Left: Beit T’Shuvah co-founder Harriet Rossetto speaks at a luncheon fundraiser in 2016. Right: Amy Green, 28, went from being addicted to heroin to directing the mind and body program at Beit T’Shuvah, where she previously recovered from her addiction. Photos courtesy of Beit T’Shuvah

Even nice Jewish boys and girls are caught in opioid epidemic


Sitting in her car in Orange County as she prepared to buy heroin from her drug dealer in 2015, Amy Green called out to her Creator.

“I was like, ‘I need help. I can’t. I’m scared,’ ” she recently recalled. “I said this out loud. I was talking to God out loud. I’m like, ‘God, I can’t do this, I can’t.’ ”

She paused, took a breath and continued, her voice soft and toneless.

“But I did, for the next eight months,” she said in an interview with the Journal.

For Green, now 28 years old, the use of a prescription painkiller to treat a sports-related injury had quickly morphed into a full-blown addiction that progressed into her use of black-tar heroin. The downward spiral was something she never could have envisioned as a Division I college athlete in soccer and track from a well-to-do Santa Clarita family.

Opioids are now poised to overtake car accidents as a leading cause of accidental fatalities in the United States — with 90 deaths a day from overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Last week, President Donald Trump said he planned to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, which would open the way for more federal funds to fight it. And though the crisis often has been characterized as ravaging rural areas and small towns, which provided much of Trump’s support in the November election, the powerful class of painkillers is also on the rise in urban Jewish communities.

In other words, nice Jewish boys and girls are no more immune to the epidemic than anyone else. In fact, for those living in affluent, tight-knit communities, the problem can be compounded by the pressure to keep up appearances.

“It was really scary, and I didn’t want to be doing it anymore,” Green said of her drug habit, “but I didn’t know how to reach out for help, because it was really shameful.”

Harriet Rossetto, co-founder of Beit T’Shuvah, the West Los Angeles addiction treatment center with an almost entirely Jewish clientele where Green is now an alumna and employee — she directs its mind and body program — confronts the stigma of opioid addiction on a regular basis.

“Jews are not exempt,” Rossetto said. “It’s part of our denial system that we often feel exempt from these kinds of social problems.”

Four of every 10 residents at Beit T’Shuvah’s Venice Boulevard campus are there because of opioids. Rossetto said the opioid addicts she encounters generally fall into two categories: Patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s who progressed from prescribed painkillers into addiction, and patients in their teens and 20s who used opiates like heroin as a way to numb emotional pain caused by trauma, sexual abuse, learning disabilities or other factors.

The prevalence of Jewish opioid abuse is evident at other treatment centers in the Los Angeles region as well.

At the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in the Miracle Mile, two-thirds of the residents — most of whom are Jewish — are there for opioid abuse, and they have tended to be younger in recent years, said Donna Miller, the center’s director.

Clare Waismann, a certified addiction treatment counselor and founder of the Waismann Method for opiate detoxification, said the detox program she runs at a non-Jewish-affiliated Orange County hospital (she asked that it not be identified), has been fulfilling more requests for kosher meals than ever before.

The problem is an increasingly fatal one.

Adina Stern, a Beit T’Shuvah resident, can rattle off the names of young Jewish women she has known who have died of drug overdoses. The most recent casualty was Malky Klein, a 20-year-old Chasidic woman whose death on June 24 ignited a flurry of coverage in Jewish media and beyond.

Stern, 20, is the youngest of 10 children from an ultra-Orthodox family in New York City. Her childhood was marked by trauma and sexual abuse, she said, and she started using heroin when she was 12. In the course of multiple recovery programs and relapses, she met other young women much like herself, with similarly troubled pasts.

“The common denominator among all the girls who are struggling with addiction and the girls who have died is really just being taught that we, as who we are, are not good enough,” she said. “We didn’t have our own identities so we became drug addicts. That was our identity. We were the bad girls of Brooklyn.”

The pressure of community and family expectations is not limited to the Orthodox.

Rusty, 29, a Beit T’Shuvah alumnus and employee who asked that his real name not be used, said he grew up in a Calabasas community where neighbors competed to display signs of their affluence. He attended a Reform synagogue, where he was confirmed, and felt he was a role model for younger kids in the congregation.

After his father died in 2008, a friend offered him the painkillers OxyContin and Fentanyl to help numb his psychological and emotional pain. He soon became addicted. And when he couldn’t get those drugs, he moved to heroin, he said.

Rusty completed college and earned a master’s degree while battling his addiction. As long as he was able to keep up appearances, he said, he didn’t see his substance abuse as a problem.

“It’s not like I was strung out in the gutter,” he said. “I had it all together on the outside, and then having this massive secret created this split where the only way I could survive was to dissociate entirely because I had to present a certain way to everyone else.”

He said his desire to save face kept him from seeking treatment.

“It was hard for me to reach out for help because it’s just not something that’s discussed, and there’s this implicit shame around it,” he said.

Rusty said he has seen the shame around drug abuse in L.A.’s Jewish community reduced by the growth of prevention and treatment programs and addicts’ increased willingness to discuss their problems.

Morris Treibitz, a resident at the Chabad treatment center, agreed that there is now less stigma around drug abuse. “You can’t deny how many people are dying anymore,” he said while sitting in the center’s chapel.

He encouraged parents to be more open with their children about drug abuse.

Treibitz, 42, a native of New Jersey, has come by his wisdom on this topic through bitter experience. He said he first started using heroin in prison after he was convicted for armed robbery at the age of 21, and his drug habit led to other convictions and prison terms.

Owning up to an addiction is a small price to pay to avoid incarceration or worse, he said.

“You can’t save your face and your tuchus at the same time,” he said. “You have to choose one or the other, and if you’re going to try to save your face, you’re not going to make it. You can’t do it.”

Top row, from left: Meryl Kern, Lindsey Montoya, Russell Kern, Helene Eisenberg, Deborah Fried, Jen Morgen and Rabbi Mark Borovitz. Bottom row, from left: Warren Breslow, Harriet Rossetto, Annette Shapiro and David Ruderman.

Moving and shaking


The phrase “30 Years of Saving Souls” stretched across a screen onstage Jan. 22 during the Beit T’Shuvah gala at the Beverly Hilton. It was appropriate as the evening celebrated the Jewish rehab facility’s 30th anniversary and honored founder Harriet Rossetto and the organization’s founding board members Warren Breslow, David Ruderman and Annette Shapiro.

Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein — whose son was treated at the organization — emceed.

Beit T’Shuvah, located near Culver City, treats residential patients and outpatients who suffer from substance abuse and other addictions. Its program draws on Jewish spirituality and traditional treatment methods.

During the event, Beit T’Shuvah Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz presented his wife, Rossetto, with the award. The event raised approximately $1.9 million, according to Borovitz.

The nearly 1,000 attendees included Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro, who is Annette Shapiro’s daughter-in-law; Andrew Cushnir, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ executive vice president and chief development officer; Federation chairman Les Bider and his wife, Lynn; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; real estate developer and philanthropist Stanley Black; Beit T’Shuvah chairperson emeritus Nancy Mishkin; husband-and-wife philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds; and Beit T’Shuvah Chairman Russell Kern.

The event benefited the Harriet Rossetto Scholarship Fund, which enables the organization to provide free treatment to patients. Rossetto founded the organization after responding to an ad in the Los Angeles Times that was seeking a social worker to work with incarcerated Jewish individuals. A halfway house eventually became the organization that today is Beit T’Shuvah. Not only does it treat substance abusers through music and wellness programs and a supportive community dedicated to Jewish worship, but it also employs them during their rehabilitation.


From left, Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields and Sharsheret L.A. advisory committee members Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel attend the launch party of the organization’s new Los Angeles office.

From left, Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields and Sharsheret L.A. advisory committee members Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel attend the launch party of the organization’s new Los Angeles office.

The national nonprofit Sharsheret, which is dedicated to addressing the needs of Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer, celebrated the opening of its Los Angeles regional office on Jan. 10 with a drinks-and-dessert reception.

The event — held at the West Los Angeles home of Courtney Mizel, a longtime Sharsheret supporter and a seven-year breast cancer survivor — drew 80 people.

Lisa Hofheimer, co-chair with Mizel of the organization’s L.A. advisory committee, connected with Sharsheret when she was diagnosed 15 years ago. She watched as the organization, which has its headquarters in New Jersey, “developed into an organization with unbelievable outreach.” Sharsheret’s L.A. presence will provide a “community of support to wrap around” cancer patients and their families, she said.

During her remarks, Mizel said Sharsheret is “an amazing resource,” specifically mentioning its Busy Box Program that provides games for children to play while their mothers are at doctor appointments or resting after cancer treatments.

Two other cancer survivors, Annie Spar and Molly Sigel, also shared stories.

Spar, who also is on the group’s advisory committee, praised Sharsheret for advising her husband on how to best support her during treatment and helping her talk to her children about her illness, which she called “the single hardest thing” she had to do.

