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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BEIT T’SHUVAH TOP TEN EVENTS OF 2013


By Matthew Greenwald

2013 was one of the most eventful years in Beit T’Shuvah history, marked by tremendous growth, unity, and the strengthening of our overall mission. While the construction of our new temple and the Elaine Breslow Institute dominated the year, we also achieved several other milestones. Here’s a list of the top 10 moments of 2013:

Construction– The construction of our new building next door commenced. In conjunction with this, our main building was radically renovated. The bridge connecting the east and west ends of our facility was torn down in concurrence with the overall makeover and the new Synagogue next door. The bridge had a long and colorful history at Beit T’Shuvah, to say the least. Shirley’s Patio, long known as a place for residents to congregate, was completely gutted and renovated. Although there is no longer smoking in the area, it is still a place where people meet. The patio will also become home to the brick dedication project. The backyard/women’s patio area is in process of being completely transformed, and it will link up to the new grounds next door.construction

The Retreat – In the spring, our entire facility was tented for pests, and all residents and staff were sent to a week-long retreat at the Brandeis Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. From all accounts, it was basically Beit T’Shuvah summer camp.

Harriet’s Book – “Sacred Housekeeping” was released to excellent reviews and healthy sales. This book contains Harriet’s own memoirs including the story of how she created Beit T’Shuvah and met Rabbi Mark. The reviews consistently read: Fascinating, engrossing, inspiringsacredhoouso

Rabbi/Father Boyle – In September, Rabbi Mark and Father Boyle of Homeboy Industries held a historic, joint ‘Dinner and Learning’ event at Beit T’Shuvah to an overflowing attendance.fatherg

White House – Harriet and Rabbi Mark were invited to attend the White House’s Annual Hanukkah Party.whitehouse

Birthright – A group of 30 Beit T’Shuvah residents embarked on a Birthright trip to Israel this past August. This was the first trip to be staffed, organized, and attended completely by members of the Beit T’Shuvah community.

The Institute – The Elaine Breslow Institute, will begin taking Beit T’Shuvah in a whole direction. With the formation of this program, Beit T’Shuvah will begin training medical professionals, therapists, and family members in the symptoms and treatment methods of addiction.

Dr. O’Connor – Dr. Garret O’Connor came aboard, marking the first medical professional to join us as a full-time employee. Dr. O’Connor is both Director of the Elaine Breslow Institute as well as Medical Advisor of Beit T’Shuvah.garret

The Organic Garden/Program – Beit T’Shuvah launched a new Organic Learning Garden project, spearheaded by two new interns, Alison Hennessey and Davis Watson. The project has done several great things: According to Rabbi Mark Borovitz, “This project takes us back to our roots of agrarian society. It gives us the opportunity to be part of our healthy eating and be a working part of creation.” In addition to this, the project has encompassed the community at large around our facility, dramatically improving our relationship with the neighborhood.gardening

Harriet’s Cohon Award – Late in 2013, Harriet Rossetto was awarded the Rabbi Samuel S. and A. Irma Cohon Memorial Foundation award for outstanding accomplishments that benefit Klal Yisroel: the entire Jewish people. We are having a ceremony/dinner celebration at Beit T’Shuvah on January 19th.

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Support the Giving Trend


givingtuesdayFBcoverBy Stephanie Lager

We’re all sick of the overproduced “selfie” posts crowding our Facebook and Instagram feeds, most of which perpetuate an often distasteful, self-absorbed persona. Giving Tuesday is asking us to combat this very phenomenon and dive into the spirit of selfless giving propagated by the Holidays. Directly following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the second annual Giving Tuesday will take place December 3rd, 2013. It is a country-wide initiative aimed at mobilizing donations to non-profits and charitable organizations. This year, Beit T’Shuvah is joining the movement and we need support to get funds to the people that need it most.

Instead of shopping till you drop, this movement is asking all of us to step outside of ourselves, and our immediate surroundings. We can all gush about how thankful we are to have the beautiful things that comprise our life, but what makes us filled with gratitude is the very fact that we know there are people less fortunate. Giving Tuesday is dedicated to reminding us that it is our duty— and it just so happens to be the greatest gift we can give ourselves— to help those that are struggling. It is up to all of us to actively take a stand and leave our world better than we found it.

Join Giving Tuesday and support the gift of life with a donation to Beit T’Shuvah: an organization actively dedicated to changing lives and saving souls.

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Judaism and The Blues – Part Three


In part one and two of our Judaism and The Blues series, Rabbi Mark Borovitz weighed in his thoughts  the relation between the two as emotions and concepts. In part three below, Beit T’Shuvah musical director James Fuchs discusses and illustrates the musical similarities between the two, as well as pointing out the parallels of their origins.

