Author Archives: Jaron Zanerhaft

The Road Home


Home is a place where you were born to belong.  It’s where you grow, where you learn, where you find out who you are. Home is a springboard that launches you from a solid foundation into the air and home is also the cushion for when you don’t land on your feet. 

For Jews on every continent, home is a physical reality.  Most Jews live in the Diaspora, but no matter what, the Jewish people can always call Israel home.

For the residents of Beit T’Shuvah, home has been nothing more than a fictional construction, a fabrication of a normal life that has long been out of reach.  The actions of their past lives have caused them to forget that, as part of the Jewish People, they will always have a home.

“My grandfather lived in Palestine for 2 years after he escaped Germany in 1938,” says Josh, one of the participants slated for this trip.  Josh looks forward to this chance to reconnect with his heritage, and he sees Israel in part as a family home in addition to a homeland.

Before he occupied a bed at Beit T’Shuvah, Josh had spent time living in the bed of his 2001 Toyota Tacoma pick-up: a ragged (though still running) collection of sunburnt paint, a front bumper bent on both sides, only two out of four hubcaps, and a broken latch on the hardshell camper that gave him shelter. This summer, Josh will be able to call a much larger collectionof images home: the shimmering Kineret near the Golan Heights, the lights of city night life in Tel-Aviv, loud vendors selling perfectly crispy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside green falafel, the hot sun in the Negev, the smooth yet grainy mud at the Dead Sea, and the slick Jerusalem stone worn down by millennia of Jewish feet.

An Israeli Falafel Stand

Israel became the Jewish home at the end of the biblical journey of Hebrew slaves who had escaped Egypt.  Beit T’Shuvah culture emphasizes the connection between this journey to Israel and an addict’s journey to sobriety.  In the musical Freedom Song, the comparison is made directly, but through groups, individual therapy, programs, and torah study, Beit T’Shuvah instills in its residents the perspective that they themselves have escaped slavery, that when they were in their addiction, no place could feel like their own home.  Now sober, these 12 Beit T’Shuvah residents are finally able to feel at home.

The only thing in the way for each of them is their own $500 ticket to New York.  From there, Taglit-Birthright will take care of their homecoming.  You can make sure they get there by clicking here and donating to the cause.

Tel-Aviv by Night

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Consistent for 14 Generations


By Jaron Zanerhaft

On Saturday, April 21, 2012, I watched His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak at the Long Beach Arena.  The lines, perhaps 10,000 people strong, stretched into the parking lot for hours, with metal detectors and heightened security allowing people in at a trickle. Neo-hippies, college professors, Vegan protestors, and everyone in between were represented at this Long Beach happening. A friend and I arrived early but still ended up waiting in line long past his supposed 1:30 start time.  When we finally entered the atrium, we found ourselves in a veritable bazaar of Tibetan wares, Himalayan incense, and general Buddhist literature including His Holiness’s published writings.Dalai lama, long beach, arena, aquarium, peace talks

Just as we took our seats, the Dalai Lama shuffled on stage with a wide smile, took off his shoes, folded his legs beneath him on his too-large arm chair, donned a sun visor, and dove right into a childhood anecdote about riding on his mother’s shoulders and yanking her ears to steer her in the direction he wanted her to walk in.

In his notoriously goofy style, the 14th Dalai Lama delivered a string of seemingly unrelated ideas including the family origins of Anxiety, the possibility of religious unity, secular ethics, compassion and simplicity, true richness and equality, masks, and even objectification of our fellow human beings.  Many of these ideas are not new in the world, but to hear them all put together in one speech, delivered in less than two hours—that is something novel.

I have heard ideals of peace and truth preached from religious leaders, friends, and musicians, but I find it difficult to hold everything together long enough to move forward with a coherent and consistent set of actions.  I empathize with friends during their tough times, but I find it hard to imagine that actual people occupy the other cars during rush hour.  I bowing, dalai lama, 14, compassion, humilitystudy hard when I see a clear path to knowledge, but I run away when I encounter confusion.  I am a characteristically tenacious and loyal friend, yet I still struggle to keep in touch with those who matter most to me if distance divides us.