Sigel said she had a “one in a million” type of ovarian tumor, but Sharsheret was able to match her with a young woman with a similar rare diagnosis for conversation and encouragement.

“Her story was the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sigel, who has been in remission since September 2015 and is studying for her master’s degree in social work at UCLA.

“What keeps me doing the work I do is the 65,000 women and families we’ve touched,” said Sharsheret Executive Director Elana Silber, who came to Los Angeles for the launch. “We want to anchor ourselves in this community, so everyone knows about us when they need us.”

Additional members of the advisory committee in attendance were Sari Abrams, Sarina Basch, Dikla Benzeevi, Sarah Blitzstein, Linda Blumenfeld, Dr. Amy Kusske and Abbi Hertz.

Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields has already begun working with local health centers, synagogues and other Jewish organizations since the office opened five months ago. Sharsheret L.A. is the organization’s second regional office; the first opened in Florida in June 2013.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


David Siegel, recently hired CEO of ELNET-Israel, is the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

David Siegel, recently hired CEO of ELNET-Israel, is the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

The European Leadership Network (ELNET), a pro-Israel organization, has hired David Siegel, the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, as the CEO of its Israel office, ELNET-Israel.

Siegel’s hiring was announced during the “Turning the Tide for Israel in the EU and Against BDS” gala on Dec. 14, which was organized by Friends of ELNET and held at the Skirball Cultural Center. The event, attended by about 135 people, raised approximately $700,000 for ELNET.

Siegel, who served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2016 and displayed commitment to fostering ties between local Jews and Latinos and leveraging relationships with Hollywood celebrities in bolstering Israel’s image, will be tasked with enhancing “ELNET programming in Israel and build[ing] local networks of leaders committed to the Europe-Israel relationship,” according to an ELNET press release that described Siegel as a “veteran diplomat.”

In the release, Larry Hochberg, chairman and co-founder of Friends of ELNET and founder of the sporting goods chain Sportmart, welcomed Siegel to the organization. “David’s expertise in international policy issues, specifically with regard to Israel’s relationships with key global allies, takes the organization to the next level,” Hochberg said.

Siegel expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity, saying, “There are significant opportunities to strengthen the important relationships between Europe and Israel, and the work ELNET does is more critical today than ever.”

Ines von Behr, executive director of ELNET-EU in Brussels, spoke at the event, which honored Ken Ruby, vice chairman and treasurer of Friends of ELNET.

Founded in 2007, ELNET promotes positive relations between Israel and Europe, which has seen a rise in anti-Israel activity in recent years. The organization closely observed the Jan. 15 Middle East peace conference in Paris, which addressed the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the heels of a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.

In regard to the Paris conference, Jonathan Boyer, West Coast director of Friends of ELNET, said: “We were all very nervous and watching it closely.”


On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center students and Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church youth came together at the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade. Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz (second row, far right) and Ward AME Church Rev. John Edward Cager III (back row, far right) were among the attendees.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center students and Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church youth came together at the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade. Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz (second row, far right) and Ward AME Church Rev. John Edward Cager III (back row, far right) were among the attendees.

Students of Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center, a religious school at a West Los Angeles Conservative synagogue, joined youth from Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church during the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade in South Los Angeles on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“At Adat Shalom, we’ve established a new type of religious school that values real-world experience as part of helping to build strong Jewish identity,” Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz said. “It was a powerful, inspiring experience for our religious school students and their families.”

Rev. John Edward Cager III, senior pastor at Ward AME Church, and Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, a city of Los Angeles appointee to the L.A. Metro board of directors, also were in attendance at the parade, which marked the late civil rights leader’s 88th birthday.

The theme of this year’s event was “Now More Than Ever, We All Must Work Together.”

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Rabbi charged with sex abuse to get 1 year of counseling, no prison


Rabbi Sholom D. Levitansky has agreed to one year of counseling and residential treatment at Beit T’Shuvah, an addiction treatment center near Culver City, after pleading no contest to two counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object of a minor.

At the Oct. 27 hearing at the Airport Courthouse on La Cienega Boulevard, his lawyer, Vicki Podberesky, told Judge Yvette Verastegui he had checked into Beit T’Shuvah the day before.

Levitansky won’t be officially sentenced until he completes the treatment program. Once he’s sentenced a year from now, he won’t face jail time but will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney spokesperson Ricardo Santiago.

Each count of sexual penetration with a foreign object carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, but Levitansky will serve his time at Beit T’Shuva instead of a prison sentence.

Levitansky was arrested in the fall of 2015 on felony charges relating to the sexual abuse of two teenage female victims, between 1998 and 2002. Back then, Levitansky was in his mid-20s and working at the Living Torah Center, a Chabad center in Santa Monica, where he met his alleged victims.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged Levitansky with five counts of oral copulation with a minor, five counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object of a minor and one count of a lewd act upon a child. Originally, he pled not guilty to all 11 charges, but entered his two no contest pleas Sept. 26.

Sima Yarmush, one of the victims who has since publicly told the story of her abuse, indicated to the Journal on Oct. 27 that she was pleased with the outcome.

“I feel that I have done everything that I can do to seek justice,” she said.

Yarmush was 14 when she alleges the abuse began, and said it went on for more than two years.

Speaking with the Journal, she said she was the only victim who was willing to go through the court process, which likely resulted in a lighter sentence for Levitansky.

“It was literally me versus him,” she said. “There was zero, zero community support, aside from JCW [Jewish Community Watch] holding my hand and, of course, my family,” she said.

JCW is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Jewish victims of child sex abuse. In February 2015, more than half a year before his arrest, JCW posted a photo of Levitansky’s face on its online “Wall of Shame,” which lists accused sex abusers in the Jewish community.

Beyond JCW, Yarmush says she received help and support from her parents but few others. Years after the abuse took place, when she spoke about it with her parents, who ran the Chabad center, they immediately removed Levitansky from his post. But when her case was brought before a group of prominent Los Angeles rabbis for remediation, they ignored her, she said.

Levitansky arrived at court Oct. 27 flanked by a group of bearded men and a woman wearing a wig and holding a prayer book. Approached outside the courtroom, he declined through his lawyer to speak with the Journal.

He is scheduled to be back in court on Dec. 6 for a status review.

Letters to the editor: Beit T’Shuvah, Bernie Sanders and more


Sobering Reminder During a Time of Unrest

I have been involved as a volunteer for more than 20 years at Beit T’Shuvah, a nonprofit residential addiction treatment center on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles (“Beit T’Shuvah Changes Leadership Amid Turmoil,” May 20).

In January 2017 we will celebrate 30 years of service to men and women with addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling and more. Over the years, I have seen thousands of men and women change their lives and succeed through our combinations of psychotherapy, spirituality and the 12-step program at Beit T’Shuvah.

Rabbi Mark Borovitz and Harriet Rossetto, founder of Beit T’Shuvah, work together with a caring staff helping 140 residents to “recover their passion and discover their purpose,” and they will continue their mission.

We have all heard President Barack Obama, our senators and Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, talk about the serious addiction problem we have in our country. If we are going to continue to be able to serve these men and women with this major health problem of addiction, institutions like Beit T’Shuvah must survive.

We are here to help you if you need help, and we need your help to sustain the vital mission of Beit T’Shuvah.

Annette Shapiro, President, Beit T’Shuvah Board of Directors, Los Angeles

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been witness to the amazing work done by Rabbi Mark Borovitz and Harriet Rossetto and the staff at Beit T’Shuvah on a daily basis. I’ve seen people, young and not so young, with a wide variety of addictions and problems, turn their lives around in a very meaningful way. They’ve become productive, grateful members of society, both in and out of Beit T’Shuvah. The path out of addiction isn’t easy, but with the support of the Beit T’Shuvah community, lives are once again becoming meaningful, families are reuniting and one more soul is being saved.

Carole Miller, Los Angeles

Not Fair to Nixon

I expected Ambassador Dennis Ross to include Richard Nixon as one of Israel’s most ardent supporters and defenders, not to mention his as one of five U.S. administrations that “deliberately distanced themselves from Israel” (“Why the U.S.-Israel Relationship is ‘Doomed to Succeed,’ ” May 20). It was Nixon who saved the State of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, telling Henry Kissinger to fill every supply plane the U.S. had with war material to send to Israel, despite Kissinger’s advice to send just one plane as a token and despite the fact that no other country was coming to Israel’s aid.

Yes, Nixon was stung by Jewish animus and overwhelming political support of the Democratic Party, but he was a friend to the Jews. When his daughter Tricia dated a Jewish man for several years, he even hosted that man — a man who is now my husband — for 10 days in his own home so that he could take Tricia to an event. This is not what a true anti-Semite would do. Ambassador Ross should do a little more research, as Nixon was there for Israel when it truly counted.

Noelle Donfeld, Malibu

Where’s Bernie?

