Tag Archives: Judaism

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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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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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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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, art, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Family Wellness, Freedom Song, Judaism, Sobriety, Spirituality

Judaism and The Blues Part Two


Judaism and The Blues Part Two: An interview with Rabbi Mark Borovitz

By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager

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“It’s a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country/ Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering’s the fulcrum of the blues…” – Michael Bloomfield

 

In part one of this series, we explored the intricacies of this quote with Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who commented on Blues as a general concept and as a human experience. In part two, the Rabbi digs deeper into the more Judaic and historical significance of this reference, which proves to be timely, as well as timeless.

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Q: Specifically regarding that quote, I was thinking that black people too suffer externally, and as Jews we suffer internally, because Jews are part of the white, privileged majority – but obviously, because of the holocaust, Jews suffered externally as well. And with black people, their external struggle leads to an internal struggle…

A: Yeah, that’s interesting…the truth is that as long as I suffer internally, I don’t have to suffer externally; meaning ‘I don’t have to look at me…’ For me, my own internal struggle is my own wrestling. So, I think that’s part of the problem, and it’s a very good point. And the other myth—and trust me, it’s a myth—is that Jews don’t suffer on the outside. I mean, forget about the Holocaust, that’s just one piece, but Jews have been kept out of all types of places and schools, places of higher education, etc. because we’re Jews.

Q: Would you say that’s because it’s inflective that so many Jews were, in fact, very active in the Civil Rights movement?

A: What I’m talking about was going on well before the civil rights movement, but yes, I would say that we were active in the civil rights movement because we understood persecution, and we understood that everyone deserves and needs to be free, and that’s one of our guiding principals, so that would be the reason that we were at the forefront there.

But see, part of it is the little-known history, so I’m really speaking to Stephanie [23 years old] and her generation, who just—with all due respect—have it wrong. We’re not the big, bad wolves; we’re not the ones who didn’t take care of our brothers and sisters. We have. At times we’ve rejected them, and at times we’ve been rejected by them, which is also true. However, we’ve suffered. Nobody in the history of the world has suffered more persecution than the Jews, and I believe that’s because we don’t accept Christ as our personal savior. I mean you want to talk about insanity?

ImageOur suffering is inner and outer, because…Rabbi Heschel said it best: “Judaism believes that in a free society, some are guilty and all are responsible.” In the anti-war movement, Jews were in the forefront because, ‘How can I pray when thousands of innocent Vietnamese people are on my head, from Napalm and bombing and everything, and hundreds and thousands of people who were killed that were innocent…and as a Jew, I’m nuts by it!’ It’s what’s going on today in Syria; it’s what’s going on in the streets of the United States of America. It’s the politicians who want to repeal Obamacare! Why would you want to repeal healthcare to everyone?! And I don’t know if all this shit is right…but to get to the nitty-gritty of it, the premise that every citizen has what every fucking congressman’s got. They’re not taking it away from themselves, but they want to take it away from other people, and they’re willing to make the entire county suffer; they’re willing to play chicken with each other – both parties! They’re willing to play chicken with our lives, our reputations, and everything we built up. Yeah, that does aggravate me as a Jew, because we’re supposed to take care of the widow, the stranger and the poor person. Every person that’s locked in a prison, we cry for, and none of us can be free, until all of us are free.

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Judaism and The Arts


Jud:arts blog photoBTS Communications is excited to announce our new Judaism and The Arts Blog series. Posts in this series will cover various aspects of visual, musical and written art as it pertains to Judaism, and specifically, Beit T’Shuvah. Through historical and current examples, we hope to give a panoramic view of the arts in the Jewish community

The articles will feature historical and critical points of view from figures in the entertainment world, as well as staff and residents of Beit T’Shuvah who are working closely with the arts. With this series, we hope to encourage dialogue with our readers, provide engaging insight on the subject of Judaism and blues music, and help familiarize the reader with the personalities that are the driving forces in this area of recovery and art.

