Monthly Archives: October 2013

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.


 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.


 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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Judaism and The Blues Part Two

Judaism and The Blues Part Two: An interview with Rabbi Mark Borovitz

By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager


“It’s a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country/ Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering’s the fulcrum of the blues…” – Michael Bloomfield


In part one of this series, we explored the intricacies of this quote with Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who commented on Blues as a general concept and as a human experience. In part two, the Rabbi digs deeper into the more Judaic and historical significance of this reference, which proves to be timely, as well as timeless.


Q: Specifically regarding that quote, I was thinking that black people too suffer externally, and as Jews we suffer internally, because Jews are part of the white, privileged majority – but obviously, because of the holocaust, Jews suffered externally as well. And with black people, their external struggle leads to an internal struggle…

A: Yeah, that’s interesting…the truth is that as long as I suffer internally, I don’t have to suffer externally; meaning ‘I don’t have to look at me…’ For me, my own internal struggle is my own wrestling. So, I think that’s part of the problem, and it’s a very good point. And the other myth—and trust me, it’s a myth—is that Jews don’t suffer on the outside. I mean, forget about the Holocaust, that’s just one piece, but Jews have been kept out of all types of places and schools, places of higher education, etc. because we’re Jews.

Q: Would you say that’s because it’s inflective that so many Jews were, in fact, very active in the Civil Rights movement?

A: What I’m talking about was going on well before the civil rights movement, but yes, I would say that we were active in the civil rights movement because we understood persecution, and we understood that everyone deserves and needs to be free, and that’s one of our guiding principals, so that would be the reason that we were at the forefront there.

But see, part of it is the little-known history, so I’m really speaking to Stephanie [23 years old] and her generation, who just—with all due respect—have it wrong. We’re not the big, bad wolves; we’re not the ones who didn’t take care of our brothers and sisters. We have. At times we’ve rejected them, and at times we’ve been rejected by them, which is also true. However, we’ve suffered. Nobody in the history of the world has suffered more persecution than the Jews, and I believe that’s because we don’t accept Christ as our personal savior. I mean you want to talk about insanity?

ImageOur suffering is inner and outer, because…Rabbi Heschel said it best: “Judaism believes that in a free society, some are guilty and all are responsible.” In the anti-war movement, Jews were in the forefront because, ‘How can I pray when thousands of innocent Vietnamese people are on my head, from Napalm and bombing and everything, and hundreds and thousands of people who were killed that were innocent…and as a Jew, I’m nuts by it!’ It’s what’s going on today in Syria; it’s what’s going on in the streets of the United States of America. It’s the politicians who want to repeal Obamacare! Why would you want to repeal healthcare to everyone?! And I don’t know if all this shit is right…but to get to the nitty-gritty of it, the premise that every citizen has what every fucking congressman’s got. They’re not taking it away from themselves, but they want to take it away from other people, and they’re willing to make the entire county suffer; they’re willing to play chicken with each other – both parties! They’re willing to play chicken with our lives, our reputations, and everything we built up. Yeah, that does aggravate me as a Jew, because we’re supposed to take care of the widow, the stranger and the poor person. Every person that’s locked in a prison, we cry for, and none of us can be free, until all of us are free.

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Judaism and The Blues

By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager

“It’s a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country, Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering’s the fulcrum of the blues…”

This quote is from the late blues legend, Michael Bloomfield, who was a musical expeditionary, and a pioneer in the electric blues rock that was such an important part of the zeitgeist that was going on in the 1960’s. Bloomfield’s slant on Judaism and The Blues was thought-provoking to us; so much so that we decided to sit down with Rabbi Mark Borovitz and pick his brain the subject. The Rabbi had his own unique insight on all of this, both as a member of the clergy as well as a fan of  blues  music (he had even seen Bloomfield perform in the mid-60’s) and as a keen sociological observer.



A: This quote by Bloomfield is an interesting thought to me…I’m not sure that Blues is just about suffering. I think that blues is just another expression of life. I would say that the blues is the Yetzer Hara, the negative inclination, coming out in a way that’s healthy and holy. So here again, we’re having what’s happening in life help us, rather than have it beat us down…we’re using it to raise ourselves up. Because, if you listen to the blues – really listen – it’s about people sayin’, ‘Man, it’s really fucked up, and I’m singin’ about it, because I know there’s a way out.’ And one of the ways out is just the music. But I think that it’s not suffering as much as its just pain.  And if you don’t have pain, you don’t have any gain. And that’s when real transformation happens. When everything’s fine, they don’t give a flying’ fuck, and they don’t take care of anything…

Q: Nobody’s calling when everything’s wonderful…

A: Right! This is really saying, ‘You know what? It’s all what it is…we gotta stop lying to ourselves. So the blues to me is a statement that the lies we’ve told ourselves just don’t work anymore, and the blues is the breakout of the truth.

Q: I think the fact that you used the word ‘truth’ in there hits home, because that’s what this music has always said to people…it draws this out from anyone who listens to it…and people hear it and intrinsically feel it as music that is truth.

Rabbi Mark ShadesA: Yes, and I would also add the word experience, because that what you have to have with this music, and all great music pushes us to have an experience, and I think that blues is great music, and pushes us to have an experience. We forget that; it’s not just about us havin’ a good time with it. It’s really about ‘what’s the experience? What’s the experience that the blues is the answer for?’ To me, it’s the experience of living life fully, knowing that there’s pain, and that pain is ultimately good, because it’s going to save my ass, and without it, when everything’s good it’s all good, and when everything’s bad, it’s terrible and I want to kill myself. It’s all bullshit; all the things I’ve told myself that are lies. So, the blues says, ‘Stop lying to yourself, man…and stop lying to everyone else. There it is: I see myself, and I see the pain, and now I’m going to get rid of it, and I can move forward, into the light, into the solution, and the rest of the story, because you see, the negativity of the blues is only half the story – or 49% of the story. You’ve got to be able to see the whole story, because that’s the way you’re going to learn how to live. That’s what Torah is, and that’s why blues is such Jewish music. If you notice how here at Beit T’Shuvah how many prayers we can put into that genre, and they just fit. That’s because the prayer is a pleading of what’s wrong. So the pleading is just saying, ‘God, let me know what’s wrong…I’m in the shit.’ As soon as I say it, God or the spirit of the universe, and my community and my guides and the people around me bring me back to the light, so that I can see the rest of the solution and tell the story; that’s what I believe.

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