I am a big fan of the Jewish Journal, appreciative of its diversity of opinion and thoughtful coverage of local, national and international issues — which is why I am puzzled by the minimal coverage of a major figure on the national scene.  

For months now, I have been waiting for Bernie Sanders’ face on the cover, along with an in-depth story about his candidacy, his Jewish roots and his ideology. 

Granted, Sanders is not a religious Jew. But the Journal often interviews writers, filmmakers and performers who happen to be Jewish (or half-Jewish) and whose ties to the Jewish community are nominal. I enjoy those stories and am glad you include them, but … why no Bernie on the cover? 

Never before in the history of our country has a Jewish candidate made it this far in a run for the presidency. And Sanders is more than a serious candidate. Whether or not one agrees with his ideas and policies, he is changing the Democratic Party and the national conversation. With only a couple of weeks left until the June 7 California primary, I still have hopes that his face will grace the cover of the Journal.  

Laura Golden Bellotti, Los Angeles

One Nation Under Nakba?

Avrum Burg does provide a potential path for mutual respect, peace and tikkun by Jews becoming more aware of and recognizing our role in the Nakba, the tragic catastrophe endured by many Palestinians that came as a result of Israeli independence (“The Israeli Twins — Independence and Nakba,” May 13). 

Also to be considered in the equation is the role played by many Arab nations and others in their uncompromising antipathy to a predominantly Jewish state at that time, to the point of sending armies to destroy the nascent state, and doing little to improve the conditions of the people displaced when that effort failed.  

Perhaps a path to forgiveness can be found for those Arabs who should have become equal citizens of Israel in the recognition that the injustices endured by them resulted not from conquest, but from a very plausible fear of annihilation.  

Hymie Milstein via email

Beit T’Shuvah transitions leadership again as new CEO departs


Beit T’Shuvah — one of the nation’s premier addiction treatment residences—announced a leadership turnover on May 17, less than two months after appointing Bill Resnick, a psychiatrist, philanthropist and longtime board member, as its new CEO. Resnick, 51, resigned from the job, according to a Beit T’Shuvah press release.

Andy Besser, a counselor for the Los Angeles-based center who served as the organization’s director of outpatient programming, was appointed as interim general manager following a May 17 board meeting at which Resnick’s resignation was, according to the release, approved unanimously.

The press release states that Resnick offered his resignation on May 15 following his suspension on May 13, which was done “to allow for an investigation of and Dr. Resnick’s response to complaints made by several Beit T’Shuvah employees to that organization’s Human Resources department.”

Resnick told the Journal following the announcement that the Board had “demanded” his resignation and that he was disappointed by the board’s decision. “I have worked hard to develop good relationships with the board,” he said. “Everyone was excited about the new leadership. I don’t know what happened; I was kept in the dark.” 

The release specifies that the change at the top hasn't impacted operations as usual at the residential treatment center, and that no one named in a May 15 email sent by Resnick as being fired have in fact lost their job.

The developments, which ” target=”_blank”>under Resnick’s day-to-day leadership. In April, upon Resnick’s appointment as CEO, Borovitz and Rossetto stepped down from their daily administrative roles, but agreed to remain full-time at Beit T’Shuvah—as spiritual leader and senior consultant, respectively—for at least three more years.

Going forward, according to the press release, Beit T’Shuvah’s “operations have not been and will not be impeded” despite Resnick’s resignation and Besser’s interim appointment.

Beit T’Shuvah board to meet amid dispute between new CEO and longtime leadership


The board of directors of Beit T’Shuvah, one of the nation’s premier Jewish addiction treatment centers, will meet Tuesday in the wake of an email sent to all employees by new CEO Bill Resnick on the morning of Sunday, May 15.

The email, titled, “Cleaning house,” informed Beit T’Shuvah’s 116 employees that its key leadership, including founder Harriet Rossetto and spiritual leader Rabbi Mark Borovitz, had been fired.

Resnick’s email, which was obtained by the Journal, also announced the firing of three other top-level officials at Beit T’Shuvah: alternative sentencing coordinator Carrie Newman, director of administration and admissions Brandon Berry, director of clinical training Rebecca Share, as well as Beit T’Shuvah’s attorney, Eve Wagner. Resnick also wrote that he would sue Wagner for malpractice, as well as board chair Russell Kern and board member Jon Esformes for “illegal and unethical behavior.”

“I am happy to discuss with anyone, but for now I just wanted to let everyone know that these five people are no longer employees, and after Tuesday will not be allowed on the premises, with possible exception of religious services,” Resnick wrote. “We are saving lives at Beit T'Shuvah, really. If you are not with the program, I don't have patience. The work is too important.”

The news came as a shock, since Resnick, a local philanthropist and psychiatrist had been named CEO just last month, after serving on Beit T’Shuvah’s board since 2005 and becoming its chairman in 2012.

As Beit T’Shuvah plans for its future, a gradual transition at the top


Beit T’Shuvah’s 30th birthday is coming up, and one of the nation’s renowned residential addiction treatment centers is embarking on a new, if gradual, beginning.

A few weeks ago, founder Harriet Rossetto and her husband, CEO and Rabbi Mark Borovitz, stepped down from some of their administrative leadership roles, after 30 years for Rossetto and 28 for Borovitz. Bill Resnick, 51, a psychiatrist and longtime board member, is the group’s new CEO.

While the change may not be apparent immediately in daily life for residents at Beit T’Shuvah, it will allow Borovitz, Rossetto and Resnick each to develop new areas of work within the recovery world. It also will allow Beit T’Shuvah to plan for the future.

“Day to day has not changed dramatically,” Rossetto said, seated at a large table in Borovitz’s office, which is twice the size of his old office since the organization’s $7 million renovation in 2014.

Borovitz, who just published his second book, “

A Rabbi’s path for recovery


Thirty years ago, after what he’s called his “umpteenth” arrest for fraud, forgery and bad checks, Mark Borovitz had a “spiritual awakening.” While incarcerated, he “immersed” himself in Torah, and reinforced it with the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel and other rabbis.

In the introduction to his recently published book, “Finding Recovery and Yourself in Torah,” Borovitz talks about how his Torah immersion — while in jail — took him on a transformational journey from a life of crime to becoming a resident at Beit T’Shuvah, a Los Angeles addiction treatment center, to being rabbi and CEO at Beit T’Shuvah, where he’s ministered to thousands going through recovery. (Beit T’Shuvah’s approach, developed largely by Harriet Rossetto, who founded the treatment center and is married to Borovitz, involves three prongs: Torah study, the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-step program and intense psychological self-examination.)

Subtitled “A Daily Spiritual Path to Wholeness,” “Finding Recovery and Yourself in Torah(Jewish Lights) dedicates one page to each day of the year. “You don’t have to be an addict to find recovery in Torah,” Borovitz writes. The book’s daily devotional can be used by anyone “searching for a deeper connection” to oneself, to others and to Torah. Every page ends with profound personal questions — inspired by that week’s parsha — that urge the reader to examine his or her own life. If answered honestly, these queries call for thoughtful self-assessment. 

Bearded, wearing a flat cap, often throwing out funny asides, Rabbi Mark — as he’s called at Beit T’Shuvah — has the look, manner and self-deprecating rhythm of an Old Testament prophet as played by Richard Dreyfuss. We met at Beit T’Shuvah to talk about his book.

Jewish Journal: In “Finding Recovery,” the way you frame your comments about the parsha, and your questions following those comments, are not the traditional way of reading Torah.

Rabbi Mark Borovitz: I hope not! [laughs] If you just go with the same old stuff, it’s not new; it’s not dynamic; and it’s not personal. Torah is a personal document for each of us. It’s the love song, the love story. It’s my daughter telling me, “Daddy, here’s what I need for you to be a better daddy.” It’s my mother telling me, “Son, here’s what I need for you to be a better son.” It’s my brother and sister saying, “Here’s what we need. Here’s the way, here’s the path because we want you.”

On one level, [the book] may not seem traditional … but I think it’s the most traditional way of seeing Torah, because I’m immersed [in Torah] and I’m making it mine, and I’m making it ours. And each week I’m finding God and finding other people, and I’m being connected.

JJ: Some of the questions you pose, at the end of each page, can be answered easily, while others require a great deal of critical thinking and self-exploration.

MB: I think that some [answers] are more evident than others. The point is to help people get into the habit of asking and finding the right questions. … It’s also to give people permission and a way into the text that’s different from the traditional, or at least the traditional commentaries that have been printed. It goes back to this idea of immersion. You have to immerse yourself. 

JJ: There are more than 1,000 questions in your book, some of which come back again and again in different forms, like: What are you doing to rebuild your life? In what ways do you blame others for your own failures? How can you guard against inner demons that would pull you into relapse? What false gods are you following?

MB: All the questions are to help people be in recovery. Recovery is not the same as abstinence. Recovery is where I do the next right thing … not just to stay sober, but to be human. … How does this help me to be more human? Because it’s a process, being human. 

