Monthly Archives: September 2011

One Drop of Honey Sweeter Than The Last

By M. Alexander

During New Year’s celebrations—both Jewish and secular—we look back on the past year and make resolutions for the year to come.  We find the sweetness in our lives and we try to dilute the bitterness within us.

When we take time to remember what is sweet, we concentrate on what we often take for granted— our family, our friends, our health, our jobs, our home.  We may not have all of these things, but there is one thing that every single person who is reading this possesses—a life.  And life is the most precious gift that we have as we round the corner into the New Year. It may be that we don’t have the money we want, the job we deserve, or the spirit we think we should have accumulated—but more important than all these projections of ego is the fact that we are all alive, that we all have the power to enjoy La Dolce Vita, the sweetness of life.  We must hold onto the sweetness in our lives and be grateful for what we have if we hope to make it another year.

But the sweet does not exist without the bitter.  Where have we missed the mark in the last year?  Were we rude to our fathers, did we call our grandmothers, were we greedy, self-centered, dishonest, jealous, or manipulative?  Try to go through the months and the days, recalling individual events, asking yourself where you could have done better.  Where did you act in bitterness instead of sweetness?

Here’s hoping that as we recall the sweet along with the bitter, we are able to affect change in the days to come.  Let’s make this New Year one drop of honey sweeter than the last.

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Judaism, Mark Borovitz, Sobriety, Spirituality, Temple, Torah, Uncategorized

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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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Family Wellness, Gratitude, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Uncategorized

Morality and Redemption: A Dialogue on the Death Penalty Inspired by Troy Davis

By Jaron Zanerhaft and M. Alexander

After years of appeals, Troy Davis was put to death last night for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail.  This blog is not meant to speculate whether he was guilty or innocent, but to discuss the morality of capital punishment.  As two competent and intelligent young men, we began a dialogue from the perspective of getting a second chance at life.  We started with a single question:

Is execution a moral punishment?

Jaron: What’s the difference between life in prison and the death penalty?  The law regards the latter as more extreme, and any code of morals will tell you that above all else, life is what we should preserve.  But I believe that in some ways, the death penalty does more to preserve life than sentencing life in prison.  Also, for some, finishing out one’s days in prison is a fate worse than death, so a lethal punishment is, in some cases, less punitive than indefinite incarceration

Michael: Jaron, while this is an insightful commentary on the hideous nature of prison, it doesn’t really address the morality of such a punishment.  You say “for some…life in prison is a fate worse than death,” but the death penalty takes away the opportunity for redemption.  While “wasting” away in prison, you have the opportunity to make t’shuvah for your actions.  Tookie Williams wrote children’s books.  A lifer can take action and make amends, while somebody put to death does not have this opportunity.  Taking away the opportunity for life is the greatest punishment.  And it is immoral to take away this opportunity from anyone.  The only exception I can think of is if the prisoner still proves to be a threat to humanity while behind bars.

J: And you are giving that exception far too little weight.  How often do we hear of prison, not as a successful correctional facility, but as a breading pool for a more potent type of criminal?  Opportunities for individual improvement must always be judged with the drawback of the potential for an outbreak of educated derisiveness. I do believe in the chance, however, for redemption.  However, I think the death penalty and the state of our prison systems are inextricably tied.  Currently, I do not believe that these chances, these hopes for the treatment of the disease of criminality, are as available as you seem to think. It is certainly a mournful, barbaric practice, but it serves as a blaringly necessary reflection of an often-overlooked amoral system.

M: The question that we started with, “Is the death penalty moral?” isn’t really the question. You are saying that it is necessary in an already amoral system.  You are saying that it is ok because it highlights the barbarity of the rest of our system.  Life in prison is cruel and immoral, but it would not be noticed if there was no death penalty.  The utter immorality of it is what makes it moral?  I’m sorry Jaron, but I don’t think that a human life should be used as an example, as an impetus for possible future change.

J: Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe execution (murder, in far kinder words), is ever moral.  Perhaps, though, in our society, it is more humane than the alternative.

M: So, by an extension of your statement (if you permit me to make a reach) a “free man,” meaning a man who is not incarcerated, but a man who is a victim of a life sentence of socioeconomic and cultural persecution, a man destined to live miserable life — he should be put to death because it is better than our society’s immoral treatment of “the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.”

J: Misery of the prosecuted has nothing to do with it.  And I do not wish venture postulation on who is to blame for crime – that seems to be your realm.  I only wish to protect the marginalized, vulnerable fringe of our society who, despite tribulation, manage to maintain social decency.

M: Good for you.

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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Incarceration, Judaism, Spirituality

Doing T’Shuvah in the California Institution for Women

By Jessica Fishel

Jessica works at Beit T'Shuvah for the Partners in Prevention program, an informative and honest initiative designed to expose high schoolers to recovering addicts who have first-hand experience with drug, alcohol, and gambling abuse and eating disorders.


In August I decided to step out of my comfort zone and attend Shabbos services at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California. I knew that I would get a great deal out of the experience, even though I was unsure of what to expect, as I have never been to a prison. I was also unsure of how the women would accept me. I knew there would be many experiences I would be unable to relate to, but I am an open minded person and I wanted to help brighten the women’s days in any way possible. Once I entered the chapel I realized that, though I have never been to prison or been in the same situations as these women, we are all humans and in some sense have commonalities. I sat quietly, observed the dynamics of the women, and set aside all my judgments—I wanted to get as much out of this experience as possible. I immediately noticed that simple things, such as carrying the Torah, are enormous for the women, and with open minds and arms they offered me the honor to carry the Torah as well. I was extremely flattered. I have carried the Torah many times in synagogue, but this time it was different. It was an incredible experience; I was nearly brought to tears.  As the women kissed the Torah, it dawned on me that spirituality is one of the few things that has not been taken away from them in prison.

