Monthly Archives: January 2011

Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility for Your Actions

By Jaron Zanerhaft

My roommate returned yesterday evening from his home where he had spent the previous night, and the first thing he told me upon his return was that he had had a “freelapse” earlier that afternoon.  He walked his dog to a liquor store—the only place he had remembered seeing Monster energy drinks offered in a 32 oz size.  During the purchase, the clerk asked about his age.  Still thinking nothing of it, my roommate left the store, cracked open his can, and waited for the caffeine and taurine mix to hit.  He told me that he drank five gulps before realizing that he tasted something strangely familiar.  I doubt that after five gulps, the “12% alcohol content” printed on the side of the can surprised him.

My first roommate here had over three months of sobriety before I moved into his room.  I had about two weeks when he decided to go out.  John Doe’s alcohol, marijuana, and benzodiazepine abuse while serving in the Peace Corps sent him in here.   The Monday after the weekend he decided to relapse, the staff at Beit T’Shuvah gave him a choice—stay or leave.  Instead of a civil response, he proceeded to sneak out and get drunk again Monday night.  Before he left, he wrote a note to me on the title page of my journal, telling me that he loved me and to stay in touch.  I haven’t heard from him in more than four months.

As soon as a vacancy opened up in my room, John Doe II promptly moved in.  A crack-head with almost two years of clean time (though most of it accumulated in prison), J.D. II knew all the tricks of sobriety.  He read the big book more than any other text, and he was an avid reader.  He was supposed to pick me up from the airport when I returned from Thanksgiving in New Jersey, but instead, he decided to smoke crack.  He came back to Beit T’Shuvah strung out at 3 a.m. a day later, curled up in his bed, and screamed in his sleep for three days straight.  After a two-month stint of sobriety following that relapse, he successfully lobbied for reinstatement in his old union. He picked up his first paycheck one day last week and no one has seen him since.

Whether presenting itself as a lifestyle choice, a “mistake,” or a reaction to responsibility, relapse is a malicious shape shifter, claiming victims left and right.  I know my lamentations will do no good, but I hang on to hope, both for the individual living in turmoil and all those in his life that feel the impact.  Each person I have encountered since my stay here has a unique gravity to fight.  It is up to the individual to choose if that gravity will take him down.  What’s pulling you down?  Are you acknowledging your choice? Or does your responsibility yield to an excuse?

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Sobriety

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

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Filed under Current Events, Judaism, Torah

Energy Drinks in Rehab: Why Can’t I Have Them?

By Ben Spielberg

Taurine. Guarana. Ginseng. Ginkgo Biloba. Are these real words or am I just talking crazy talk? On the contrary, not only are these real words, but they are also ingredients commonly found in most energy drinks. You can find energy drinks anywhere—gas stations, supermarkets, combined with alcohol in liquor stores and at any young people’s convention of Alcoholics Anonymous. In some places, however, they are not as socially acceptable.

The detox I was in before I came to Beit T’Shuvah was a lock down facility—there was no entering or exiting without staff, and there was absolutely no connection to the outside world. Inside of the facility, however, was a small store stocked with candy, cigarettes, juices, and energy drinks. I was only there for about a week, and the only thing I was able to keep in my stomach was chocolate, so I had absolutely no desire for Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster, or whatever else they offered there. As soon as I arrived at Beit T’Shuvah, I noticed that there were papers stating that there was no consumption of energy drinks on the premises! Well, that’s weird.

Or is it? In a way, energy drinks can embody a lot of “old behavior.” For instance, I want a lot of energy and I want it now! There are dozens of beverages on shelves now that are malt liquor combined with energy drinks. For some, this could most definitely be a trigger. For others, chugging Red Bulls can lead to excessive behavior—I have seen many people start with one can a day, and after a few weeks drink one every other hour! Addictive behaviors like these are generally frowned upon in rehab. I like to think about it like this: I may not agree with no pep-me-up drinks all the time, but if I’m making a big fuss about it, then how willing am I to really get sober in the first place? Sometimes we have to deal with things we don’t like, and rehab is a great place to resonate and process this thought. What do you think about energy drinks?

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Sobriety

Gala? What Gala?!

By Ben Spielberg

Beit T’Shuvah’s annual Gala is quite possibly one of the most exciting events of the year! But with all of the surf therapy, alumni Torah studies, acting groups, marathons, and musicals, how could this be, you ask? Well, as some of you may know, Beit T’Shuvah is a non-profit treatment center/synagogue, where nobody has ever been denied a bed due to lack of funds! Because of this, Beit T’Shuvah is constantly seeking donation opportunities in order to keep the place running , and to continue to be able to accept people regardless of their financial situation. In the past, the Gala has a pattern of raising enough money for 50 people to stay per year, and out of 120 residents, that means almost 50%. Are you excited yet?! If you’re not so sure, check out this video that one of the interns of BTS Communications has created.

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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, BTS Communications, Current Events, Gala, Gratitude

President Obama on Universal Human Rights

Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao
Image by rebuildingdemocracy via Flickr

By M. Alexander

Chinese President Hu Jintao is currently in Washington DC meeting with Barak Obama.  Obama has used a lot of icy rhetoric in recent speeches concerning US relations with China. One of the cruxes of this conflict is the case of Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist.  In December 2009, he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights.  Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while serving his sentence.