So for me it’s the sense of, “How do I recover? How do I recover the joy, the joy that I had as a parent when my daughter was born? The joy I experienced in the arms of my parents and my family? How do I recover the joy and the love I first experienced with my wife? With my friends? And how do I grow it each day?” 

JJ: Clearly, this book is meant to be read one page per day, and to take time to answer the questions at the end of each page. Is that the way you’d recommend that people use this book?

MB: Rabbi [Abraham Joshua] Heschel said that religion is here to help us recover the questions. Today we’re so busy trying to find answers that we often don’t ask the right questions. So in my own history, I felt defective, not fitting in. At that time, I asked myself: “How do I get out of this feeling?” Alcohol and crime were the answers to that question. The real question is not how do I get out of this feeling, but how do I live as a member of a community, a member of a family? That gets a different response: Let me stop worrying about my own needs and realize that I’m needed. Let me stop asking what am I getting out of life and rather respond to God’s question — what is life getting out of me, as Rabbi Heschel so beautifully put it. 

When I’m immersed in my life and I see that I’ve done something that harms somebody, I immediately have this deep experience of regret. So I have to be able to hear and give power to my soul, so that my soul has veto power over my rationalizations and over my emotions. And my soul propels me to do the next right thing. That’s the core: doing the next right thing.

JJ: You use words and phrases from the Torah, but you could use virtually any book of ancient wisdom and take words or phrases from those in order to get at the issues of self-reflection in the 12-step program. What added value do you get from using the Torah?

MB: I see Torah as God’s gift to humanity, the love song of God to humans. It gives us the opportunity to reciprocate our love to God. Torah speaks to each of us in our own way, in our own language, according to our own experience. I choose Torah because I’m communicating with my ancestors, with my peers and with God. 

JJ: Could this book have been written without reference to God?

MB: Well, that depends. If you’re talking about God as the man in the sky … absolutely. But if you’re talking about God as the creative force in the universe, what connects me to you, absolutely not. That’s the energy that says we all have a purpose. Without God, we get the craziness of senseless hatred. With God, we get the joy of shalem and shalom. Wholeness and peace. 

Moving and shaking: World of Children Alumni Honors and more


The April 12 World of Children 2016 Alumni Honors ceremony took place at the Montage Beverly Hills. The gathering featured Brooke Burke-Charvet as emcee, a performance by Yemin Orde Youth Choir, a group of at-risk immigrant teens from the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel and more, and raised “more than $300,000 for vulnerable children,” a press release said.

Brooke Burke-Charvet emceed the April 12 World of Children 2016 Alumni Honors. Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnici / Getty Images for World of Children Award

The event recognized previous World of Children Award nominees Dr. Ashok Banskota, founding chairman of the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children in Nepal; Ryan Hreljac, founder of Ryan’s Well Foundation in Sub-Saharan and West Africa; and Denisse Pichardo, director of Caminante Proyecto Educativo in the Dominican Republic.

World of Children Award recognizes “promising heroes leading programs for children” and grants “funds to advance their efforts,” according to its website.

The Israel-based Yemin Orde Youth Choir made several appearances in Los Angeles in April as part of its 2016 U.S. tour.

Its members range in age from 15 to 18 and hail from Ethiopia, France, Ukraine, Israel and Brazil.

Its tour included an April 11 performance at Beth Jacob Congregation that drew a crowd of 200 people. Joining the choir in the concert at Beth Jacob were students from Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, under the direction of Beth Jacob Cantor Arik Wollheim; from Shalhevet High School, under the direction of Joelle Keene; and from the Jewish Community Children’s Choir, under the direction of Michelle Green Willner. The Yemin Orde choir also appeared at Milken Community Schools on April 13.

The touring choir included 11 residents and one graduate of the Yemin Orde Youth Village, which operates 20 homes for children in need.

“They remain connected to the village long after they graduate,” Barbara Sherbill, a marketing and communications associate at Friends of Yemin Orde, which raises funds for Yemin Orde Youth Village, said in an interview.


The April 14 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) annual Entertainment Industry Dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel honored Ken Solomon, president of the Tennis Channel.

From left: Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Board Chair Eric Kingsley, Larry Scott, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind, honoree Ken Solomon, Ben Silverman and Bill Macatee. Photo courtesy of Anti-Defamation League 

“As a respected leader in the sports and entertainment industries, Ken Solomon regularly uses his platform to spread messages of inclusion and speak out against bias and prejudice,” ADL regional director Amanda Susskind said in a statement. 

More than 500 people attended the dinner, including celebrities Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who were 2014 ADL Entertainment Industry Award recipients; Berry Gordy Jr.; Norman Lear; Chuck Lorre; Ben Silverman; and Larry Scott.

Bill Macatee served as the emcee of the event, which raised more than $850,000 for ADL. 

ADL is an organization that combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination. According to ADL press materials, “The ADL Entertainment Industry Award is given to individuals annually for their vision, leadership, accomplishments and contributions to the entertainment industry.”


Shalhevet High School 2012 graduate Rachel Lester won the grand prize, $7,500, for her submission to the Israel Video Network “Inspired by Israel” video contest, which launched in March and garnered more than 100 submissions from across the world.

Rachel Lester, the grand-prize winner of the Israel Video Network “Inspired by Israel” video contest. Photo courtesy of Jewish Journal

“We wanted the people participating to show how Israel is inspiring them and why is Israel inspiring them,” Adam Milstein said in a phone interview. 

Milstein’s foundation, the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, a partner in the contest, announced the winners April 7.

Lester won for her film, “Superman’s Got Nothing on Israel,” which focuses on Israel’s efforts providing aid to countries that have experienced mass-casualty incidents. 

The current USC student has experienced Israel firsthand. In 2015, Lester took time off from her schooling to volunteer for the Israeli program, Sar-El. She writes the Jewish Journal blog “All About That Base.”

Shlomo Weprin and Joshua Fleisher’s film, “The Shuk Gallery,” won first prize. The video follows street artists Solomon Souza and Berel Hahn and their efforts spray-painting portraits of famous Jews onto the shuttered doors of a popular market in Jerusalem. First prize was $2,500.

Additional winners included the short “Roots,” produced by film-based education program Jerusalem U; and visual artist Shai Getzoff’s “City of Soul.” Each received $1,000.

Israel Video Network is a website that features videos about Israel and the Jewish people.


Residential treatment center Beit T’Shuvah has hired as its CEO psychiatrist Bill Resnick, who has served as chair of the organization’s board of directors for the past four years.

Bill Resnick and Harriet Rossetto. Photo courtesy of Beit T’Shuvah

“The changes we are making will serve the good of all concerned. Rabbi Mark [Borovitz] and I are letting go of our administrative duties in order to pursue our passion to teach, write and spread the message of spiritual recovery to other communities,” the organization’s founder, Harriet Rossetto, said in a statement.

Rossetto will continue as a senior consultant to the treatment center and Borovitz will remain the center’s senior rabbi.

The leadership changes are effective immediately, according to Janet Rosenblum, the new director of advancement at Beit T’Shuvah, which serves community members suffering from various addiction issues.

Meanwhile, succeeding Resnick in the role as board chair is current vice chair Russell Kern.

Beit T’Shuvah currently treats about 150 residents.


Gathered around a U-shaped seder table, the crowd at a youth center on Overland Avenue chanted: “We were slaves — now we are free people!”

For one of the guests at the second-night seder held by B’nai Horin (Children of Freedom) on April 23, the words were literally true.

“It’s a life [in which] you cannot see the horizon,” Avelino Reloj, a human trafficking survivor from the Philippines, told the seder-goers. 

He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Donna. Both of  them work with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), advocating on behalf of current and former victims of trafficking.

After losing his job in the Philippines, Reloj was thrilled to find work in the United States, but a series of disheartening surprises began turning his enthusiasm into dread.

Arriving in Florida, he was forced to sign a new contract, his employer took his passport, then never delivered his wages. Meanwhile, back in the Philippines, the debt he’d taken on to finance his journey “kept on building up every day,” he said.

“In that moment, I didn’t ask a question,” Reloj said. “My nervousness kept on rising.”

In 2009, he managed to escape and find work as a caregiver for the elderly in Arizona, but his new employer also exploited him, forcing him to work when he was sick and denying the wages he’d earned. Again he escaped, this time taking a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles.

“The worst part was here in California,” he said. 

He was forced to work 12-hour days and rarely allowed to sleep through the night, he said.

The seder held by the nomadic Reform congregation was meant to draw attention to the fact that Los Angeles, one of the main points of entry to the U.S., is also a center for exploitation of foreign workers.

Finally, in June 2011, Reloj learned about CAST, which helped him secure his freedom and permanent residency status. In 2013, his wife joined him in Los Angeles.

“[CAST] gave me freedom,” he said. “They gave me hope.”

