House of Repentance: Where no one is beyond redemption

In the small lobby, a teenage boy with blondish hair sits passively on a couch, staring at the wall, not reacting to the threats thrown his way. His mother, her face puffy from crying, pleads with her husband, the boy’s enraged stepfather, who slams in and out of the building, furiously yelling that the boy stole his car and his money to buy drugs.

Rabbi Mark Borovitz tries to calm everyone down, but he gives no solace to the boy, telling him firmly that he’s screwed up and will have to pay for it. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” says the rabbi — a refrain from his own criminal past.

Hang out for any length of time at Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish rehab clinic/synagogue/halfway house on Venice Blvd. in Culver City, and you might have your heart broken by scenes like this. The residents, about 110 men and women of all ages, nearly all of them Jewish, are drug addicts and alcoholics — often with a criminal record.

Some at Beit T’Shuvah are repeat offenders remanded here by the courts as a last-ditch attempt to detour a dead-end life destined to be spent in and out of penal institutions. Some are midcareer professionals whose lives — fueled by substance abuse — have spiraled out of control. And some — like the young man who stole his stepfather’s car and money so he could resume his drug habit — are lost children, “nice” Jewish kids gone astray.

It’s just before 7 a.m. on Monday morning. On the south wall of the Beit T’Shuvah sanctuary are brightly colored stained glass windows that tell stories from the Bible or parables about recovery. One of them, in the adjoining lounge, has a Talmudic