Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sacred Space: Our First Shabbos in the New Building


By Eliot Godwin

Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Our leader and CEO, Harriet Rossetto, didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her life. A small advertisement in the paper was the spark that ignited Beit T’Shuvah, our singular organization which has blossomed into a diverse and expansive community. Last Friday, the doors of our beautiful new sanctuary were opened for an incredibly moving service, the continued realization of a vision that has spanned four decades.

The building is bright and modern; its lofty, vaulted ceilings an ideal symbol of the freedom Beit T’Shuvah residents feel from the struggle of their addiction. Nearly 400 people attended and witnessed the Hachnasas Sefer Torah (moving of the Torah) before the service. Members of the board, along with several dedicated community members, performed the ceremony under the fresh lights and celebratory applause, and the night was off and running.

Rabbi Mark and Yeshaia opened the service, which was anything but usual. In an earnest sermon, Rabbi Yeshaia expressed the importance of how this is our synagogue; a holy place where we gather together to observe Shabbos and celebrate each other. Rabbi Mark echoed that sentiment in his delightful sermon, preceded by an extended gratitude in which he expressed how grateful he is to the board and everyone who helped create this new space. Atop that list was the lovely Joyce Brandman, who gave a heartfelt speech and thanked the community for inspiring her in so many ways. It was a generous gift from the Saul and Joyce Brandman Foundation that made this new building a reality.

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Several other board members contributed with gifts of their own to ensure the completion of the new campus. Dr. Bill Resnick and Annette Shapiro, who conveyed their excitement and gratitude, also acknowledged the entire board for their leadership and generosity. The event became transcendent, so many people giving so much gratitude; it was truly an awe-inspiring experience listening to generous, soulful people thanking the very people whom they’ve helped immeasurably.

Rabbis Matt and Shira also spoke from the bima, offering their take on why Beit T’Shuvah is truly a holy place unlike any other. New residents were welcomed in and families were recognized for their participation in a family weekend that serendipitously coincided with the grand opening. Sober birthday celebrants were overcome with emotion inspired by the occasion, their success made sweeter by the remarkable setting.

A Torah is considered pasul (void) if a single brushstroke is missing or out of place. This evening was a collection of individuals, unique brushstrokes who comprise something larger than themselves. Without each of them, the community is not whole. On this night, as we gathered outside for Kiddush (taking no risks with the new carpet!), holiness and wholeness was achieved. It was clearly a special night for an extraordinary community. As Harriet found years ago, what she wanted and what G-d wanted for her were one and the same. Someone just had to show it to her.

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JUDAISM AND THE ARTS BLOG: BEIT T’SHUVAH THEATRE ARTS DEPARTMENT


By: Matthew Greenwald

The formal unveiling of Beit T’Shuvah’s Theatre Arts Department has finally arrived. Spearheaded by artistic director James Fuchs, the program is a crucial extension of recovery through artistic expression, an innovative and dynamic component of our highly unique treatment model. Residents develop and take a production from the ground-up, becoming involved in all facets of theatre; writing, acting, staging, technical support, promoting the production, and ultimately, the performance. Along the way they not only develop unique skills, but also learn valuble lessons about themselves through self-expression and teamwork.

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 The theatre department, in concept, actually started ten years ago, when James went to Harriet’s office, and told her about a play he developed called Figaro’s Divorce. He wanted to use half professionals and half Beit T’Shuvah residents for the production, and Harriet loved the idea. “Over three months we found rehearsal space, held auditions, built sets,” recalls James, “Not only did we get a play done, but we took people who had no experience in theatre through a process. Normally you might achieve this after you had a program, this was really before…we were building the program in its infancy. Once we did the performances, and were successful, Rabbi Mark was hot on the trail of something Beit T’Shuvah could write, produce and perform.”

 Ironically, around this time renown Los Angeles Cantor and songwriter Craig Taubman called before Passover of that year and requested a performance of some kind, not necessarily a musical, but a short play. So, Cantor Rebekah Mirsky and James got together to write a couple of songs that might work. A month later, they brought in playwright/composer Stuart Robinson, and Freedom Song was born…and the rest is history. “Freedom Song can be overwhelming to some people,” comments Tricia Nykon, who has been brought aboard as a department intern to assist James, “but it can also be the thing that holds them to the community. My thing is to get people involved in the groups and programs, because they don’t know what moves them, or what they feel passionate about until they actually do them.”

