice in our society – those who have no power to advocate for themselves.

Slavery in all forms is devoid of justice.  It is hateful. We are called on to go further than Hillel suggests, not just avoid to enslaving ourselves and others, but we are called to take action to liberate those who are not free.   It is our duty to restore justice to the world.   We must counsel the consenting slave and aid in his redemption and return to community.

Maimonides, suggests in Hilchot Matanot Aniyim, that to fulfill the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim (redeeming the captive) is the highest and most holy of acts “The redeeming of captives takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them. There is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives for the problems of the captive include being hungry, thirsty, unclothed, and they are in danger of their lives too. Ignoring the need to redeem captives goes against these Torah laws: “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy fellow” (Devarim 15:7); “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Vayikra 19:16). And misses out on the following mitzvot: “You must surely open your hand to him or her” (Devarim15:8); “…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18); “Rescue those who are drawn to death” (Proverbs 24:11) and there is no mitzvah greater than the redeeming of captives.”

As we consider our duty and commitment to repair and bring justice to the world, let us begin by fighting slavery.  Let our hearts and minds not be fooled by the subtle forms of slavery.  Let us search for slavery within ourselves.  Let us help others to see their own self-enslavement.  And let us all cry out to God to end slavery now in every form and every place.

Gregory D. Metzger

Harold M. Schulweis Rabbinic Intern

Jewish World Watch

greg@jewishworldwatch.org

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To Magen David or Not to Magen David?—That is the Question


A red star of David, the symbol of the Magen D...
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By M. Alexander

I wear a necklace with The Star of David around my neck.  I remember the first day that I got it.  I was working front desk at a 4 star hotel in Santa Monica.  Before I left for work, my parents told me I should probably tuck it into my jacket so that it would not be visible to guests of the hotel.  Before my parents told me this, I had not really considered whether I was going to tuck it in or not.  Several bellhops wear their cross visibly.  Why should my Magen David be any different?

I now felt ashamed.  Not ashamed to be a Jew, quite the opposite.  I felt ashamed that I would even consider not wearing my Judaism proudly.  The Star of David was once an obligation, something people were forced to wear to distinguish them as a lower class of people.  It is now a sign of pride and connection.  I feel connected to other Jews, people who might be strangers if they remain unaware that I am a Jew.  It is a reminder that wherever I go, whatever I am doing, I am a Jew.

I walked into work with The Star of David over my jacket.  My manager gave me a look and said “are you sure you want to wear that?”  I nodded my head.  The Chief of Operations walked by and asked me to tuck it in.  I told him that the bellhops always wear their crosses, why is this different?  He had no response and he walked away.  These two interactions did not make me more hesitant, they solidified my pride.

Next, a guest walked in to check in to the hotel.  I told him his room category.  He asked for an upgrade and I told him that the luxury rooms were completely full.  He then said “But I’m a Jew, can’t you do anything for me?”  This completely stopped me in my tracks.  Yes, I felt a connection to this man; yes I believe that as Jews, we should help each other.  But I truly did not have any luxury rooms available.  I now felt bad that I could not help this man.  He was no longer a mere customer; he was a member of my tribe trying to manipulate our connection.  After he left, I tucked n my Magen David.  I now understood why my parents did not want me to leave it showing at work.  It is not shame or fear; it is because I am a mere employee, bound to the rules of a corporation.  I must treat everyone the same.  I do not care if The Magen David changes the way people look at me, but at work, it is important that it does not change the way I look at others.

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Gambling Addiction – An Insidious and Morbid Disease


By: Anonymous

I have always contemplated why God “blessed” me with such defects including a highly addictive personality and a chemically imbalanced brain which causes deep depression. Here at Beit T’Shuvah I have learned the appropriate coping skills to not only live with these defects but to move forward towards a balanced and successful life.

I am in Beit T’Shuvah for a gambling addiction, which is an insidious and morbid disease. If I were to keep gambling it would take me down a torturous path with absolutely no return mentally and physically. Throughout my gambling career I lied, cheated, manipulated and stole from the people who loved and cared about me the most. This included my immediate family and close friends. Being in the trenches of horror for so long I realized I needed more help and discipline than a 12-step program can provide me. After doing extensive research, I had heard about Beit T’Shuvah through a family friend. Beit T’Shuvah is the only in-patient treatment center to deal with problem gambling in the state of California.