Spirituality is both something that every single person has the ability to find within themselves and something that cannot be taken away from anyone. Each woman who attended the Saturday morning services at CIW definitely valued spirituality. Not all of the women were Jewish, and though many had converted while behind bars, they all valued Judaism and their connection with a higher power regardless of the presence or absence of a definite image of G-d.  This was evident while we prayed, read Torah, and sat in a Jewish Twelve Step Group following the services. The topic of the group was “T’Shuvah” or repentance, and how it relates to the High Holy Days. To convey our message, we supplied the women with High Holy Day Repair Kits and T’Shuvah Cards. We had a conversation about the meaning and importance of T’Shuvah. I shared with the women that we are supposed to do T’Shuvah the day before we die (ultimately meaning every day because we do not know which day will be our last). The majority of the women related to this concept, and they were eager to learn more. In addition to learning about T’Shuvah, we had the women each share who they would like to give T’Shuvah to and why. The answers varied; some said respective family members, and others went as far as to say the people they harmed or stole from before they landed in prison. Each answer was unique and their remorse was genuine as they shared their answers. Aside from being able to share their answers and begin the repentance process, the women were extremely grateful for the High Holy Day Repair Kits and T’Shuvah Cards. I was unaware of how little material possessions these women have, and was moved by how grateful and excited they were to receive this gift.

Before this experience, I rarely took time to acknowledge how privileged I am. Now, I think about it daily. The greatest lesson I learned while I sat in CIW’s chapel is that I must always remember to live in gratitude and appreciate my freedom. All these women are willing to do T’Shuvah; however, for many of them they will never walk outside of the prison’s gates as free women, nor will many of the people they try to make an amends to accept their apologies. Regardless, they still understood the importance of making amends and will take advantage of the T’Shuvah cards. The women’s enthusiasm and passion for T’Shuvah reminded me that I must always remember the importance of atonement.  My day at CIW was extremely powerful and I plan on going back each month for Shabbos services, as well as for their High Holy Day services in October. I am EXTREMELY grateful to have had this eye opening experience and I am so excited to go back this month!

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Incarceration

Knock Out Addiction Super Secret Fighters… Revealed! Ryan O’Neal vs. Jimmy Lange

Introducing first: fighting out of the actor’s corner, this man is best known for his role in Love Storyearning him the nod from Oscar for best actor, now playing the role of Addiction’s Destroyer, fighting out of Los Angeles, California, we have…… “Ryan….O’NEAL!”

Now making his way to the ring, fighting out of the boxer’s corner, from Great Falls, Virginia, holding a professional record of 36 wins, 4 losses, and two draws, with 24 wins by knockout, a middle-weight recently featured on the NBC television show The Contender,now playing the role of Addiction’s Enemy, we have…..“Jimmy…LANGE!”

Thursday night, both fighters box for the same cause.  They enter the ring pumped, ready to Knock Out Addiction; motivated to help the countless residents of Beit T’Shuvah battle their demons with drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  They fight to make sure that many more can receive the help that they need so that they too can knock out addiction.  Let’s get ready to ruuuuuummmmmmmbbbbbbblllllleeeeee.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Freedom Song, Gratitude, Judaism, Knock Out Addiction, Mark Borovitz

9/11 is Remembrance Day

As we remember 10 years ago our greatest national tragedy, it is important to rededicate ourselves to our initial response – coming together to eradicate evil. I remember how we went to Churches, Temples and Mosques to pray for those who died, those who were rescuers and those who survived. We prayed for a nation to come together and have a new response. A response of unity, love and tolerance.

Today, 10 years later, we have lost this unity. We have lost the tolerance and love for our differences. WE MUST recover these! Thursday was National Recovery Day, today is 9/11 Remembrance Day – let’s put them together and remember and recover our spiritual heritage of love, tolerance, unity, hope and faith! God Bless America and God Bless the memory of those who died and God Bless each of us with the Spirit of Holiness and Love.

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Filed under Current Events


By M. Alexander and Jaron Zanerhaft

We arrive at the 53rd annual ICYPAA in San Francisco—the International Conference of Young People in Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  4,500 people. All of us, presumably, trying to stay sober.  Most of us, hopefully, trying to better our lives.  Some of us, regrettably, forgetting where we came from.  

This is what we are:

We are recovering alcoholics huddled together over a big book, not bundled together over a glowing trashcan.  Hyper and tired, not tweaked out and nodding off.  Selling spirituality, not pushing the gangster mentality.  Newcomers and old-timers, not chippers and fiends.  Sponsors and sponsees, not pimps and hos.  Happy and sad, not loaded and kicking.  We are people who have taken the necessary action to change our lives.

This is what we do:

We remember that many are not lucky enough to attend this conference—they are smoking crack a few blocks away in the tenderloin, they are selling their bodies a few miles away in Oakland, they are cooking meth a few states away in Middle America.  They buy guns a few borders away in Bolivia.  They waste away at shooting galleries in Moscow.  They wish they were here only a few memories away in the afterlife.   We remember what it was like, what it could have been like, and we practice gratitude for what we have, for what it is.

This is what we see:

We see hope when the emotionally distraught attendees with less than 24 hours of sobriety stand on stage, announcing their name and disease to a spirit-filled crowd.  We see hope when an 18 year old with 3 years sober helps a 25 year old who just put down the needle.  And we see hope when both of us walk out of the conference and drive down to Los Angeles with 3 more days of sobriety.

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Filed under addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Family Wellness, Sobriety