I believe that it is time to heed His Holiness’s unspoken, implicit message of consistency.  There’s too much good in this world to let any event pass without imbuing some form of that goodness into it.  At least for a moment, my eyes are open, and I am grateful that I can see.

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LA Marathon – The Finish Line: Part 4/4


By Jaron Zanerhaft

“Last year, I flashed this badge and they let me through the police line.  I parked just two blocks away,” John Sullivan says with a sly grin.   As we slow down to take our exit ramp, John and I practice showing our press passes to imaginary parking guards, pulling the lanyards with cocky conviction and cool self-validation.

It didn’t work.  The police line this year had been pushed back two blocks, leaving the VIP street parking from last year open to the public.  We had to wait for someone to leave, just to get a spot in a parking garage.

Turning a corner out of the garage, the sharp wind turned on like a switch, immediately asking more of us in each step.

We arrived at the gate where media could enter the finish line area, and, flashing our badges just like we had practiced, the guards parted the metal barricades and let us walk through the line.  As soon as we breached the gate, we were bombarded with runners, family supporters, volunteers, and gust after gust of windswept foil anti-hypothermia blankets.

Once we were within the vicinity, the four of us—John, Erin, Lauren, and I—made our way to the actual finish line.  More security demanded our press identification as we climbed up less-than-sturdy metal stairs to a perch looming over the runners as they took their final strides.

So many runners threw their arms up as they crossed the threshold from the battalion of runners into the civilian support mob.  Some raised their hands above their head with open palms, as if surrendering at last to their exhaustion.  But others raised clenched fists, as if to claim victory over the road that had over the last 6 or 7 hours tried to defeat them.

I never imagined my overtime work would have me gazing from a platform above a set of digital clocks presenting finishing times— literally, working over time.

The slick canvas banner doubled over itself by the wind over its single steel-bar skeleton, its incessant whipbang against the frame supporting clocks beneath.  As another banner spread over the platform’s front started to pick up more and more wind, two men in matching solid-colored polo shirts rushed up the metal stairs to the platform so they could take down the would-be sail.

Finally, when Gini, John’s wife, crossed the finish line, we started to pack up our gear and head out.  Somehow, I made it home, collapsed on my bed, and slept until nightfall. I felt like I had run the marathon myself.  Next year, maybe I actually will.

 

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LA Marathon – The Block Party: Part 3/4


By Jaron Zanerhaft

Driving from the transition zone to the block party presented the greatest challenge yet.  With a good portion of major streets closed, we had a couple of options: backtrack to the highway or brave the backstreets.  So we went off to navigate the Hollywood hills, and we were almost successful. Ultimately, the 101 called our name.  Tired and tense, we pulled up next to a curb on Selby, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard at Mile 19 of 26.2.  It was the perfect location to give our runners the extra jolt and motivation they needed to keep on running.

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By the time my crew and I arrived, the party was in full swing.  The sun was just dipping into the afternoon, clusters of friends spread along the entire block, and up on stage Cantor Rachel rocked out with a killer band.

I hadn’t eaten since before Dodger Stadium and found myself immensely grateful for the wonderful spread of bagels, baked goods, and other Jewish food.  I allowed myself to do some extra reporting at these tables.  Walking back towards the stage, I saw Luke walking around with a microphone, announcing runners who were coming our way.

I was most impressed by how the welcoming arms of the Beit T’Shuvah block party brought encouragement to runners of all sorts. More and more student runners passed, along with wheelchair racers, Kenyans, and even an older gentleman in a Spiderman costume.  Anytime a blue shirt came into view, the crowd excitedly leaned forward to recognize one of their own.  Embraces and showers of praise fell on the Beit T’Shuvah team while inaudible murmurs of “Residents: Get out of the street!” came over the PA.

