Tag Archives: Jews

REFLECTIONS ON WARSAW


 

By David Gole

I just got back from my 10 day trip to Poland, a journey that I’ll never forget. Before landing in Warsaw, I wasn’t very hopeful that I was going to have a pleasant experience. Being American and Jewish, I was unsure whether the stereotype of polish anti-Semitism were true or not and prepared to face prejudice remarks from the local citizens. I thought that all of the buildings would have a Russian-Soviet look to them and that the city would look very gloomy and ugly.

To say the least, the city of Warsaw proved me wrong. Everyone that I have spoken to in Warsaw has been very hospitable and friendly. From seeing the city, the architecture is comparable to that of a western European town in a way that was quite surprising. I really learned a lot in Poland. I learned about impact of the Jewish culture on Polish history and how to bring recognition to a society that has pretty much forgotten. While this trip is going to be an experience of a lifetime, it is very fast-paced and there is always something going on.

We walked through the old town of Warsaw to see the castle and other buildings, which had been restored after the war. We also went to site of the Ghetto where Nazi Germany fenced off the Jews and people with Jewish lineage from the rest of the city. After visiting the former location of the Ghetto, we had a meeting to learn about their plans to build a Polish-Jewish Museum and introduce us to the Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

On the second day of the trip we met with Dr. Maciej Kozlowski, who is an Ambassador-at-Large for Polish-Jewish relations as well as the former Polish Ambassador to Israel. Following the meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the group had the privilege of attending a Ceremony to present Medals and Certificates of Honor to Poles who acted righteously toward Jews during the war.

After the Ceremony, I got a chance to meet with several politicians from Poland, Israel and the United States. That night, I attended a dinner where the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations presented their educational program and their plans for expanding it along the country.

On my last day on Warsaw were visited the Warsaw Rising Museum. There I was able to learn about the uprisings in Warsaw against the Germans in 1944 and against the Soviet Union 1970. At lunch we were able to sit down with Kevin Kabumoto, who is the Internal Unit Chief of the Political-Economic Section at the United States Embassy. Although the group drilled him with questions, he was able to answer everything with poise and confidence.

My memories of Warsaw are bittersweet. The fact that Warsaw was able to go through times of destruction and oppression and still rise up to be what it is now fascinated me. It is a good lesson to learn that whenever life keeps you down you can always rise up again.

Read the next blog about my time in Krakow.

 

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The Numbers of Empathy


By David Gole

It has been almost 70 years since the holocaust and the era of hearing a story from a survivor first hand is coming to an end. Where do we go from here? How do we remember this part of history and make sure that it never happens again? Several youthful descendents of survivors have started a trend to carry on the legacy of their ancestors, who had experienced a living hell—through permanently tattooing the numbers of a survivor on their body.

Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images

Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images

Tattoos in Jewish culture are very controversial. Jewish law states that a Jew should be buried the way they were born, preventing people with body piercings and tattoos from being buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Lately, Cemeteries have become more lenient, being considerate of survivors who still have the tattoo on their body.

In modern culture, many young adults have been getting tattoos to express themselves in a non-destructive manner. These tattoos have enabled some Jews to become closer to their relative and help create an unbreakable bond between them. Though some people have become accustomed to young people getting tattoos, many frown upon the idea of holocaust tattoos being sported by young Jews.

When people see someone out in public with holocaust numbers tattooed on their forearm, they might ask “Why do you wear these numbers on your arm?” or “What does it mean?”. Others might be more angry than curious about such a “sensitive” tattoo. Some may be ridiculed for being insensitive to the extermination of millions. In one instance, a police officer said “God created forgetfulness so we can forget.” If that is the case, the why do we say never forget? Yes there are other, probably better ways to remember the holocaust, but the one thing you have to admire about these young Jews is their empathy. It takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up for what he or she believes in, no matter what anyone else may think about it.

What do you think about this? Should young Jews be tattooing a survivor’s number on them, or should they find another way to honor their memory?

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My Mom, Jennifer Sarnoff: Running to Save Souls


Los Angeles Marathon runner for Beit T'Shuvah

Me and my mom

My name is Jackson and I am 2 years old.  I like pudding and naptime. Another thing about me: my mommy, Jennifer, is crazy.  Wanna know why?

