Tag Archives: Harriet Rossetto

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.


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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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Gratitude, Judaism, Mark Borovitz, Music, Sobriety, Spirituality, T'Shuvah, Temple, Torah

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.


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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The Fair is in Pomona

Ms. Harriet Rossetto, the CEO and Founder of Beit T’Shuvah, has announced that she will be releasing her much-anticipated book, Sacred Housekeeping A Spiritual Memoir in early 2013.

Below you will find an excerpt from the chapter The Fair is in Pomona in which Harriet directly addresses the residents of Beit T’Shuvah.

“My qualification to be your life teacher is I have been where you are. I’ve seen it all. I know your torment, your war against yourself. I have battle-­‐hardened experience and I still struggle every day. And I have learned how to live an integrated life. You will too.

Light and DarkYou are sure that whatever you’re addicted to is the only thing that will relieve the misery of your emptiness, the hole that aches. Without (fill in your own blanks) drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, money, power and prestige… there is no reason to get up in the morning.

You will see eventually that the agenda is to hand you back your life and teach you how to be You, the authentic you, to stop comparing yourself to others and judging your worth comparatively and conditionally. I can help you find the ammunition to tame your self-­‐defeating demons, your ‘What’s the point?’ ‘Why bother?’ ‘Fuck it!’ voice that “crouches at your door.”

I don’t give a shit about your tattoos, piercings, hairstyles, costumes or kashrut. They are only props you used when your spirit was subdued. You don’t yet understand that rebellion is not freedom: you have merely conformed to different masters.
We will bombard you with alternative highs and rushes-­‐-­‐ surfing, singing, drama, art, writing, cooking, joining the choir or band. You might run the marathon or play golf or do yoga. We will teach you how to have fun in sobriety – dancing, sports, concerts. We will allow you to have relationships and will be there every step of the way, so you can learn how to draw on the power of love to better regulate your own reactions and emotions. You will learn patience, acceptance and tolerance in relationship with one another.

Connection to this community will become a stronger connection than connection to your dope dealer. And ultimately we help you frame your life by connection to a Higher and Eternal truth that governs your choices and provides a road map for the journey. And then back to the things and people who are important to you.”

-Harriet Rossetto
Sacred Housekeeping, A Spiritual Memoir


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My Rabbi: The Ex-Convict

By Ben Spielberg

I hate my rabbi. He makes me clean my room. He yells at me when I’m being disrespectful, and he always calls me out when I’m lying! I hate that my Rabbi makes me a better person—I mean, after all, who does he think he is? Some sort of religious authority?

The first time I had ever heard of Rabbi Mark Borovitz was a couple years ago when I read his autobiography, The Holy Thief. It was a quick read, a good story, and well written. After coming to Beit T’Shuvah for about four months for therapy once a week, I eventually set up a meeting with him. I complimented his book; we chatted a little bit, and set up another meeting for the next week. I don’t think I had ever even talked to a Rabbi before.

The next meeting didn’t go over so well. I was loaded, and he knew that I was loaded. Without so much as completing a sentence, he called me out on my manipulation. He knew I was lying to everybody around me and he knew I was in trouble. “You have a week to tell your family that you’re getting loaded, or I will.” Needless to say, I was furious. This guy I don’t even know was trying to ruin my life!

My Rabbi is a man who cares. My Rabbi has been through it all—he’s been to prison, he’s been confused, frustrated, angry, sad, and lonely just like me. And that’s why he cares so much about everyone here. He has been through exactly what all the residents are going through, and after making T’Shuvah, he has figured out that the greatest thing he could possibly do would be to help out others in positions he was in, and bring them to making their own T’Shuvah. I hate my Rabbi for making me clean my room, but I love him for it, too.

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Ohh, That Gala!

By Ben Spielberg

Six months ago, if I’d have pictured myself half a year later, the last image to come to my mind would be myself, wearing a full tuxedo inside of the Beverly Hilton, thanking strangers and board members for undoubtedly saving both my life and the lives of others.