— by Eitan Arom, Contributing Writer


Beit T’Shuvah Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz recently released a book, “Finding Recovery and Yourself in Torah: A Daily Spiritual Path to Wholeness” (Jewish Lights, 2016).

Television director and producer Jack Bender and Beit T’Shuvah Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz come together during the book launch for Borovitz’s new book, “Finding Recovery and Yourself in Torah.” Photo courtesy of Beit T’Shuvah

And on March 30, he appeared at a book launch, which took place at Beit T’Shuvah’s Venice Boulevard campus, to celebrate the work’s release.

The event drew approximately 300 attendees, including Aryeh Cohen, a professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University.

“I had the distinct pleasure to be at the book launch. Rabbi Mark is a classic Chassid in the mold of the Toldot Yakov Yosef, whose first question is always: ‘How is this Torah relevant today?’ ” Cohen said, as quoted by a press release. “Mark asks that question in ways that save people’s lives.”


Brentwood luxury real estate agent Anna Solomon was named to the board of directors of Hadassah Foundation, per an April 19 announcement.

Anna Solomon, a member of the board of directors of Hadassah Foundation.  Photo courtesy of Anna Solomon

Solomon “has been a member of Hadassah for close to 30 years,” the statement said.

She is one of five recently elected Hadassah board members. The others are Margaret Offit Gold of Rockville, Md.; Jennifer Goldsmith and Linda Saker of Brookline, Mass.; and Phyllis Silverstein of Marietta, Ga.

Founded in 1998 by Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah Foundation “enables Hadassah to address unmet societal needs in Israel and the United States,” according to hadassah.org. 


The board of directors of Reboot announced on April 4 that it has hired music industry veteran and current Jewish communal professional David Katznelson as its new executive director.

David Katznelson. Photo courtesy of Reboot

Katznelson, the former chairman of the board of Reboot, the nonprofit behind the National Day of Unplugging and other initiatives, worked for more than 30 years in the music industry. Most recently, he served as director of strategic change at Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties.

“I am beyond excited to be taking on this new role at Reboot, an organization I have loved since its beginnings,” he said in a statement.

Katznelson succeeds Reboot’s interim executive director, Shane Hankins.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and shaking: AFMDA Humanitarian Award, Tour de Summer Camps and more


The Beverly Hilton was filled with laughter and emotion on the evening of Oct. 22 as Jerry Seinfeld emceed the American Friends of Magen David Adom’s (AFMDA) Los Angeles Red Star Ball, which drew 1,100 guests and raised $12 million. 

Those funds will go toward ambulances, medical supplies and the construction of an underground blood-supply facility in Israel that will be immune to rocket attack and natural disasters and will provide 97 percent of the blood used by Israel’s hospitals and the Israel Defense Forces.

From left: Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld attend the American Friends of Magen David Adom Red Star Ball. Photo courtesy of AFMDA

The world-famous comedian and sitcom star took the stage after a series of intense videos highlighting the life-saving role in Israel that Magen David Adom has played, particularly during the spate of Palestinian knife attacks in recent weeks.

“As a comedian, I always like to perform after emergency activities are shown with injured people and blood flowing,” Seinfeld joked. He then went into a routine touching on many of his classic observations of life, ranging from marriage and children to smartphones and voicemails.

Dina and Fred Leeds, the evening’s hosts, told the audience that in the first three weeks of October, Magen David Adom had provided treatment for 174 casualties since the knife attacks began. After the names of the nine Israelis who were murdered in the attacks were read, several Magen David Adom volunteers were brought onstage, including Hananel Alvo, who was stabbed several years ago on his way to work, then became a paramedic for Magen David Adom after his life was saved by the group’s paramedics.

AFMDA presented the Humanitarian of the Year Award to Adam and Gila Milstein, who are major donors to groups such as the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and StandWithUs. (Adam Milstein was recently named national board chairman of the IAC.) Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and Ben Marandy received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Barak Aviv received the Next Generation Award.

Following a 30-minute after-dinner fundraising appeal — which included a $5 million gift from casino mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam — Seinfeld took the stage again before dessert to close out the evening.

Joining Seinfeld in attendance was one of his co-stars from “Seinfeld,” Michael Richards, who played lanky goofball Kramer. Actresses Odeya Rush and Karla Souza also came to honor Magen David Adom. 

Joining them was a distinguished group that included Michael Milken, Art Bilger, Antonio Villaraigosa, Elan Carr, Sam Yebri, Geoffrey Gold, Shawn Evenhaim and Naty Saidoff

— Jared Sichel, Senior Writer


This year’s Tour de Summer Camps — the annual community cycling event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — drew more than 500 cyclists on Oct. 25 and raised $1.2 million through riders and sponsorships for summer camp scholarships, according to Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.  

Tour de Summer Camps, the annual community cycling event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, raises money for summer camp scholarships. Here, some of the beneficiaries express thanks to Federation for its efforts. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography 

Rodney Freeman, a Federation supporter who is active in a Federation real estate and construction group and who was instrumental in launching the event three years ago, raised more than $20,000, making him this year’s top individual fundraiser. Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, the top fundraising team, brought in nearly $43,000 at the event presented by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation. 

Accommodating all skill levels, the event featured 18-mile, 36-mile, 62-mile and 100-mile rides. Ages 16 and older were eligible to participate. Riders began and ended at Camp Alonim on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University.

Children were able to enjoy arts and crafts and visit farm animals, as well. Those younger than 16 who raised funds were considered “virtual riders,” according to the Tour de Summer Camps website. 

“It’s about the kids and the family,” Sanderson said. “It’s not about any one camp or institution.”


Entertainment executives mingled with Jewish community leaders at an Oct. 20 American Jewish Committee (AJC) awards dinner at the Globe Theatre. More than 200 people turned out, including dinner co-chairs Ron Meyer, NBCUniversal vice chairman, and Donna Langley, Universal Pictures chairwoman.

From left: NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara; Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell; Universal Pictures Chairwoman Donna Langley and Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz attend an American Jewish Committee dinner Oct. 20 at the Globe Theatre. Photo by David Medill

AJC, an advocacy organization focusing on Israel and domestic issues, awarded Jeff Shell, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman, the Dorothy and Sherrill C. Corwin Human Relations Award — the highest honor AJC bestows upon members of the entertainment industry.

“AJC plays an irreplaceable role for the Jewish community,” Shell said, as quoted in a press release. “AJC isn’t just an organization that fights anti-Semitism across the globe — it promotes freedom and tolerance of all religions and cultures and builds bridges at a time when we desperately need them.”

Dana Shell Smith, the honoree’s younger sibling and the United States ambassador to Qatar, delivered a keynote address about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and AJC Regional President Dean Schramm discussed the mission of the organization.

Mark Hoppus, vocalist and bassist for rock band Blink-182, served as master of ceremonies. Level A Cappella performed. 

Other attendees included Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros. chairman and CEO; Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz; and former national AJC president and prominent entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer, as well as the Corwins’ children, Bonnie Corwin Fuller and Bruce Corwin.


The Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) Magnolia Council Spirit of Hope Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire honored Harriet Rossetto, founder and executive vice president at Jewish addiction recovery center Beit T’Shuvah, and Nancy Mishkin, chairwoman of the board at TCRF.

Rossetto spoke about how her work with Beit T’Shuvah has helped her understand what it is to be human.

From left: Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) Magnolia Council President Beth Goren; Harriet Rossetto, founder of Jewish rehabilitation center Beit T’Shuvah; Nancy Mishkin, Tower Cancer Research Foundation board chairwoman; and Shelley Warsavsky, TCRF Magnolia Council chairwoman attend a luncheon to support cancer research. Photo by Tiffany Rose

“I have accepted I matter and I’m good enough, with all my flaws and imperfections, and so are all of us; I make peace within myself with right action; I defeat sloth and existential despair by making my bed; I have resolved my good boy-bad boy problem by finding a Jewish bad boy and helping him become a rabbi,” the wife of Beit T’Shuvah spiritual leader Rabbi Mark Borovitz said.

Mishkin, former board chairwoman at Beit T’Shuvah and the child of Holocaust survivors, focused on how TCRF is making a difference, addressing approximately 400 people at the Oct. 12 event.

Among those present were TCRF Magnolia Council President Beth Goren and Chairwoman Shelley Warsavsky.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas.  Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

The trauma of privilege


I have been in the center of the swirl of awareness about the unintended consequences of affluence and privilege on our children. I meet these youngsters and their families when crisis penetrates the denial system and they arrive at Beit T’Shuvah, the recovery community I founded 30 years ago. I have listened to their baffled, bewildered parents who “gave them everything” only to have it thrown in their faces. I coined the family dynamic: “I hate you; send money.” At Beit T’Shuvah, we have been essentially “re-parenting” these children of all ages, allowing them to experience “all the disadvantages of success,” in the words of Larry Ellison.