In May 2010 I walked through the doors and immediately felt as if I was “at home”. After only living at Beit T’Shuvah for a few weeks, I had already had a sense of warmth, understanding and security from both the staff and residents alike. This was a very unfamiliar and foreign situation for me. Especially associating with 120 different personalities with various addictions.

My very first Shabbat service at this recovery center was a contributor to me emotionally feeling for the first time in months. Amazingly, I was receptive to the enjoyment of Shabbat services. It was like I was sitting at a blues concert with Rabbi Mark (who adds a lot of chutzpa and excitement to services). Both current and past residents/ staff members produce all of the music. I have willingly gone to Shabbat services every Friday and Saturday for the past four months and loved every minute of it.

One of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had, which was an honor to be a part of, was the Shavuot service (commemorating the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai). We sang, enjoyed an in-depth education about the Torah and had an extremely unusual bonding experience composed of our community embracing the Torah being wrapped around all of us at 6am after being up all night.

I then had an epiphany. Even though we struggle with various addictions we are there for only one purpose. That purpose is to recover with friends and be a positive attribute to society. When one resident is in trouble, we as a community sacrifice our own time to help out. For example, one resident who has a sentencing coming up got at least thirty letters written to the probation office on his behalf and is expecting at least forty of us to accompany him to court to lend support at his sentencing.

This is what Beit T’Shuvah is all about, selflessness, community and recovery. I am getting the tools, wisdom and spirituality; I need to progress and to learn how live independently once again.

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Mindfulness


By: Rabbi Mark Borovitz

Mindfulness is the buzzword today. It is used in Book titles,
seminars, etc. Most people associate mindfulness with Buddhism. I
would like to explain the origins of mindfulness in Judaism.

My definition of Mindfulness is: awareness of what is reality, being
present and awareness of consequences of what my current and next
actions will bring. In our tradition, we learn about being mindful in
the first chapter of Genesis. God tells us to take care of the earth,
having rule and dominion over all. In order to do this, we have to
know what each part of the earth needs to flourish. In the second
chapter of Genesis, we are told to take the seventh day, Shabbat, and
make it holy. We do this by not doing any creative work. How
interesting, we are commanded to take time to review what we have
created in the past week and appreciate it and appreciate and be
grateful for what God has created. To me, this is the height of
mindfulness!

Adam then goes on and names all the animals. Here again, awareness of
what each creature is and naming them according to their own traits
takes being mindful. We are commanded to work the land and guard it.
In order to guard something, we have to be aware of what is going on
with it and around it. God is showing us mindfulness when God says
that it is not good for a human to be alone and that we need an Ezer
K’negdo, a helpmeet. This is someone who helps us do the next right
thing and pushes against us when we are doing the next wrong thing.
To know one from the other takes a great deal of awareness.

When man sees woman, face to face for the first time, he becomes
aware of his need to be connected. So, we learn in this second
chapter of Genesis to be aware of our need to love and be loved, to
be known by another person and to know another person. Finally in the
second chapter of Genesis, we are told to leave our parents home and
have Devekut, a complete union, with our soul mate. Devekut is the
same union that we seek with God. So, just as we have to be aware of
our need to be connected to God, we have to be aware of and cultivate
and grow our connection to our soul and to the soul of our mate.

Now, these are all positive examples of mindfulness. In Chapter three
of Genesis, we see what happens when we are not mindful. This is the
Garden of Eden story. When we don’t see what is and either talk
ourselves into a lie or allow ourselves to be led astray, we go into
hiding. Then, when found out, we blame another. This is the state of
most of our world today, non-mindfulness.

We see another example of this when Cain is told that “sin couches at
your door, it desires you much AND you can master it”. What does Cain
do with this warning and direction? He kills his brother Abel.

The only way to “master sin” is to be mindful of what is negative in
you and around you. Then, by knowing what the consequences of what
acting on this negativity will bring and making a conscious decision
to not give in to our negative impulses and, rather, transform the
energy to do good, we live a mindful life.

God Bless, Rabbi Mark

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