Tag Archives: Rabbi Mark Borovitz

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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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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Judaism and The Blues Part Two

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

By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager


“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.


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 Blues

By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager

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

This quote is from the late blues legend, Michael Bloomfield, who was a musical expeditionary, and a pioneer in the electric blues rock that was such an important part of the zeitgeist that was going on in the 1960’s. Bloomfield’s slant on Judaism and The Blues was thought-provoking to us; so much so that we decided to sit down with Rabbi Mark Borovitz and pick his brain the subject. The Rabbi had his own unique insight on all of this, both as a member of the clergy as well as a fan of  blues  music (he had even seen Bloomfield perform in the mid-60’s) and as a keen sociological observer.



A: This quote by Bloomfield is an interesting thought to me…I’m not sure that Blues is just about suffering. I think that blues is just another expression of life. I would say that the blues is the Yetzer Hara, the negative inclination, coming out in a way that’s healthy and holy. So here again, we’re having what’s happening in life help us, rather than have it beat us down…we’re using it to raise ourselves up. Because, if you listen to the blues – really listen – it’s about people sayin’, ‘Man, it’s really fucked up, and I’m singin’ about it, because I know there’s a way out.’ And one of the ways out is just the music. But I think that it’s not suffering as much as its just pain.  And if you don’t have pain, you don’t have any gain. And that’s when real transformation happens. When everything’s fine, they don’t give a flying’ fuck, and they don’t take care of anything…

Q: Nobody’s calling when everything’s wonderful…

A: Right! This is really saying, ‘You know what? It’s all what it is…we gotta stop lying to ourselves. So the blues to me is a statement that the lies we’ve told ourselves just don’t work anymore, and the blues is the breakout of the truth.

Q: I think the fact that you used the word ‘truth’ in there hits home, because that’s what this music has always said to people…it draws this out from anyone who listens to it…and people hear it and intrinsically feel it as music that is truth.

Rabbi Mark ShadesA: Yes, and I would also add the word experience, because that what you have to have with this music, and all great music pushes us to have an experience, and I think that blues is great music, and pushes us to have an experience. We forget that; it’s not just about us havin’ a good time with it. It’s really about ‘what’s the experience? What’s the experience that the blues is the answer for?’ To me, it’s the experience of living life fully, knowing that there’s pain, and that pain is ultimately good, because it’s going to save my ass, and without it, when everything’s good it’s all good, and when everything’s bad, it’s terrible and I want to kill myself. It’s all bullshit; all the things I’ve told myself that are lies. So, the blues says, ‘Stop lying to yourself, man…and stop lying to everyone else. There it is: I see myself, and I see the pain, and now I’m going to get rid of it, and I can move forward, into the light, into the solution, and the rest of the story, because you see, the negativity of the blues is only half the story – or 49% of the story. You’ve got to be able to see the whole story, because that’s the way you’re going to learn how to live. That’s what Torah is, and that’s why blues is such Jewish music. If you notice how here at Beit T’Shuvah how many prayers we can put into that genre, and they just fit. That’s because the prayer is a pleading of what’s wrong. So the pleading is just saying, ‘God, let me know what’s wrong…I’m in the shit.’ As soon as I say it, God or the spirit of the universe, and my community and my guides and the people around me bring me back to the light, so that I can see the rest of the solution and tell the story; that’s what I believe.

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The Big Lie–Elul #8

One of the traps we fall into is our feeling sad. While there is a great deal to be sad about: loss, death, disappointment, our own errors, the hurts of others, etc; we have to keep this sadness in proper measure. When sadness is out of proper measure, we descend into despair. Rabbi Nachman calls this type of sadness the worst sin. Sadness/despair allows us to be hopeless and become victims. This sadness and despair allows us to tolerate the darkness that we and others bring into the world. It gives reason to our inactivity, our passivity and our engaging in negativity. This is the sadness that says “nothing will change” “why bother” “I don’t matter”, etc. It allows us to stay stuck and believe that we are powerless and doomed!