Worth mentioning, the port-a-potties were the classiest I’ve seen, with carpeting and modernized mechanisms.   I also must say, I enjoyed the unique DJ stylings of Joseph Trop-Zell.  I found the other members of my office, the ones who weren’t in the middle of an assignment but just out to support the team.  I shared my story so far with them and felt the burden of the exhausting morning lift off of my back.   I was ready for one more stop.

A couple of hours later, I found myself in the passenger seat of John Sullivan’s car heading for the finish line.

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LA Marathon – The Transition Zone: Part 2/4


By Jaron Zanerhaft

Back in the car, I wrap myself up in a blanket that one of our runners tossed my way before she lined up with the team.  I go over my notes in the back seat as we merge onto the highway, wrap around the city, and end up on the wrong side of the street at our next stop.  Lauren, Erin, and I cross the street, dodging people as if we were playing Frogger with the marathon runners, and land safely at the transition zone—the respite 13.1 miles down the course designated for two-person teams to switch runners.  For them, this is the starting lines and finish lines, but for most runners, this is only the halfway point.

It’s hard to believe that the sparse flow of runners right now came from the focused torrent I just left.  But a crowd still gathers, greeting and sending off runners who are taking advantage of this year’s half-marathon partnership. A single open lane is partitioned off from the main drag by lightweight metal bike-rack barricades.   People wander in and out of this lane, gathering a little every now and then, but break apart when a runner comes, just like kids playing street hockey would make way for oncoming cars.

At first, we don’t see anyone we recognize, and my media team sets up near a tent where some guy with a microphone is shouting out runners’ first names as they pass, creating an eerie sense of familiarity.  Of course, the announcer only knows the runners’ names from what he can read on their bibs, but it makes it seem like today, Los Angeles, normally broken into countless cultural and lifestyle distinctions, is united.

Craig, the first of our team to reach the transition zone, swooshes by at 9:09, one minute earlier than he had predicted. He grabs a bottle filled with some deep green nutrient concoction and jets off.

Our 2nd half runners eagerly await their counterparts’ arrivals.  One runner received word this morning that his counterpart did not show up to the hotel the night before.  Still committed to running his half, he waits with the rest of the BTS team.  I wait with him and watch him as he takes off, not early and alone like he could have, but only when another from our team gets the go-ahead, so that he may run with a friend.

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LA Marathon – The Starting Line: Part 1/4


By Jaron Zanerhaft

Last Sunday, I was tasked with covering the 2012 Honda LA Marathon for Beit T’Shuvah.  My day began with a fresh notebook three hours before dawn and didn’t end until our last runner crossed the finish line. The day was so full that I felt compelled to break my story into four parts, one for each stop along the way.  This is Part 1.

The Starting Linehttp://www.storiestoldbythecamera.com/wp-content/gallery/2012-honda-la-marathon/2012-honda-la-marathon-5.jpg

In the cover of a dark morning, thousands of people file in with 5 a.m. mechanized legs, as if on moving sidewalks made invisible by the black asphalt of the Dodger Stadium parking lot. The stagnant cold pricks my half-closed eyelids.  I tap the sharp tip of the pencil in my jacket pocket and make my way from the car with Lauren and Erin towards the gathering.

Tents speckle a large section of the parking lot closest to the stadium.  Only two days before, these tents hosted a myriad of vendors, presenters, solicitors, supporters, and fundraisers in a bustling expo.  Now, the tarps shelter bundles of runners.  The Beit T’Shuvah team leans against a tent across from a table handing out last minute bananas and bagels in the middle of the parking lot.  Some are quiet.  Some are stretching.  All look ready.

As the sun begins to rise, the runners take their places behind a starting line 23,000 people deep.  I take my place on the other side of the line, just around the first curve. I watch the wheelchairs take off, then the competitive women take their 7+minute head start, and finally, as the loud speaker bellows a count, the 2012 Honda LA Marathon begins.