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Aside from existing groups such as Theatre Junkies and the ongoing production of Freedom Song, the theatre department has partnered with the USC Applied Theatre Arts Program for Theatre of the Oppressed, which includes some of their students who are in the Masters’ Theatre program, doing groups at Beit T’Shuvah once a week. “We’re also starting to work with Cornerstone Theatre Company,” adds Tricia  “and we’re putting on a play with them called Bliss Point. We’re talking to other theatre companies about doing similar productions, in order for this department to grow. I’m very, very excited.”

 In terms of recovery, there is a natural consequence to involvement in theatre that is similar to music: you acquire the means to express yourself. “I think for myself in recovery,” observes James “my most cherished thing is self-expression. I wish that for myself and for others; that’s a part of life that people need for themselves. Some people get in careers where that ends; and for 40 years they live in a different ideology.”

 In a way, theatre is more accessible for people than music. Also, people don’t necessarily have to be actors; there’s always need for technical support: lighting, staging, sound, etc. The ultimate goal is to introduce people to theatre, and to the community aspect of theatre. “We’re also introducing method acting,” offers Tricia, “which is drawing upon your own experiences to feel for a character, and this is a central element in recovery. I think this is a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences.”

 It’s been James’ mission now for the past year and a half to make this happen. It’s been a slow build, but it’s gathering momentum. When people go through the production process, they find out something else about themselves. They learn about the tradition of theatre, but more importantly, teamwork interaction and self-expression. It’s a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences…and ultimately, recover in a group setting. “We all feel like outsiders so much of the time,” concludes Tricia, “and the relationships here in the Theatre Arts department forge an even greater sense of community.”

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Reaping What We Sow


By Eliot Godwin

Nestled in the charming confines of Beit T’Shuvah’s Comey Complex on a cool Saturday evening in February, BTS residents, staff and a few lucky guests broke bread and shared laughs during the first ever Farm-to-Table Harvest Dinner. Conducted by Organic Garden co-founders Davis Watson and Allison Hennessey, whose aim is healthy living and active recovery, the dinner was a rousing success from start to finish.garden

“We’re building a sense of community by connecting people to the land,” Watson said. “Part of why the food tasted so good is because everyone’s hands were on it. We invited the staff and others, and everyone got to know each other better.”  This egalitarian attitude defines the Beit T’Shuvah philosophy, and when residents recognize this, they can’t help but dive in and flourish.

“Community is not just a word here,” said Jonas Eisenberg, a resident. “For Rabbi and Harriet to share their personal time with us was really great— it was an amazing experience.”

It began early afternoon at Beit T’Shuvah where residents harvested a healthy crop of greens and vegetables from the Organic Garden. The yield was so great that only about half of it was used to feed the twenty-plus attendees.

“We got boxes and boxes of food, and the garden looks like we didn’t even touch it,” Watson said before everyone dug into the feast, which featured lamb and kosher chicken stews with dried figs and apricots on a bed of couscous, organic arugula and mesclun mix salad. Soda bread made by celebrity guest Fionnula Flanagan, and freshly baked spelt flatbread with ricotta cheese and assorted toppings, started off the dinner with flavor rich foods.

Watson’s sister Anna, a food writer from New York City, was the organizing force behind the dinner and head honcho in the kitchen. Beit T’Shuvah residents and distinguished guests alike assisted her with preparation of the meat for the stew, rinsed and cleaned the salad greens, chopped vegetables and herbs, and took her expert direction with smiles and laughter. Rabbi Mark Borovitz happily chipped in, kneading and rolling the flatbread dough with aplomb.

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Anna’s keen, positive attitude kept the machine churning throughout the evening. A travelling food writer, published in large concerns like the Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine magazine, Anna said she was “happy to be here! It’s great to be part of something so unique as this.”

Watson and Hennessey urgently deflect praise for the success of the garden to the community, but it’s their diligent effort and subtle flair for horticulture that has quickly turned a fledgling project into a prodigious enterprise, inspiring many residents to get involved and keep the garden growing.

 “This mirrors how we look at addiction,” said Rabbi Adam Siegel, a spiritual counselor who oversees the garden program. “People tend to live compartmentalized lives and create artificial barriers. At Beit T’Shuvah we are made of all the compartments, and [tonight] showed the level of respect that staff and residents have for each other. Whether it means being part of this program or another program, we are helping people see the holy soul within them.”

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