A recent study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds a direct correlation between parents who overvalue their children and children who are narcissistic. Researchers found that while parental warmth was associated with high self-esteem in kids, that parental over-evaluation was not. Or as Madeline Levine put it: “Praise is not warmth pumped in; self-esteem is not self-efficacy.” I have heard from many recovering addicts that when they feel undeserving, praise exacerbates their self-loathing and sense of fraudulence.

I have read most of the developing literature on the effects of over-parenting, helicoptering, indulging our offspring, resulting in entitled, depressed, addicted and, most recently, narcissistic kids. Their despair manifests in a wide range of self-destructive behaviors: drugs; alcohol; food (stuffing or starving); self-mutilation (cutting, piercing); Internet addictions to gaming, chatting and pornography. The more passive expressions of hopelessness and lack of purpose are the “failures to launch” — those who never leave or return to the “nest,” sleeping away the days, refusing to grow up.

These are not just symptoms of narcissism. After more than 30 years of observation, I argue that these children have been traumatized. They suffer from what I call “the trauma of privilege.”

The benefit of viewing this condition through the trauma lens rather than the personality disorder lens is that the latter is static, the former infinitely reparable. The label narcissistic personality brands you for life; trauma views adaptive behavior as a learned way of being that can be unlearned. The wounded, fractured self can be repaired in a community that offers emotional, physical and spiritual healing through exposure to multiple emotionally corrective experiences for privileged families trapped in the cycle of Either/Or-ness, fear of inadequacy and the never-ending pursuit of perfection.

Seen through the trauma lens, these narcissistic characteristics are the result of primary attachment disorder and parental mis-attunement. The parents need to produce a “perfect” child, wherein the child’s successes are a reflection of the parents’ worth. This creates in the child a sense of being a commodity — “valuable but not valued.” They alternate between grandiosity and self-loathing or depression, unable to integrate self and self image. They live in a paradigm of Either/Or: I am either No. 1 or a total loser. Their “self” is fragmented, divided, at war. They keep asking themselves the wrong question: Which is the real me?

Healing the fractured self begins with the answer: “They are both the real me.” This leap from Either/Or to Both/And begins to repair the trauma of Either/Or parenting. Through this lens, parents over-value and/or overpraise their children because they, too, are fractured. Their fears, anxieties and insecurities about themselves render them incapable of reflecting wholeness back to their child. Parents who have zero tolerance for their child’s imperfections; who can’t tolerate their child’s sadness, rage, fears, unhappiness; who can’t be present and nonjudgmental with their child’s inconsistent and contradictory states of being; who can mirror only the praiseworthy aspects of the child, create narcissism — the quintessential split. 

This is why we treat this condition as a trauma, which can be repaired. We teach them how to fail forward, to accept their defects and imperfections, to live within limits, accept the discomfort of not getting what they want, to tolerate rejection and disappointment, and to take the right action no matter what they feel. We help them to “recover their passion and discover their purpose.”

Their challenge is learning how to integrate their opposing and contradictory selves, a necessary prelude to the development of integrity. After a considerable amount of time and attention, many of them come to life. They launch. These traumatized young men and women begin to take responsibility for their successes and failures. Their parents learn how to say no and stop defining themselves by their children’s successes or failures.

It is not only children of privilege who are failing, it is their parents. Those fighting so hard to keep them from harm are causing the most damage. Parenting needs a wake-up call, and children must be allowed to fail before they forget how to value true success and become victims of the trauma of privilege. 


Harriet Rossetto is the founder and executive vice president of Beit T’Shuvah, a residential treatment center and educational institution in West Los Angeles. On May 20, she spoke at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to discuss Beit T’Shuvah’s innovative approach to recovery treatment.

Moving and shaking: Bet Tzedek, Beit T’Shuvah and Forbes


Halfway through Bet Tzedek’s annual dinner gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel on Jan. 22, Jessie Kornberg, the brand-new president and CEO of the nonprofit legal-aid organization, stepped onto the stage. As she approached the microphone, one member of Bet Tzedek’s new leadership council whispered ecstatically to a reporter:  “We love Jessie.”

Kornberg has been on the job only since December. This was her coming-out party, and she immediately owned the stage — bringing up with her about 45 of the 60 members of her staff — and as she started to speak, she spread her arms wide and announced to the 1,100-member crowd: “This is Bet Tzedek.”  Then she went on to tell of the anonymous clients whose homes the attorneys had saved, the Holocaust survivors whose legal claims they had garnered, the infirm whose care the lawyers had assured.

“You are not alone,” Kornberg told the affluent crowd, although she was actually addressing those clients whose many needs the organization sets out to alleviate. “We will fight for you,” she said. “We are the army at your back.”

First impressions are often the most lasting, and in those few words, Kornberg, with her giant smile and simple message, had the crowd in her hands and on its feet for a full minute of standing ovation. The evening raised more than $2.25 million for Bet Tzedek, including meeting the challenge, announced from the stage, of a matching gift of $250,000 from Art and Dahlia Bilger, according to David Bubis, Bet Tzedek vice president of development.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was honored with the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award for his extensive service to the community. Southern California Edison President Pedro Pizarro was awarded the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award for his longtime support of the organization. Board member and vice president of Millco Investments Samantha Millman received the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award, and Bet Tzedek attorney Erikson Albrecht was honored with the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award.

Also in attendance were last year’s Lainer awardee, philanthropist Stanley Gold, as well as Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson. L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and attorneys David Lash, Mitch Kamin and Sandy Samuels, all past Bet Tzedek presidents and CEOs, were also in attendance, along with California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, and law school deans Robert Rasmussen of USC and Rachel Moran of UCLA.

— Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor


Beit T’Shuvah, a Culver City-based facility that treats patients suffering from addiction and also operates a full-service synagogue, honored Jon Esformes during Road to Redemption, the rehabilitation center’s 23rd annual gala. The Jan. 18 evening at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza drew 850 attendees and raised $1.6 million.

Esformes, who once suffered from alcoholism, was suicidal and homeless before undergoing treatment at Beit T’Shuvah, according to a Jan. 22 press release. Today, he is on the facility’s board and serves as the operating partner at Pacific Tomato Growers, a family-owned farming business in Florida that is one of the largest in the nation and that has fought to raise farmworker wages and improve farmers’ working conditions. (To learn more about Esformes’ work, watch a community screening of the film “Food Chains,” which features him, at Beit T’Shuvah on Feb. 8.)  

Above: Entertainers at Beit T’Shuvah’s gala included singer Shany Zamir and Beit T’Shuvah resident Ben Foster.

Below: Beit T’Shuvah graduates Asher and Rachel Ehrman fell in love during their treatment and are now happily married.
Photos by Justin Rosenberg, Creative Matters Agency

“He went from pushing shopping carts to filling the shopping carts of others,” Beit T’Shuvah founder and executive vice president Harriet Rossetto said of Esformes, as quoted by the press release. She leads Beit T’Shuvah with her husband, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, its head rabbi and CEO. 

The gala featured live entertainment — a musical performance by singer Shany Zamir and Beit T’Shuvah resident Ben Foster highlighted the event. Additional performers included Beit T’Shuvah Cantor Shira Fox and the Beit T’Shuvah Choir. Asher and Rachel Ehrman, who met and fell in love during their treatment and are now happily married, spoke about how Beit T’Shuvah has impacted their lives.

Co-chairs were Lise Applebaum, Meryl Kern and Janice Kamenir-Reznik


Milken Community School alums Mark Gurman (class of  2012) and Asher Vollmer (2008) were included in Forbes’ fourth annual 30 Under 30 list, which recognizes millennials making moves in consumer technology, finance, education and other fields. 

Mark Gurman, photo courtesy of Milken Community School

Already an accomplished journalist, Gurman was featured in Forbes’ crowded media section. He is currently the senior editor of 9to5Mac, one of the largest Apple product tracking sites. The 20-year-old began his ascent at the end of 2009, when he caught the eye of Seth Weintraub, the site’s founder, after locating several online references to Apple registering domains for tablet-related products and informing Apple news blogs about his discovery. This was all before the original iPad was announced and before Gurman’s junior year at Milken. Weintraub himself promptly hired Gurman as a 9to5Mac intern.

Asher Vollmer, photo courtesy of Milken Community School

Vollmer, 25, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media and Games Division, made the games category. He started as the “feel” engineer, dealing with controls, character movement and camera behavior for the game development studio thatgamecompany, but left in 2012 to pursue a more independent route. Shortly thereafter, his independent development team — consisting of himself, illustrator Greg Wohlwend and composer Jimmy Hinson — created “Threes!” a puzzle game in which the player moves numbered tiles to link multiples and addends of three. When there are no moves left on the grid, the tiles are counted for a final score. Vollmer collected an Apple Design Award last year when the tech giant named “Threes!” its best iPhone game of 2014. 

Vollmer also designed “Puzzlejuice,” a Tetris-inspired puzzle game, and “Close Castles,” an IOS strategy game played on a grid map in the same vein as the board game Risk. 

