Monthly Archives: September 2012

Taking It From Bad To Worse


By Josh Silver

I remember being a kid and asking my parents why we had to fast on Yom Kippur.  It’s funny, I remember asking the question but I don’t remember the answers that they gave.  Perhaps it was something like, “Because that’s how we atone for our sins,” or even a simple, “Because that’s what Jews do.”  Whatever the answer is, I feel like I’m finally old enough to have formed my own opinion on it.  I think that we fast to make us focus.  I noticed the sensation while at Beit T’Shuvah’s services this past Wednesday.  When you’ve been fasting all day, your brain goes into a sort of slow down mode and you don’t really have the capacity to think about more than one thing at a time.  In my case, I ended up focusing more on these services than I had in a long time.

Beit T'Shuvah ShofarSitting there on the holiest day of the Jewish year, I realized something about myself—even though I had gotten sober and had been living a “good” life for the past year I still had things to atone for.

The distinction between “good” and “evil” is easy to make.  Even a six year old could give you some sort of definition for these two categories.  But I have begun to realize that “evil” deeds are not the most dangerous.  Evil deeds are ones that are so heinous that a mental flag gets thrown up when we are about to commit that particular act.  This makes them easier to avoid.  The most dangerous acts aren’t the ones where we have malicious thought involved; they’re the ones that require no thought at all.  In between “good” and “evil” is the third and most devious category—“bad.”

So this year no, I haven’t stolen any more or lied to my family or committed any unspeakable atrocities.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen short of living a “good” life.  It can be something as small as thoughtlessly excluding someone from your life to something as underhanded as sneaking out of services to have a cigarette.  All of our actions have ripples and they don’t have to “evil” for them to be worthy of T’Shuvah.

Yom Kippur may be over but as Rabbi Mark has been teaching us all year round, it is never too late to make T’Shuvah.  I ask you, the reader, to delve deep and ask yourself what every resident at Beit T’Shuvah must at some time ask themselves: What are the lies I tell myself? What are the things I’ve done because I thought, “nobody will notice” or “this isn’t important?”  I realize that these are tough questions but what better time than now to ask them?

Happy New Year Everybody.

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What the **** is Kugel?


By Josh Silver

Kugel has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Usually reserved for those special Jewish holidays with the family, my mom does it all: noodle kugel, potato kugel, carrot kugel.  So last week after Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner with my family, I happily returned home with an extra large portion of left over noodle kugel (my favorite.)  As I was showing this noodily delight to a friend of mine he asked me, “What is kugel anyway?”

Noodle Kugel

Photo by smittenkitchen.com

I was completely stumped.  My mouth opened automatically as if my brain thought it knew what to say but then nothing came out.  How do you define something that takes so many different forms?  I tried describing the kugel before me as “sort of a sweet casserole that’s not really a casserole but is made with noodles and cream” but as soon as I said you could also make it out of potatoes, he was just as confused as I was.  That’s when I set out on a mission: to define kugel in all its forms.

I started where all Jews start when they have a question about food, by asking other Jews.  This may have been the wrong course of action because every person I asked had a different answer.  Not only did everyone have their own, individual mental picture of what kugel is based on the recipe their parents made, but all the conversations eventually devolved into people describing how their families’ kugel was better than everybody elses (the same thing happens when you bring up brisket so I don’t recommend it).

That’s when I turned to my trusty friend, the Internet:

Kugel (קוגל kugl,) is a baked Ashkenazi Jewish pudding or casserole, similar to a pie, most commonly made from egg noodles or potatoes, that at times made of zucchini, apples, spinach, broccoli, cranberry, or sweet potato.  It is usually served as a side dish on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

So there’s the easy definition, but what’s the real definition to you?  Doesn’t kugel mean something different for everyone?  It’s not just a food, but a word for the way that food makes you feel.  Let us know some of your kugel stories in the comments below.

