Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Jewel From the Rabbi



The month of Elul is intended as a mirror- it’s the time for us to reflect on ourselves and take personal inventory  in preparation for the New Year. This is something we know all about in recovery at Beit T’Shuvah. In fact, it’s the fourth step. Elul is the opportunity to revisit the fourth step each year, remembering that we are always in a process of reinvention. It’s critical to know, however, that while we have to see what repairs we have to make for “missing the mark” in the past year, it is imperative that we also see what we have done well– what “jewels” we have brought to the world this year.

Jewels of Elul VII, a creation of Craig Taubman, fills us with the light of others so that we can see the light we bring as well. This month, look at yourself, do your own Cheshbon HaNefesh, ‘take your inventory of the soul,’ and rejoice in the light of others as well as the light you bring. May we all dedicate ourselves to bringing more light to others, the world and ourselves.

Shana Tova, Rabbi Mark

You Matter

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Talkin’ About My Education: My High Fiver Project and Our Chai Five Project


By M. Alexander

I want to take this time to talk about my education.  I graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Calabasas High School in 2006 and went to my first choice university.  At NYU, I designed my own major, “Global Ethics and Conflict Studies,” achieving honors and graduating after 3 years at the age of 20.  I spent one of those semesters studying aboard The Scholar Ship, a 100-day cruise holding undergraduate and post-graduate students from 35 countries. I studied “global culture” in China, Thailand, India, The Seychelles, South Africa, Cape Verde, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and The Netherlands.  I spent another semester studying European Politics on a villa in Italy.  The day I graduated, I presented a thesis and an oral presentation to three faculty members about my major, using ten texts from antiquity and ten modern books to highlight what I had studied.

Sound like a great education?  Here is the part I’m not telling you.  I didn’t like high school.  I felt friendless and alone, escaping through poker and marijuana.  When I got into college, I spent my weekdays smoking bongloads, turning my living room into an opium den, turning my common area into a four-square court, turning my bedroom into a pharmacy, and turning classes into an endless succession of Sparknotes and manipulation.  I got kicked off of The Scholar Ship, got caught by drug dogs on two separate occasions during my semester in Italy, and became a heroin addict as soon as I returned.  I studied how to study, but I did not learn.  I did not integrate into any community— other than dope dealers, thieves, and cheats.  I got sent to my first treatment center the day after I graduated.

What we have with the Chai Five project is an opportunity to give somebody a real education.  Julian knows what he wants to study.  Graphic Design is his passion. And recovery is his purpose.  He has the opportunity to defy society’s conception that college is a time to party, to experiment, and to become an atheistic, apathetic “intellectual.” Julian can show all of us at Beit T’Shuvah that we can go to college and maintain sobriety.  He can get the opportunity that he dreamt of before he got sober and has worked toward every day since.  We only need 600 more dollars to fund his education.  With only 600 dollars we can help Julian rise above the mistakes I made.  We can grant him the opportunity for an education he deserves.

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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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TGIF? Maybe We Should Thank God on Mondays as Well as Fridays


TGIM: Thank God It’s Monday!

By M. Alexander

Growing up, I hated Mondays.  I hated school. I hated the days I had to go to school, come home and do homework, go to bed early so that I could wake up the next morning for a new day of monotony.  All week, I looked forward to the weekend—a time with no responsibility, a time to watch television, a time to do nothing.

Later in life, when I was using heroin, all days were the same.  It did not matter whether it was Saturday or Monday.  If I had dope, it was a good day.  If I didn’t, it was a bad day.

My perception of each day’s merits changed yet again when I first got to Beit T’Shuvah. I began to dread the weekend.  Nobody was here.  They were with their girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, at the beach or in the mountains.  Monday would come and I would again be occupied by groups and comforted by friends.

Now that I have a job and a girlfriend, I again look forward to the weekend.  I get to unwind from my job. I get to read. I get to watch movies. I get to relax.

There is nothing wrong with looking forward to the weekend.  But why do I now dread Mondays and dislike Tuesdays?  Why am I annoyed by Wednesdays and frustrated by Thursdays? Monday never did anything to me. Tuesday never stabbed me in the back.  Wednesday never talked trash to me.  Thursday never slept with my wife.