In an instant, the thick crowd takes the first turn like a herd of predators starving for the next meal.  They share a hunger for the road.  Underfoot, powerbar wrappers, energy shot empties, and chapsticks that fell from overstocked utility belts get trampled by the stampede.

Flashes of uniforms speed by my perch— four yellow tank-tops, three forest green headbands with a white stripe, too many spandex-and-short-shorts outfits, and finally, a group of light blue t-shirts with white lettering and a dark blue runner silhouette.  Those who are running to save souls stick together in a tight pack, looking out for each other, making sure every single runner gets off to a strong start.  The race has just started, and I’m already proud of my community.

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Beit T’Shuvah’s Got Talent!!!


 

By Jaron Zanerhaft

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Get ready.  Beit T’Shuvah is hosting its annual Talent Show with Havdalah this weekend, December 10 at 7p.m.! The buzz is getting louder each day, and anticipation is flowing through the halls, as the acts rehearse for the big night.  This year’s show promises to provide a Saturday night you won’t forget.

Last year, many great acts graced the bima as Beit T’Shuvah’s sanctuary was transformed into a performing arts theatre.  Curtains, lights, sparkling decorations, and the soulful sonic mixes of our resident sound team from BTS Productions draped Beit T’Shuvah’s most talented with an atmosphere of class and stardom.  Who could forget Nancy’s stirring rendition of Blondie’s One way or another?  “When she sang, ‘I’m gonna getcha,’” remarked BTS counselor Kelly, “I believed her!”  Talon gave a surprisingly poignant and profound rap, backed by a remix of John Lennon’s Imagine, and Sam (a.k.a. “Coke”) performed a set of originals full of ancient wisdom.  If last year was a taste of what’s to come, don’t be shocked if a few record deals are drawn up this weekend.

 

While Beit T’shuvah’s Music Department was solidly represented last year, talent also arose from well-hidden sources.  Diana, who fronts a Fleetwood Mac cover band, shared her voice, and even some of the counselors joined in, such as Jen who sang beautifully. In between musical numbers, a variety of skits speckled with impersonators and cross dressers kept the crowd amused and engaged.  The two MCs of the evening, Michael and Aaron, had the audience roaring with laughter even before the first act went on.  Throughout the night, Michael showed nearly inappropriate affection for some of the female performers, and Aaron played his famed “I like Cheese” song.

This year, young Joshua will weave his way amongst the talent to MC us through the show.  Josh was only too happy to talk to the press.  “I’m suuuper excited!! It’s gonna be a great night!!!” he says, with arms flailing through the air.  “I’m gonna wear a bowtie!”  The glint in his eye says everything.  The Beit T’Shuvah 2011 Talent Show will be one for the books. Don’t miss it!  This Saturday.  December 10th. 7 p.m.  Be there.

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For Those Who Choose to Live


By Jaron Zanerhaft

November 18th marked the 33rd anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre when over 900 people committed suicide by drinking Flavor Aid laced with cyanide at the order of cult leader Jim Jones.  This mass suicide accounts for the greatest number of American civilian casualties pre-9/11.  Though devastating, the psychology of mass suicide does not speak to the type of suicide that claims the most tragic victims: teens.  How can we prevent young adults from taking their lives of their own accord?

October was difficult this year for Agoura Hills.   Within six days of each other, three Agoura High School students lost their lives, each a victim of suicide.  Candlelight vigils, Facebook pages, Twitter R.I.P. notes, memorial services, and much more have honored Dan Behar, Josh Feinberg, and Griffen Kramer, all of whom had difficulty coping with the foreboding of post-high school life.

Agoura High, their alma mater, held it’s first annual Friendship Week from October 3-7 this year.  The new initiative began as a response to an uptick in teen suicides from the surrounding area over the past few years.  Friendship Week was meant to show teens that they are not alone.  Strangely, the three Agoura Hills suicides took place roughly two weeks after Friendship Week had concluded. 