She is running 26.2 miles for the LA Marathon this year. So on top of having to take care of me, feed me, watch me, teach me, clean me, and get me to bed every day, she runs. And not just a mile, or two, but eventually, 26.2! And do you know who she’s running for? Beit T’Shuvah.  She’s running for a Jewish rehab that she never even lived at! She’s never even personally struggled with addiction. I mean, sure, while growing up in Los Angeles, my mom saw a lot of people deal with addiction—some of her family and friends were addicts. She’s seen the tragedy of alcoholism and witnessed the insanity of drug dependency. But she’s not an addict. She’s not an alcoholic. She’s not even a compulsive gambler.

She used to be “normal,” too. I did some eavesdropping and when asked if she ever thought about running a marathon, I overheard her saying in an interview: “No, and I’ll tell you a secret. I almost failed out of PE in high school because I wouldn’t run the mile…I hated running. I used to get hiccups and I didn’t know how to breathe right when I ran. I’m kind of laughing to myself when I run these distances. It blows my mind that I’m about to take on this experience.”

Crazy she may be, but I guess my mom is dedicated. She’s only able to run with the team every other week because she takes care of me. I like to think of myself as her boss. And as her boss I guess I’d like to tell her that I’m proud… huh? I gotta go. My mom’s calling me. And I love her, so I’m gonna go now.

Jennifer Sarnoff

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Jennifer Sarnoff has a remarkable, beaming radiance. She is a woman who follows through with her word, promising to run the marathon a year before she signs up. Jennifer is a key component to our team because, like Chris, she did not go through Beit T’Shuvah. She runs because of the kindness in her heart and the professed blessings she feels from seeing the bountiful work of Beit T’Shuvah, treating the broken-willed and restoring the souls of her loved ones. She now runs to save a soul.

When asked about what she is most nervous about running the marathon, she resolutely replied, “Running 26.2 miles… I’m not Forrest Gump.” She’s right, she’s not Forrest Gump—she’s Jennifer Sarnoff. And we think that’s something to be proud of. You can check her Crowdrise page here.

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The California Society of Addiction Medicine Honor Rabbi and Harriet


By M. Alexander

Last week, Harriet and Rabbi received The Community Service Award from The California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM).  Since 1985, the award has been given to assemblymen, doctors, philanthropists, and clergymen. Now, the doctors and health professionals at CSAM, a chapter of The American Society of Addiction Medicine, have honored the leaders of Beit T’Shuvah for their contribution to the advancement of addiction treatment.

At Beit T’Shuvah, we have always operated against the grain of traditional treatment centers. We are not a behavior modification model—making residents sweep the floor with a toothbrush. And we are not a plush for-profit recovery model—offering butler service and lobster dinners.  Rabbi and Harriet run Beit T’Shuvah on the principle that every addict, alcoholic, and criminal entering the program is an individual and the program should be tailored to their unique needs.  The doctors and researchers at The Society of Addiction Medicine have officially recognized our program, bestowing a new shade of medical legitimacy to the work we have been doing for 25 years.

The society honored Harriet for “embracing the challenge of an unpopular cause, fighting the widespread denial that ‘nice Jewish men and women’ could be addicts and criminals and whose passion, creativity, vision, and love have built and sustained a unique program.”  CSAM said of Rabbi that his “personal journey from con man and prisoner to Rabbi and community leader has given him insight and makes his message uniquely accessible to those with disordered lives and a desire to return to spiritual values.”

Both Rabbi and Harriet “have built Beit T’Shuvah into a unique resource, a home for Jewish ex-cons and addicts utilizing a recovery model blending Jewish spirituality, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step philosophy and the creative arts, restoring lost souls, and returning them to themselves.”

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In Memoriam: Elaine Breslow


By M. Alexander

Today, the mood at Beit T’Shuvah is somber, but in times of sorrow we band together.  Yesterday, we lost one of our great matriarchs, Elaine Breslow. Those who knew her describe her as a mother, a friend, and a savior. Those who did not know her personally are aware of the work she has done to help better their lives.  In Elaine, our community has lost a luminous spirit and an eminent figure—a person who not only worked tirelessly and contributed greatly, but one who exemplified Beit T’Shuvah’s mission.  Every person that she encountered left her presence feeling that they were counted, that they mattered, that they too could make a difference.