I also found this great recipe online because let’s face it, I can’t just hand over my mother’s recipe to the world wide web.

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40 Years With No Directions


Moses GPS

We are happy to announce that the Beit T’Shuvah blog will now feature a weekly cartoon.  The above image is the first of it’s kind, and these cartoons will cover many of the same topics that Beit T’Shuvah has been known for talking about (i.e. recovery, Judaism, spirituality, relationships, etc…).  Cartoons have long been one of the most expressive outlets for communicating an idea in an entertaining way, and we want this blog to be not only informative and spiritual, but fun to read.  All cartoons are hand-drawn by the new President of BTS Communications, Lon Levin, and will be written by BTS Comms dynamic Copy Department.

Hope you all enjoy and stay tuned for the next one!

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God’s Gardeners


by Rabbi Mark

 

With less than a week to Rosh HaShanah and having to write sermons, this is my last Getting Clean for Elul blog. I want to end on a high note!

We all live in God’s Garden. We are all God’s and the world’s gardeners. I am hoping that we have found our corner of the world to garden, or at least our unique gardening tools. It is time for us to look at our garden and see how we can use the shit from last year to fertilize the garden for this year! This is the beauty of T’Shuvah! This is what our Torah Portion says this week: CHOOSE LIFE!!!Image

We choose life when we tend to our garden and help others tend theirs. We choose life when we ask for and accept the help of others. We choose life when we celebrate our moving forward and our failing forward.

 

List the ways you will tend your part of the garden.

List the ways you will choose life more, this year.

 

L’Shana Tova Tikoteyvu uMetuka

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When I Was 13: A Memory of 9/11


By Josh Silver

For most people that were alive on this day 11 years ago, there will be few things in their life that are as memorable as where they were and what they were doing when those planes hit the towers.  Every generation has some event that shocks the world around us and virtually changes the way we live.  For some it was the assassination of JFK, for others the destruction of the Berlin Wall—for me it was a school day unlike any I had ever had in my young life.

Twin TowersThe first thing I noticed was the radio.  Our teacher wasn’t in the habit of using electronics to assist our education so I knew something was going up I just couldn’t fathom what it was.  It was a chilly morning but as I walked up to my first period class the mist had already started to break up and you could see sunlight poking through a faint eastern cloud.  As I neared the classroom door, the chatter became increasingly understandable until I heard one final line, “Oh my god, another plane has just hit the second tower.”   How could my young mind know in that moment that I would remember those words for years to come?

The USA had been attacked but who did it and why? By the end of first period rumors were already spreading throughout the school.  Every teacher seemed to have some little anecdote to keep us at ease.  Some people barely took notice of it.  Others simply wanted to know what the World Trade Center was and why the bad guys had decided to attack those buildings.  I learned a lot in that day.  I learned how fast a culture of fear can spread not just through a population of 8th graders but through an entire country.  I’m ashamed to say it, but by the end of that day I was sick of the story.  All I wanted was for the world to move on.  Yet isn’t it just like the world to do the exact opposite of what you ask for?

Remember this was a time when most of America had never heard of Osama Bin Laden, a time when I couldn’t find Iraq on a map to save my life, and a time when I didn’t really care about words like “terrorism” and “WMD.”  Back then you could bring as many water bottles as you wanted onto a plane and people didn’t cry when they heard the national anthem.  I’d never met anybody who’d died in an airplane and definitely didn’t know anyone who had died in military service.  It’s easy to see in one small moment of reflection how drastically the world can change in 11 years.

Now, on the 11th anniversary of that horrific morning, there is nothing I’d rather write about.  In fact there is one word that comes to mind when I think about this anniversary—hallelujah.  Admittedly it’s always been my favorite word from the Torah, maybe because I think it has more than just one meaning.  Even a child can understand that this is a solemn day, a day meant for remembrance of loved ones lost and of a war that we are still fighting.  But the value that constantly goes understated is that the USA remembers this day together and that should be celebrated.  It’s the sort of occasion that every American feels in their own, deeply personal way, yet in a time when our country is facing so many schisms and agendas, I say hallelujah that we still have this day to unify us all as Americans and as patriots.  Because today I get to remember my friend who died in Iraq (out of respect let’s just call him Scott), and I get to remember not just the catastrophic pain the nation felt when the towers fell but also the joy that we all shared a year ago when Osama Bin Laden was finally brought to justice.