THIS IS THE BIG LIE.  It allows us to look for the False Messiah. It allows us to follow the lies of the people who say they know the ONE answer. This lie forces us to engage in other lies. All of this because the darkness enables our worst places and fears to control us. We listen, hear and understand the world from a place of falsehoods and hopelessness, which allows our emotions and minds to override the Truth in our Souls. We leave God while believing those who tell us that the path of inconsolable despair is really the path to God if we only follow these false prophets. We leave God and our own best interests and follow those who use our despair to frighten us into following them as sheep, rather than hearing and following our “still small voice of God”.

Today, the inventory is:
What are the areas of life that I descend into despair?
Who is impacted/affected?
How are they impacted/affected?
What is my TShuvah?

What are the areas of life that I stay connected and hopeful?
Who is impacted/affected?
How are they affected/impacted?
How will I enhance these areas and use this path in the areas where I fall into despair?

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #7


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The Lies I Tell Myself-Elul #7

Doing this inventory this year has pointed out to me the subtleties of our age. The Rabbis of old were very wise when they made the Ashamnu Prayer. The first word, Ashamnu, means guilty. The entire prayer is called a Confessional. The second word, Bagadnu, I have translated as betrayal, it also means stolen. Both of these words have the same essence. In order to steal, I have to betray and in order to betray, I have stolen.

Yet, in our age of “not taking responsibility, we can acknowledge the feelings another person has of our betrayal while not confessing to our betrayal. I have confessed to my earlier betrayals in my book, The Holy Thief. I also have and do confess to my betraying the trust others put in me when I “slack” off. When I am not present, I betray the trust another has put in me. I am not perfect and I am guilty of this. When I misappropriate trust, time and energy, I betray others, myself and God. I have been and am still guilty of this.

The reason I bring this up is because in today’s world, people and corporations are unwilling to admit guilt, betrayals, and misappropriations. We see this in our political arena, in the meltdown of 2008 and in personal dealings with others. We will pay the fines, we will acknowledge the feelings of others and yet we are reticent and unwilling to admit guilt. This is still a denial of truth and robs others of their reality and dignity!

Today’s questions for our four column inventory speak to this:

1)    How have I used speech to confuse truth?

2)    Whom have I harmed?

3)    How have they been harmed?

4)    What is my TShuvah and plan to stop doing this?

1)    How have I used speech to reveal truth?

2)    Whom have I helped?

3)    How have they been helped?

4)    How do I enhance this behavior in my daily life in the coming year?

Another great exercise for each day is:

What are the lies I tell myself so I feel okay when I miss the mark?

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #6

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Go With Your Gut–Elul #6

Continuing our “getting clean,” I want to talk about knowing ourselves better. This is the point of T’Shuvah.  T’Shuvah is the path to self-awareness and self-love. It may seem strange to use our “missing the marks” as the path to awareness but it is the truest form, I believe. In looking at our “missing the marks” as ways to fail forward, we can find new ways to repair old actions and have a plan to do things differently in the future. This takes our past “errors” and makes them into paths of growth.


Elul IntuitionOne of the areas that needs growth is our intuition. I believe what many of us call intuition is really our soul speaking to us. Intuition is called “gut instinct” by some of us. A little known fact is that we have as many nerve endings in our gut as we have in our brain. In fact, as I learned from Rabbi Jack Bloom, our gut has been called the second brain! Yet it is, at times, the smaller of the voices that we hear in our bodies. The process of T’Shuvah helps us to strengthen this voice. Ultimately, our goal is to have our soul/gut instinct/intuition be the arbiter of our actions. This happens when we allow our minds and emotions to have votes and no longer have veto power over our intuition/soul.


Rabbi Jonathon Omer-man taught me this way of knowing when and where my Intuition is right and how I can grow the areas where my intuition needs to grow.  On a sheet of paper make 4 squares. In the top left column heading is: when has my intuition been right and I have followed it. In the top right column the heading is: when has my intuition been wrong and I have followed it. In the bottom left column the heading is: when has my intuition been right and I haven’t followed it. In the bottom right column the heading is: when has my intuition been wrong and I haven’t followed it.


Filling these columns in will give you new ways to understand your decisions and how to enhance your intuition and grow your soul.

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #5


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