The concept behind Friendship Week is that loneliness is the main contributing factor in teen suicide.   One of the crew from the BTS Prevention program believes otherwise.  “I think that it has a lot to do with the pressure placed upon teens,“ he expresses with genuine concern.  “Families need to realize that teens need a chance to be teens and make their own mistakes.  When we allow them to grow up at a normal rate, it’s possible teen suicide will decline. “  As we continue to explore the reasons for these tragedies, we hold on to hope that nothing like Jonestown or Agoura Hills will ever happen again.

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Be Afraid


By Jaron Zanerhaft

With Halloween approaching fast, horror is on my mind.  The breath of fall draws the hair on the back of my neck slowly upward, waiting nervously for winter’s snarl and bite. It’s the perfect time of year to evaluate my own fears and take a flashlight to the darker corners of my soul. 

So, what am I afraid of?  Throughout my life, I’ve dealt with some pretty irrational yet amazing fears.  When I was really young, I used to be scared that something as large as a whale could exist and still be alive.  Around the time I started college, steeped in doubts and questions of self-definition, I developed a fear of people who sleep naked.  These days, I fear losing the semblance of an identity that I’ve already created for myself.

Recent research has shown that the same area of the brain that governs the extinction of conditioned responses associated with fear is also allocated to respond to triggers that lead to relapse in drug addiction.  This means that overcoming your fears makes it easier to stay sober. Even when the fear has nothing to do with drugs, working through it strengthens your ability to resist temptation.

Luckily for Halloween, this kind of research strongly supports exposure therapy.  Visiting the full-sized model of a Blue Whale at the Museum of Natural History in New York helped me work through my fear of large life.  For a few nights in college, I decided to sleep naked, and I quickly got over that fear.  I have found fear to be a good thing, something to walk into and something to help me grow.  You might be better for it.  It might even keep you sober.

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Chai Five!: A History*


By Jaron Zanerhaft

Since the dawn of time, our ancestors believed in powers beyond the limits of our senses.  When Prehistoric Man found himself on the brink of self-awareness, he forged within the fires of his very soul a single gesture that contained the power to unite all people and maintain peace in the world.  And when the gesture was complete, Man named it… Chai Five! It was a blessing of unfathomable strength, a potent force of untold skill.  However, the power of Chai Five! proved too strong for early Man to wield, and the gesture was lost for many ages.  Throughout time, Chai Five! has appeared briefly, testing our species to see if we were ready for its mighty and awesome gift.

The first known Chai Five! to go wrong

In Biblical Egypt, Moses invoked Chai Five! on his 9th try to free the Hebrew slaves.  Unfortunately it backfired and a plague of darkness ensued.  Chai Five! next surfaced in Ancient Rome circa 435 A.D. when Emperor Valentinian III attempted to congratulate one of his Gladiators with a gesture greater than “thumbs up.”  But Mankind was still not ready, and Chai Five! collapsed much of the Coliseum into rubble.  Most recently, the Chai Five! was called upon by a young John Lennon who, in 1960, heeded the world’s outcry for a band to champion in an era of love.  Though initially successful, Chai Five! broke in 1969, leaving in its wake more crappy cover bands than the world had ever known.

Ancient Rome circa 435 A.D.

But now the time has come for Chai Five! to clap again!  At long last, we have reached the apex of anticipation.  The air has never been more ripe, the universe never more fertile for a new age.  Chai Five! has completed its incubation so that it may bequeath its jubilance upon us.  And of all the worthy hands by which to gesticulate Chai Five! into being, it has chosen two— yours and ours.  Yes, we cannot Chai Five! alone, so, believing that the time of Chai Five! is here, we have exposed our open palm to you.  You have but only to slap it with yours to bring into being paradise beyond the farthest borders of imagination.  The choice is yours— Will you Chai Five!?

John Lennon's almost successful Chai Five! attempt--unfortunately, the world was not yet ready

* No actual Chai Five!s were documented to have influenced the historical events contained within this blog.  It is purely the speculation and

opinion of the author that these occurrences are too radically similar to not have shared in common Chai Five!. 

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