And yet, that is exactly how things ended up happening. Beit T’Shuvah’s annual gala helps pay for a lot of our program here. Not only does it pay for about 50 beds, but also programs like surf therapy, art therapy, and Freedom Song. Over 900 people attended, and they were all supporting this one cause.

I have never seen anything like it before. I really felt a part of what was going on—this huge mass of people congregated in the same place feeling passionate about the same thing. We want to be free of this longstanding epidemic of addiction. One bed, one soul, and one example of recovery one person at a time, we are making the world a little bit brighter each day. We want to be free from this slavery.

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Gala? What Gala?!

By Ben Spielberg

Beit T’Shuvah’s annual Gala is quite possibly one of the most exciting events of the year! But with all of the surf therapy, alumni Torah studies, acting groups, marathons, and musicals, how could this be, you ask? Well, as some of you may know, Beit T’Shuvah is a non-profit treatment center/synagogue, where nobody has ever been denied a bed due to lack of funds! Because of this, Beit T’Shuvah is constantly seeking donation opportunities in order to keep the place running , and to continue to be able to accept people regardless of their financial situation. In the past, the Gala has a pattern of raising enough money for 50 people to stay per year, and out of 120 residents, that means almost 50%. Are you excited yet?! If you’re not so sure, check out this video that one of the interns of BTS Communications has created.

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Santa Monica Suicide and Societal Pressures of Perfection

We are all so “driven to distraction” and comfortable in denial that it takes a catastrophe to focus our attention on self-examination and problem solving.

Last week we were forced to confront our collective insanity acted out by a lone madman.  Who should we blame?  Was the madman’s paranoia a reflection of us or simply a brain disease, a thinking disorder that developed in a vacuum?  Was he on the left or the right?  Were his parents to blame or not?

The discussions were dizzying, all of them avoiding the truth of our collective responsibility.

We project onto our leaders our inner conflicts, our childish craving for a black-and-white, all-or-nothing reality, which would relieve us of the burden of our opposing inclinations.  We demand good guys and bad guys.  The bad guys represent all the things we don’t like about ourselves; the good guys re-enforce our image of perfection and blamelessness.  The stronger the split within the more we polarize and blame “the other.”  As Rabbi Heschel noted: “Some are guilty; all are responsible.”

Another casualty of our Addiction to Perfection was a 14-year old boy who bolted from a ball game, ran into a hotel and jumped off the roof.  “He was the perfect child,” his grandparents said. …he was popular, good in sports, upbeat, showed no signs of distress.  His Rabbi expressed the communal shock: “He was bright, upbeat and dependable and gave no indication he was seriously troubled… He was not the kind of person you would expect to have these feelings… Something went horribly wrong.”

What went wrong, I think, was this kid wasn’t allowed to feel bad or tell anyone about his doubts and fears.  He was the carrier of his parents’ and grandparents’ vision of perfection, his spirit crushed by their expectations.  “I’ll never live up to their requirements of me – no matter what I do.  I’d rather jump than disappoint them.”

Our children are acting out our struggles within.  If they are perfect we are absolved of our own imperfections.  They carry the burden of their parents’ insecurity and self-doubt.  The parental cop-out of “Do as I say, not as I do” says it all:  What I can’t do for myself, I can do for you.  I will shield you from discomfort or disappointment or doubt.  You will be the Crown Prince or Princess of Perfection.

“The best and the brightest” suffer the most; their insides and outsides are most mismatched.  They’ve done everything they were supposed to do (and more) and they still feel rotten inside.  They perform without passion and strive without purpose.

Judaism is a program of recovery for addiction to perfection.  All of our heroes are imperfect.  The Torah is the story of our people’s struggle to submit their will to God’s Will, to act themselves into right thinking and being.  Over and over they forget God’s directions, lose faith and gratitude and build “golden calves” to protect them from their fears and fill the hole of their separation from God.

Instead of calves we are building “golden children,” whom we worship.

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