In the presence of Hu Jintao, Mr. Obama made a comment indirectly concerning Liu Xiobao that reflects a larger problem Obama has with The People’s Republic of China:


“History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.’’

I agree with Mr. Obama.  The world would be a better place if every nation and every people upheld man’s universal rights.  However, I had a major problem with Obama’s statement when I first read it.

At what point in history were universal human rights completely upheld?  Was it during the Roman Empire? The Mongolian Empire? Was it during the Crusades?  The Spanish Inquisition?  World War Two?  Or was it sometime in between?

The answer is that there has never been a time in the history of humankind where universal rights were granted to every individual.  When I told this to Rabbi Mark Borovitz, he smiled at me.  He told me that I am looking at it in the same way I look at the entire world.  I must always find fault with everything; something must be perfect or completely disastrous, nothing in between.  He told me about the movements throughout history attempting to grant universal rights to all people.  The Torah repeats 36 times that we must take care of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  The United States Bill of Rights attempts to grant universal rights to all of its people.  Western Civilization’s general conception of universal rights is founded upon Judeo-Christian morality.  According to the Book of Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.



Have the Jewish people been perfect in their attempts to protect the widow, the orphan, and the stranger? No.  Have the first 10 amendments to The Constitution been upheld perfectly? No.  Have Christians always blessed the poor, the mourners, and the meek?  No.  But we must continue to make progress as individuals, as a culture, and as a nation.  We cannot just stand idly by because the world is not perfect and never will be.

We must protest when we see that universal rights are being infringed upon.  We must continue to question exploitation, cruelty, and abuse; we must “be the change we wish to see in the world ”(Gandhi) where there is inequity, where we see hate, and where rights are not granted to everyone.

What do you think? What are our rights?  And most importantly, what can we do to make sure that universal rights are upheld?

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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Torah

Santa Monica Suicide and Societal Pressures of Perfection

We are all so “driven to distraction” and comfortable in denial that it takes a catastrophe to focus our attention on self-examination and problem solving.

Last week we were forced to confront our collective insanity acted out by a lone madman.  Who should we blame?  Was the madman’s paranoia a reflection of us or simply a brain disease, a thinking disorder that developed in a vacuum?  Was he on the left or the right?  Were his parents to blame or not?

The discussions were dizzying, all of them avoiding the truth of our collective responsibility.

We project onto our leaders our inner conflicts, our childish craving for a black-and-white, all-or-nothing reality, which would relieve us of the burden of our opposing inclinations.  We demand good guys and bad guys.  The bad guys represent all the things we don’t like about ourselves; the good guys re-enforce our image of perfection and blamelessness.  The stronger the split within the more we polarize and blame “the other.”  As Rabbi Heschel noted: “Some are guilty; all are responsible.”

Another casualty of our Addiction to Perfection was a 14-year old boy who bolted from a ball game, ran into a hotel and jumped off the roof.  “He was the perfect child,” his grandparents said. …he was popular, good in sports, upbeat, showed no signs of distress.  His Rabbi expressed the communal shock: “He was bright, upbeat and dependable and gave no indication he was seriously troubled… He was not the kind of person you would expect to have these feelings… Something went horribly wrong.”

What went wrong, I think, was this kid wasn’t allowed to feel bad or tell anyone about his doubts and fears.  He was the carrier of his parents’ and grandparents’ vision of perfection, his spirit crushed by their expectations.  “I’ll never live up to their requirements of me – no matter what I do.  I’d rather jump than disappoint them.”

Our children are acting out our struggles within.  If they are perfect we are absolved of our own imperfections.  They carry the burden of their parents’ insecurity and self-doubt.  The parental cop-out of “Do as I say, not as I do” says it all:  What I can’t do for myself, I can do for you.  I will shield you from discomfort or disappointment or doubt.  You will be the Crown Prince or Princess of Perfection.

“The best and the brightest” suffer the most; their insides and outsides are most mismatched.  They’ve done everything they were supposed to do (and more) and they still feel rotten inside.  They perform without passion and strive without purpose.

Judaism is a program of recovery for addiction to perfection.  All of our heroes are imperfect.  The Torah is the story of our people’s struggle to submit their will to God’s Will, to act themselves into right thinking and being.  Over and over they forget God’s directions, lose faith and gratitude and build “golden calves” to protect them from their fears and fill the hole of their separation from God.

Instead of calves we are building “golden children,” whom we worship.

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Filed under Current Events, Judaism, Torah

To the Governor of Alabama: Show Some Respect


“In today’s Los Angeles Times there is a story about the new Governor of
Alabama saying that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as their
personal savior is not a brother or sister of his. I find this repulsive,
both as a Rabbi and an American. What happened to the first Amendment? The
Republicans speak about this amendment a great deal. What happened to the
country and party that abolished slavery?

“I have a tongue in cheek reply to the Governor of Alabama. As Jews, we
believe that Adonai is our God and Savior. Since Jesus is the son of Adonai,
the Governor is correct.  Jews are not his brothers and sisters; we are his
Aunts and Uncles. Maybe he should show some proper respect to his elders!”

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