Though the Beit T’Shuvah community is saddened by this loss, we still stand strong in support of her mission and her life. Today at Beit T’Shuvah, we are all present, honoring Elaine’s memory, seeking comfort in the company of one another.  Rabbi sends his condolences to “Warren, Jamie, Julia and Elaine’s sister Barbara.”  He describes Elaine as a “life saver,” and he prays that “God [will] send comfort to her family and many many friends.”  Harriet knows that “Elaine’s soul and spirit live on in the lives of all the people who have lives worth living because she saw who they could become and cared about them deeply.”

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One Drop of Honey Sweeter Than The Last


By M. Alexander

During New Year’s celebrations—both Jewish and secular—we look back on the past year and make resolutions for the year to come.  We find the sweetness in our lives and we try to dilute the bitterness within us.

When we take time to remember what is sweet, we concentrate on what we often take for granted— our family, our friends, our health, our jobs, our home.  We may not have all of these things, but there is one thing that every single person who is reading this possesses—a life.  And life is the most precious gift that we have as we round the corner into the New Year. It may be that we don’t have the money we want, the job we deserve, or the spirit we think we should have accumulated—but more important than all these projections of ego is the fact that we are all alive, that we all have the power to enjoy La Dolce Vita, the sweetness of life.  We must hold onto the sweetness in our lives and be grateful for what we have if we hope to make it another year.

But the sweet does not exist without the bitter.  Where have we missed the mark in the last year?  Were we rude to our fathers, did we call our grandmothers, were we greedy, self-centered, dishonest, jealous, or manipulative?  Try to go through the months and the days, recalling individual events, asking yourself where you could have done better.  Where did you act in bitterness instead of sweetness?

Here’s hoping that as we recall the sweet along with the bitter, we are able to affect change in the days to come.  Let’s make this New Year one drop of honey sweeter than the last.

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Coach Chris and the LA Marathon Run to Save a Soul 2012


Coach Chris at last year's marathon

“The metaphor of running with recovery is profound. One foot in front of the other, being devoted, not giving up. Pushing past the wall. Having moments of intense exhilaration and moments when you really doubt yourself.” This is how Christopher King describes the intense relationship between running and recovering. For some, running is a simple challenge, a test of will and feat. For others, it is a divine spiritual practice. Christopher King fits the paradigm of a man who shares his passion and helps others recover their purpose by coaching the 2011 BTS Run to Save a Soul Marathon.

Chris (aka ‘Coach Chris’) enthusiastically became a contributing member of the Beit T’Shuvah team a little over three years ago when he saw our own Rabbi Mark speak at Culver City’s Rotary Club. Though he’d never heard of Beit T’Shuvah before and was not Jewish, the Rabbi intrigued him, and he decided to check out our Shabbat services one Friday night. Chris had been seeking for a long time, though he wasn’t sure for what. He knew upon his arrival that this was it. A place he could be passionate about, and a faith he wanted to learn more about (Chris is now in the process of conversion). He wanted to give back to the community that had begun to give so much to him, so he offered to do the thing he knew best: to run.

Chris had already run 7 marathons before joining up with the BT team. He embraced marathon running after college as an opportunity for self-discipline and to cultivate a sense of purpose. Three years later, Chris is just as excited about coaching BT as when he started. He thrives off of motivation—more specifically, he thrives off of giving people motivation. “I understand it having run before,” Chris says, “especially when the mileage starts to increase and your body starts to get the natural aches and pains, waking up early in the morning, going out again and again…[that’s when] being able to reach people and keep them motivated is a challenge but its one of the things I like the most about it. It’s a lesson that translates to real life, the principles you need to run a marathon are the same principles you need in life.”

The culmination of all the training builds to the night before the marathon—the team feasts on a big meal, but everybody still has their doubts about whether or not their body can make it the 26.2 miles, and more importantly, whether or not their minds can surpass nagging uncertainties. Chris takes this moment to impart a personal story (which will go untold, unless you run the marathon!) of doubt and triumph to help inspire the runners before they go to sleep.

After passing the finish line, Chris looks forward to the same ritual every year. First he hugs his father, and then he gets to work on his cell phone, calling all members of the team to make sure they make it to the finish line.

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