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Jack Bender’s lost and found


During his recent art show, “Junk Blessings,” at the Jewish rehab center Beit T’Shuvah, Jack Bender took the microphone and told the eclectic crowd that when he was a kid, “I’d throw paint up … and call it art. I sometimes feel like I’m still doing that.” 

It was a humble statement for a man who, though more well-known for his work directing and producing TV series such as “Lost” and “Under the Dome,” has a long history as an artist. But that’s par for the course with Bender, who seems, more than anything, to feel incredibly lucky for the success he’s found in life and for the spiritual journey he’s been on.

“I didn’t read much as a kid. I kind of learned everything I know from watching Abbott & Costello,” Bender said by phone, a couple of weeks after his Dec. 17 show benefiting Beit T’Shuvah. “The visual side of my brain was much more active, and that’s the way I learned.”

He started taking art lessons with Los Angeles artist Martin Lubner, who had a studio on La Cienega Boulevard in the 1960s. Bender would ride around town on his bike, picking up junk from alleyways and crafting it into artwork. At the same time, he was indulging his other love and sneaking into film studios. 

“I’d b——t my way onto the lot, and I’d hang out and watch movies being made, and television, which I was obsessed with,” Bender said. “I became an actor because it seemed like what I could do and make a living.”

But though he acted and later moved into directing, Bender never strayed far from his love of painting and sculpting. Over the years, he’s had five solo shows at galleries around town, by his account, and has another one upcoming in Detroit this year. 

“Junk Blessings” came out of a very personal place. Bender’s youngest daughter, Hannah Owens-Bender, spent time at Beit T’Shuvah after some well-publicized problems with substance abuse that landed her in trouble with the law during his stint on “Lost.” Bender credits the facility with having helped his daughter get her life back on track, and today she’s a successful costume designer in Los Angeles.

While Owens-Bender was at Beit T’Shuvah, Bender and his wife, Rabbi Laura Owens of B’nai Horin, became close with Beit T’Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto and her husband and partner at the center, Rabbi Mark Borovitz. Bender even ended up writing a book called “2 Broken People,” about the couple’s incredible life stories.

“Junk Blessings” consisted of more than two dozen paintings and sculptures created by Bender and displayed around Beit T’Shuvah’s sanctuary space. The crowd was mixed, young and old alike, and many of them seemed deeply moved by the art. Among the works were portraits of Borovitz and Rossetto, as well as scenes depicting biblical figures, junkies and people from all walks of life. 

Bender’s paintings are notable for the asymmetrical faces of his subjects, and his use of texture, color and symbolism. Many of the paintings feature hamsas, which Bender said represent the hand of God to him. It’s an interesting turn for a man who was raised without much religion. 

“I grew up as an L.A. Jew with Christmas trees. My parents weren’t interested in being Jewish,” Bender said. “One of my earliest memories is of a black-and-white Abbott & Costello movie on a roof, and a big Christmas tree.” 

The image came from the fact that Bender’s father, who was a furrier to the stars, used to take him to Costello’s home in Toluca Lake around Christmas. Costello would project movies for the neighborhood children in his backyard as a seasonal treat.

When he was a kid, Bender said, his parents asked him if he wanted to go to Hebrew school or have more time to play around after school. He took the choice most kids would and never became a bar mitzvah. It wasn’t until his wife started studying to be a rabbi that Bender became more connected with his Jewish side. 

“She has opened me up to a lot of what’s just in my cellular memory,” said Bender, who now enjoys attending services even if he doesn’t know all the words to the prayers.

Bender was working on “Lost” at the same time Owens was studying at the Academy for Jewish Religion. When the opportunity came up to promote “Lost” in Israel, Bender jumped at the chance. 

“I loved Israel,” said Bender, before launching into a story about his trip to the Western Wall. He’d been promoting the show on TV there all day and finally made it to the wall just before Shabbat. As he was standing by the wall, he heard a voice. 

“The numbers. They’re in the wall.” 

Bender looked around and found an Orthodox rabbi standing near him. 

“The numbers, from your show, they’re in the wall,” said the rabbi, who then proceeded to show him that people had stuffed the mysterious series of numbers from “Lost” into the wall. 

It was one of a few times that Bender would be awed by the power of his TV work to reach people. Another time involved a combination of his two loves, art and directing. Bender was tasked with directing the show’s Season 2 premiere, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” when two characters finally enter the series’ infamous “hatch.” Bender thought it would be interesting if the character living in the hatch had gone a little crazy and started painting. When he got the OK, Bender himself painted the mural, which became known as the “Swan Mural.”

The Internet lit up with reaction. Fans and journalists dissected the painting’s hidden meanings. There are pages upon pages on the Lost Wiki dedicated solely to interpretations of the mural. In reality, Bender said he just painted mostly what he felt like, incorporated a couple of numbers from the show and thought nothing more of it. To this day, he’s amused by the reactions people had to it. 

“At this point in my directing, I think I learned from painting how to let the spontaneity happen and be thankful when it does,” said Bender, who later went on to paint works for “Under the Dome.” “If a canvas is on the floor of my studio and my dogs walk on it … I always think it makes it better. There’s something about the ragged mistakes of making art, and actually film and television, the stuff you don’t plan on, that I actually think makes it better.”

Ultimately, that’s what “Junk Blessings” was all about — taking the twists life throws at us and making something of them. (Items from the Beit T’Shuvah show soon will be available for purchase on Bender’s website, jackbenderarts.com, he said.)

“All of us have junk in our lives,” Bender said. “The world has junk all around us. How do we transform the junk in ourselves, the junk in our lives, the junk around us, into something that’s either useful or beautiful or positive for the world?”

Theater as addiction therapy in ‘Bliss Point’


The healing power of theater underlies the collaboration between the Cornerstone Theater Company and rehabilitation centers around the city, which resulted in the company’s production of “Bliss Point,” a play about addiction and recovery, through June 22 at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles.

Playwright Shishir Kurup’s research included conducting interviews with residents of various recovery facilities, including Beit T’Shuvah (“House of Return”). 

Tricia Nykin, who had organized several acting workshops while a resident at Beit T’Shuvah, was heavily involved in the play’s development process, working with the playwright and Cornerstone, and she ultimately arranged for a reading for the Beit T’Shuvah residents.

“I wanted to get feedback as to the legitimacy of the script,” Nykin said.

The play focuses on two divergent scenarios that merge unexpectedly at the end. One concerns an addict whose friends come to get high with him in celebration of his birthday. Eventually, a particularly devastating event causes him to crash. The other scenario follows an East Indian journalist who is caring for his sick mother and also interviewing addicts at a treatment center for an article in a major magazine. 

One of the addicts telling her story to the journalist is played by Nykin, who is one of five cast members from Beit T’Shuvah, most of them with little acting experience. In fact, Nykin, who has been a professional actor since childhood and has a bachelor’s degree in theater, is one of only a few professionals in the 15-character play. 

She is also a heroin addict who came to Beit T’Shuvah almost a year ago as a “court commit.”  

“I eventually started selling heroin, and I got caught a lot,” Nykin said. “I got raided three times, and I went to jail, in and out, in and out, about seven times over the course of a year and a half. And then, on March 11, 2013, I went to jail for the last time.  

“The court and my probation [officer] decided they were not going to let me out. So, I was stuck, and I was really forced to look at myself, and it was miserable, it was difficult. And thank God for that, because it gave me the gift of desperation and enabled me to see that I felt freer in those four tiny walls in a cell than I did in the real world. That’s what made me want to change.”

Her grandmother read about Beit T’Shuvah, and her mother eventually got her alternatively sentenced to the center. She was immediately cast in a play the facility produces periodically, and she slowly began establishing a theater program.  

Now sober, Nykin moved out of the treatment residence about five weeks ago into a house where many Beit T’Shuvah staff members reside. She is employed as the managing director of the facility’s theater department.

Jared Ross, another resident who is part of the “Bliss Point” cast, said his own recovery, as well as the play itself, has helped him find a passion for learning and growing again. He said that, as an artist himself who draws, paints and sculpts, he particularly relates to the character he plays, whose artwork is exhibited in the Whitney Museum.

“But, also, [there’s] the dark side of this character — he’s been an IV drug user, which is something that I’ve battled since I was 16. 

“But he does come to a place of revelation, of wanting to survive, to really get his name out there and make it as an artist. And, just like with myself, for that to even have a shot at happening, I have to put the drugs down.”

In order to “put the drugs down,” Beit T’Shuvah residents are required to go to therapy and meet with their counselor every week, as well as a spiritual adviser every week, and go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every night.  In addition, both Jewish and non-Jewish residents must attend Torah study every morning and services every Friday night and Saturday morning.

There are also adjunct, voluntary programs, such as music, yoga, mindfulness meditation, creative writing, surf therapy and, of course, theater, which the center’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, believes is therapeutic in that it allows addicts to tell their story and the stories of other people.