So today, as the nation remembers our fallen civilians and soldiers take a moment to pause and think about how every other American is sharing this same moment of somberness.  You’ll probably hear speeches being made and see flags being waved and as you think back to where you were on this day 11 years ago maybe you can say your own tiny hallelujah, that for one sacred day our nation doesn’t squabble within its own borders and that at least today, on September 11th, we can all stand together as one United States of America.

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I Was Happy Until I Got to Rehab


By Chris Alvarez

Helen Keller once said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” I thought I was the happiest person on earth lounging on the couch, alone, and drunk, delighted yet miserable. I had given up on work, life and finding a way to better myself.

This was my reality.  I was living in Manhattan trying to work except I was exceptionally drunk and miserable most of the time.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I thought I wanted to work on Wall Street but couldn’t figure out how to get the right job, I thought I wanted to work in advertising but couldn’t figure out how to get into the industry. I wanted to make money because I thought that accumulating wealth alone would make me happy.

After constantly changing my mind on what I wanted to do I eventually became a little irrational and began to seek adventure instead of money. I nearly joined the Navy in my search for something to make me happy.  (I thought that being a spoiled drunk would make me happy but no one would cosign my insanity and support me financially.)

Apparently I had no idea how to achieve true happiness.  I didn’t know myself and without knowing myself I couldn’t know happiness.  One Friday morning in March 2010 I had a moment of clarity and realized how miserable I was.  For a split second I knew that I would never know true happiness unless I knew myself. Forty-eight hours later I was living at Beit T’Shuvah.Happiness

Nearly eighteen months have passed and I have learned to do something I love, and in turn happiness has found me.  Of course I still would like to make a lot of money but not for my old selfish reasons.  Now my motives are more selfless; to be able to bring the message I have received to others that need it.  By making others happy I better myself and attain a level happiness that I never knew existed. I was happy until I got to rehab. No! I didn’t know happiness until I got to rehab.

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Bitterness to Hope – Elul #9


The antonym to despair is hope, the path to get there is through bitterness. This bitterness is not poison of “poor me,” “where’s mine,” etc. It is the bitterness of tasting the despair and saying “I am not coming here anymore!” To get to this bitterness, we have to go deep into our true selves, into our souls. When we reach the depths of our souls and the depths of our true beingness, we can cry out to God and hear our own cry. Reaching in to our essential pain, our core wound, allows us to tear the foreskin of our hearts and circumcise the barrier to hope and joy. This circumcision opens up the floodgates of pain, releasing the lies we have told ourselves and the lies others have told us and adopt a new way of seeing the world and our place in it.

 

This is the process of creation. We are, in effect, creating ourselves anew. We are going through the darkness of despair to reach the light of hope and joy. This is not easy. It is not devoid of pain. It is a pain that is essential. It is a pain that, in contrast to despair, lasts only a bit.

 

Tasting the bitterness of our enslavement to voluntary suffering and despair allows us to make the commitment to break the pathway to despair and voluntary suffering. It is hard and scary, yet essential to becoming our true selves. This is the action step to realizing and relating to the positive energy in the world and in ourselves. This exercise allows us to express remorse without shame. We use this step to realize that reparation is possible and necessary.

 

Today’s questions are:

1)    What is “bitter” about my life that I won’t repeat in this year?

2)    What are the positive gifts that I have and will bring to the world this year?

3)    What am I going to create and recreate that is good for the world and myself?

4)    What are the voluntary sufferings I am going to leave behind this year?

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