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Digital Drugs: Cyberhigh


By Stephanie Lager and Matthew Greenwald

There is a current trend permeating today’s youth culture. It is alarming to some, and ridiculous to others. It’s not quite a drug epidemic, but it might be the next addictive, mind altering component on the minds of curious teenagers. But you can’t get it from a drug dealer; it’s digital. In a nutshell, digital drugs are 10-30 minute tracks of sound, music and white noise, which claim to be designed to induce states of altered consciousness, mirroring those of drugs such as Psychedelics, Ambien, Marijuana and others. For a fee (usually $10-20, but “the first one’s free”) tracks are available on sites such as I-doser. Unsurprisingly, the whole “first one’s free” marketing ploy effectively mirrors how kids experiment with drugs in the first place, with the unable to turn down offer of “just try it—it’s free!”

shutterstock_118236262 We decided to give these “digital drugs” a try and see what all the buzz, or lack there of, is about. We didn’t listen to a complete track, and this type of “high” may only be effective if listened to in its entirety, but all in all, we didn’t quite get it.

In some circles, however, it’s being taken as a potentially serious problem. “Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places,” Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward said according to Wired on-line. Oklahoma’s Mustang Public School district isn’t taking the threat lightly; they sent out a letter to parents warning them of the new craze. The educators have gone so far as to ban iPods at school, in hopes of preventing honor students from becoming cyber-drug fiends.

Whether digital drugs is a mere consequence of the placebo effect, or actually capable of concrete changes in the human body, is hard to prove or disprove. What is possible though is the extensive power of the mind in conjunction with the often-underestimated power that music can produce, at producing altered mental states.

Most people can attest to the insane power of music—feeling transported, riding on a roller-coaster of emotions, or inspiring a piece of art. But can music also produce harmful consequences? Is it akin to a drug, and if used dangerously, might it lead to disastrous results? Clearly, that is an overreaching claim, but it’s important to remember that these digital drugs might not fit into the traditional “music” categorization. Digital drugs are more of a compilation of sounds, with no harmony, rhythm, musical instruments, or vocals. What digital drugs seem most effective at doing is capturing a part of the sensation one might feel on drugs. For example, the LSD soundtrack featured a ringing in your ear sensation, which parallels one of the sensations one might experience on psychedelics.

In our opinion, you don’t have to fear any real results. Yet, there is something to be said about our digital obsessed social world. If you over use anything, it can morph into an addiction and take over your entire life, effectively making it just as destructive as a real substance addiction. So, proceed with caution. See for yourself. Do you think digital drugs will rise as the new substance addiction plaguing our youth?

 

 

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Judaism and The Arts: Freedom Song Update


 By Stephanie Lager

In writing our Judaism and the Arts blog we didn’t need to look far to find the perfect topic for our next post. Beit T’Shuvah’s very own creation, Freedom Song, has been exploring performance art as a way to engage audiences with the relatable feelings of addiction, family dysfunction, and personal slavery in a side-by-side musical presentation of an A.A. meeting and a Passover Seder. The three-act play’s cast is made up of Beit T’Shuvah residents, alumni, and staff members, which culminates in a Q & A session that ties the whole performance together.

freedomsongJessica Fischel, the show’s coordinator and an associate of Beit T’Shuvah’s Prevention department, weighs in on why she is so passionate about promoting Freedom Song. Even though Freedom Song performs for audiences as young as 7th graders Jessica says, “I’ve never spoken to a kid that didn’t relate to someone in the play. Everyone can see a bit of themselves and their family on that stage, regardless of being an addict or not.”

Jessica gets the most pleasure from witnessing firsthand the impact Freedom Song has on everyone that sees it, from people coming up to her after a show, seeing audience members’ eyes well up with tears, and receiving letters that attempt to put into words the profound impact it had on their life as they realize that they aren’t alone.

With a constantly changing cast, Laura Bagish, the show’s director, announces current updates and reflects on what we can expect from this profoundly moving performance.

With almost all new cast members, Freedom Song is preparing for their first new show on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation, which is open to the public.

In response to the new cast, “It’s a process for me, starting over with a new cast each time. For me, to have new people that are enthusiastic, makes me enthusiastic, and helps me keep it fresh,” Laura says.

On being the director, “It’s taught me patience; I hadn’t a lot of acting experience before, and being the director for the last few years has taught me a lot of how to bring the best out of people, and how to be brave and overcome your fears.”

We also had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the newest cast members, Shayna Aken, and picked her brain as to why she decided to join the cast.

Eager to express her enthusiasm, Shayna explains, “I joined Freedom Song because I really want to stay sober, and do it by being connected to the community. I used to act in plays and theater when I was younger, and I also wanted to get back to that part of myself—the real me—while I’m at Beit T’Shuvah. It was like I forgot my passion, and what I really like to do, and how I define myself.

On how it helps her: “The play helps me in my recovery by being accountable, and having a commitment. The other people in the play count on me to be there, and that’s really important in terms of my recovery. In a way, it’s like having a smaller community within the Beit T’Shuvah community that I can have a connection and camaraderie with—we’re doing something in the real world together, a true team effort.”

On the character she plays: “It’s funny that I actually play a character that I have the same name as, and it’s a woman who’s really been through it: she’s had abusive relationships, and she’s working in recovery. She doesn’t have a lot of sober time, but she’s already helping the newcomer, and she stands up for herself. And I like that very, very much.  It certainly mirrors my life; I can relate to it a lot.”

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming performance from this new group of cast members on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation. If you haven’t seen Freedom Song yet, you’re not just missing out on a part of our community, but a performance that will make you reflect on what you may be living as a slave to.

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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.

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 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.

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 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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