The series will be spearheaded by two BTS staff copywriters, Stephanie Lager, a graduate of UCLA’s English Department, and Matthew Greenwald, an L.A.-based musician and journalist. This is a multi-part, bi-monthly blog, and we look forward to sharing some unique insights and hearing what you, our readers, have to say.  See you in October…

 

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Filed under art, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Education, Freedom Song, Judaism

David in Krakow


By David Gole

Having just arrived back from my trip to Poland, I have several experiences I am still reflecting on. While Warsaw was a very exiting city, Krakow is a different story. When I picture Poland I envision a lot of old buildings and snow. Krakow fulfills that exact stereotype in a way that it glorifies the past. During World War II, Krakow was virtually untouched by the Nazis with only a few of the monuments being rebuilt. In retrospective, my experience in Krakow was both joyous and emotional.

David Walking PolandPart of my trip was to learn about Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, which runs a program to educate high school students about Jewish culture in their town. The first day in Krakow, we traveled to the near by town of Wadowice, which is the hometown of Pope John Paul II and home to almost 2,000 Jews before the war. There we visited the local high school and engaged in what the students were learning about Jewish culture. The students asked us questions about America and wanted to learn more about what it meant for us to be Jewish.

Living in Los Angeles where a large percentage of the people I know are Jewish, I don’t really think about what it means to me. In this small town where the Nazis exterminated almost every Jew, to be able to come to this town was both a unique and special experience. After a short tour of the monuments around the town, we left an everlasting impression on these students and went on our way back to Krakow.

Along with the happy experience of meeting these kids, I also experienced one of the most horrifying things to ever happen on this planet – Auschwitz. The day we went to Auschwitz, we were on the bus before the sun came up. It was around -14°C and I was still cold with my 3 Layers of Clothing. When we got off the bus, the haunted feeling of being in a place where millions of people were murdered consumed me. In the first camp of Auschwitz, called “Auschwitzy One,” the first thing you notice is the infamous sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes you free”. The barracks, which were intended to house 100 polish soldiers, were used to house 1,000 prisoners at a time.

BarracksAuschwitz one is also home to the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium. On the walls of the gas chamber you can see nail marks of the victims trying to claw their way out. Although Auschwitz one killed millions, it seemed like a cakewalk compared to Birkenau, or “Auschwitz Two.”

At Birkenau, the second camp of Auschwitz, everything is outdoors and the shelters consisted of thin planks of wood and tiny three level bunks, which they piled on as many people as they could on one bunk. The toilets were nothing but holes in stone benches and all of the prisoners were given a total of 5 minutes each day for everyone to use them. Only half of Birkenau still stands while the Nazis destroyed the rest of the camp during the Soviet invasion.

Gas ChamberThe most powerful experience I had was in the building called the Sauna. The Sauna is where everybody who worked in Birkenau got processed and where all of the paperwork was stored. At the last part of the sauna, my father, Cantor Joseph Gole, led us in the Kiddush to mourn the souls of the fallen and we followed with the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli National anthem. By the end of the prayers, nearly everyone in our group was very emotional with tears in their eyes. In that moment, my father and I shared one of the most emotional experiences in my life as we walked out of the camp in an embrace both crying.

While the Holocaust was a tragedy in itself, there are two ways to view the aftermath. I can either see the Holocaust as the worst thing to ever happen to the Jewish people—an event that took several of my family members away. Or I can see it in a more positive light. Hitler’s goal was to kill off every Jew on the planet, a mission that was never complete. In that sense, we won. Today, Jews are now able to sing Jewish prayers in Auschwitz, which probably makes Hitler scream in his grave.

In a few weeks, I will be going on a birthright trip to Israel. With the knowledge I have acquired on my trip to Poland, I will have a better understanding and appreciation for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

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Getting Clean During Elul


Yesterday was the first day of Elul, the month prior to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. This month is when we traditionally do our inventories of the past year. We set up a balance sheet, listing the things we have done well and the areas where we “missed” the mark. Each day I am going to write a way to do our personal inventory and count down to being clean and ready for Yom Kippur with joy and excitement to re-commit to our relationship with God, our community and ourselves.

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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Elul, Judaism, Mark Borovitz, T'Shuvah, Torah