In order to live a happy, healthy, and productive life, I need to learn to look forward to each day, to find the unique quality present in each hour.  I need to stop escaping to a specific time frame—thinking it will all be better in a few days.   Today is a good day if I make it a good day.

Monday morning, I need to shift my perception, looking forward to the new week as an opportunity for growth, as a chance to add motivation to my purpose and invigorate my passion with a newfound vitality.  Tuesday, I will do the work.  Wednesday, I will make sure that my work is fresh and exciting.  Thursday, I will help another person with something they are struggling with, something that I am in a unique position to help them with.  Friday, I will look at what I’ve done, finish what needs to be finished, and I will TGIF, making sure that three days later, I don’t forget to TGIM.

So I challenge you: How do you make today special?  How do you look forward to the present?

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From the Outside In- An Intern Story.


By Katie Funk

Katie hard at work at the BTS Communications office

This summer, all I was really looking for was some generic work experience to add to my resume. Having just finished my freshman year of college, I could no longer blissfully avoid the reality that life and the real world are coming at me fast. So I did what any savvy college student would do with no work experience—asked mom and dad to hook it up. My Dad had recently been a judge in a panel at Social Innovation Fast Pitch, a competition for up and coming nonprofit companies to vie for funding.  The winner was (an easy pick, according to my Dad) BTS Communications, a marketing agency housed within a rehab, the brainchild of John Sullivanhimself an ex-con and recovering heroin addict. Naturally, my Dad thought this might be just the place for me to spend my summer. When in doubt, simply send your young, vulnerable daughter to a rehab filled with ex cons and addicts for a few months. Right?

After my initial feelings of uncertainty, I decided to keep an open mind. I soon realized all the positives about this unique opportunity.  Working in a startup, I would be able to experience first-hand how a business grows, and would be able to provide contributions and skills that well surpassed coffee and dry-cleaning runs. I instantly and without-judgment felt embraced by John and everyone who works here. As a result, I learned more about my skills, the marketing field, and myself than I feel I would have anywhere else. I am finishing my time here with stronger skills as a writer, social media strategist, and overall professional.

But what has really made my time here at BTS undoubtedly unlike any job I will probably ever have, is the people. This one-room office is filled with eclectic individuals who made every minute enjoyable, just as they now make every minute in their lives count. There is a spirit that engulfs BTS that I was not expecting to find when I walked in to start my summer. And that spirit is what I believe is making this business a success. Everyone here genuinely cares about his or her individual work and about BTS as a whole. In the end, I did get the “work experience” I was initially seeking.  But resume aside, I grew from an amazing experience with an amazing group of people who are certainly destined for success.

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A Face Behind the Five


The Chai Five! Project is ready to put a Face behind the Five. As we’ve told you, the $1800 we are trying to raise is to put a recovering resident through school for a year. We don’t know of a more deserving resident than BTS Communications’ very own Julian ‘Gonzo’ Ellis.

Julian was exposed to drugs at the early age of twelve, dropped out of school at fourteen, and has been in and out of rehab for quite some time. Now, eight years later, he is ready to go to back to school and pursue a degree in graphic and web design. Though he is “excited, optimistic, anxious, nervous and motivated” all at once about attending school, he is also finally up for the challenge.

Julian 'Gonzo' Ellis: Finally up for the challenge

As our newest intern at BTS Communications, Julian is “excited to get up early in the morning, create positive goals for [him]self, and have meaningful interactions in the workplace.” He has already proven quite adept in the field even without any official training. Everything he knows he learned from his mother, a professional graphic designer, who began teaching Julian two years ago to help with layouts, labels, and brochures. Since joining BTS, he has tackled an impressive volume of projects with dexterity and enthusiasm, making his mother very proud.

In going to school, Julian hopes to hone and refine his design talent and education—and perhaps pick up a thing or two about business. His hopes for his future include owning a design firm catering to small & family businesses and creating an urban clothing label with styles inspired by his love for graffiti and street art. A likely name for this operation? Gonzo Designs.

So look out for him—if you donate to Chai Five!, you will have a claim in saying you helped set him on what will surely have been a creative, imaginative, and transformative journey.

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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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