“They can see themselves in other characters,” he said, “so it helps them get out of their own self-obsession. It helps them have empathy with other characters, other people. It also creates a community within the community. They know that their success, and the success of the project, is dependent upon everyone working together, so it gets them to be part of something instead of separate from everyone. Plus, they have a great deal of fun and camaraderie.”

The rabbi would like audiences who see “Bliss Point” to come away with an appreciation for the power of recovery and of redemption, “and to see themselves in the cast members,” he said, “so they start to realize that it’s not ‘those people,’ but it’s us.”

 

“Bliss Point” is at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, June 5-22. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2. For group tickets, email aescalante@cornerstonetheater.org. Pay-what-you-can: Suggested donation is $20.

Will Jews reject Donald Sterling gifts?: Jewish organizations recoil at Clippers owner’s comments


[UPDATE, May 2] David Suissa's conversation with Donald Sterling


Recent comments attributed to Donald Sterling, the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was banned for life from the league by the NBA's commissioner on April 29, have been denounced as racist by numerous area Jewish organizations, some of which have received donations amounting to tens of thousands of dollars from the embattled owner.

A search of public records, made available through the website Guidestar.com, indicates that from 2010 to 2012, the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave at least $10,000 to groups including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) and the Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, supported NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s actions. The museum received three donations of $10,000 between 2010-2012, according to Guidestar.com.

“There’s no place in America for this kind of racism,” Hier told the Journal. “We believe the action to ban him for life is correct, and we will not accept any donations from Donald Sterling in the future.”

The NBA commissioner’s action “is what should happen whenever someone makes anti-Semitic or racist remarks, as millions of people are touched by this view,” Hier said.

Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson made clear in an April 29 phone interview with the Journal that his organization also would not consider future donations. It received $10,000 in 2012.

“Donald Sterling is clearly not a member of the Jewish community,” Sanderson said. “He has chosen to make small gifts to a large number of organizations. … We are appalled and abhor the comments Sterling made. We condemn Sterling for his comments, and we plan on not accepting his gifts in the future.”

On April 25, a recording was released in which the billionaire Sterling — who grew up Donald Tokowitz in Boyle Heights and is a member of Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills — allegedly is heard having a conversation with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and he asks her not to bring black people to basketball games. In the recordings, the man tries to justify his controversial comments by saying that, in Israel, blacks are “treated like dogs.”

The NBA’s commissioner placed a lifetime ban upon Sterling, as well as a fine of $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. Silver said at the press conference that he would do everything in his power to rally the NBA governing body into forcing a sale. Since this story broke, several of the Clippers’ major sponsors, including longtime partners CarMax and State Farm, have either suspended or terminated their deals with the team.

An April 28 statement from JVS Board President Jim Hausberg and CEO Vivian Seigel described the reported comments from Sterling as “deplorable” and “indefensible.”

“We are shocked and stunned by the blatant racism of these alleged remarks, particularly from Mr. Sterling, who has been a supporter of many nonprofit organizations and understands the tragic consequences of discrimination and anti-Semitism,” it said.

The organization received a total of $30,000 from the Sterling Foundation between 2010 and 2012, and used the funds to support work with at-risk, foster and on-probation youth, according to the statement, which did not comment on the possibility of future donations.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust received identical gifts that were spent to provide free Holocaust education, according to a statement from its board. Looking ahead to the potential of future donations, the statement asked the question: “If funds that have already been committed to charity cannot be distributed to organizations that are committed to fighting bigotry, how else should they be used?

“Perhaps Mr. Sterling and his family will choose to make amends … by redoubling his donations to organizations that combat the very corrosive disease from which he obviously suffers. That would seem to be the appropriate way forward from this debacle.”

In all, the Donald T. Sterling Foundation has made donations to more than 10 Los Angeles Jewish organizations over the last three years, according to Guidestar.com:

Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles: $50,000 (2010).

Beit T’Shuvah: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Jewish Home: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Museum of Tolerance: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Vista Del Mar: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging: $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Creative Arts Temple: $10,000 (2012).

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles: $10,000 (2012).

Temple of the Arts: $10,000 (2012).

We don’t live in Stepford


Not long ago, I showed up for a Friday night Shabbat service at Beit T’Shuvah in Culver City. Over the years, I have counseled a number of congregants whose adult children were saved by this addiction recovery program, and I wanted to experience Beit T’Shuvah’s spiritual Shabbat service, which I had heard so much about. 

As I walked into a room crammed with several hundred people, I spotted one of my young adult congregants who had shared his struggle with addiction with me over the years. He gave me a big hug — it was clear he was grateful for the opportunity to share this part of his life with his rabbi. 

A short time later, I noticed a synagogue member sitting with her husband and two 20-something sons. I knew this family well and wondered what brought them to Beit T’Shuvah. Over the last 20 years we had shared moments of joy and sadness as well as a closeness every rabbi yearns for with his congregants. I wondered if they were there in support of a family member. When I finally caught the eye of the congregant, it was if she had been punched in the stomach; there was no joy in her eyes, only fear. I knew then that she was there for one of her boys. 

Toward the end of the service, when I made my way to the exit to get a little air, one of the sons left his seat to find me. He said it was as if God had brought me to him. He had not been at Beit T’Shuvah long, and he made his mom promise that she would not call me until he had contacted me first — thus his mother’s look of surprise and consternation. He was there for an addiction to prescription drugs. My presence, he said, was an omen that everything was going to be OK. By the time his parents greeted me after services, they had gone through the emotional journey of my presence — from the fear of exposure to the gratitude of sharing. As they greeted me with hugs, I could feel a sense of vulnerability and relief. 

Whether it is a troubled teen who is sent to a residential program or a 20-something enrolled in a rehab program for substance abuse, we live in a community in which our imperfections are too often kept secret, sometimes even from best friends. As a rabbi, I see many of the struggles of “good Jewish families.” Few families have the perfect life, and yet we live in a community that often wants to portray the so-called perfection of a “Stepford” world. 

There are many reasons why our kids lose their way. Depression, addiction and criminal behavior are a few of the issues our community faces. I have shared the struggles of families who took legal custody of a grandchild because their child’s drug addiction rendered them an unfit parent. I have cried with parents who listened to their out-of-control teen scream, “You are a terrible parent!” while being sent to a residential program. I have tried to give strength to mothers who had to lock their sons out of the house so they would hit “the bottom” necessary for the self-realization that they needed help. 

Mental illness, suicide and incarceration round out the list of issues grieving or struggling parents share with me in the confidence of my office. These are not families in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. These are not dysfunctional families. These are our families. But unfortunately, many of them keep their struggles a secret because of the guilt, shame and embarrassment they often feel. This occurs partly because that is our parental default — to blame ourselves — but it is also the result of a community in which families like to portray everything as perfect.

In truth, not every family is required to share their family secrets. They have no obligation to reveal their family struggles if they don’t want to, and it is none of our business. In other instances they want to share, but worry about how people will respond. Will they be seen as bad parents? Will they be judged as a dysfunctional family? Will everybody know? (Why is it bad news travels so much faster than good news?) Sometimes the struggles are a result of biology, and sometimes they are psychological. In some cases they are just issues of bad choices on the part of the child. But in all instances, the family can use our help in coming to terms with their situation and having the strength to deal with each day. There are some extreme cases in which the abusive or dysfunctional behavior of parents can lead to the problem of the children, but in our community this is often not the case. Not that we only have perfect parents, but rather we mostly have “normal,” imperfect parents. We must stop judging parents for the challenges of their children and instead provide the place to deal with their situation.

It takes families time to get to the stage where they can share. Like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief, they must go through their own stages that will finally lead to an acceptance of their child’s condition. It is time for us to provide a safe and caring community in which people can share. A community in which the veneer of perfection is removed and the realities of family life become the norm. We must provide comfort to the struggling families as well as celebrate their successes. 

Some things I have learned in dealing with these families: Don’t try to fix the problem, just let them share. Don’t overreact, but be sympathetic. “What’s going on now?” and “How are you handling it?” are questions that allow the individuals to open up … or dodge the question. Don’t offer suggestions unless asked. Never say, “I know how you feel,” unless you have been in a similar situation and are willing to share it. Keep their family situation in confidence; it is their decision to share, not yours. Most of all, help them feel “normal.” The synagogue family I met at Beit T’Shuvah that night has not yet shared their family struggles with friends. It will take courage for them to “come out” and risk the exposure of not being a perfect family. But until they can, there can be no true healing.

I am not a psychologist or a therapist who specializes in these issues. My thoughts come from the experiences of dealing with many families struggling with these family dynamics. I only wish everyone could see what I see, to know that just about every family has confronted one of these issues. There is no need for guilt, shame or embarrassment; most of us have experienced something in our families, and we need to be able to support each other in these difficult times. Let us remove the false veil that shrouds the truth of our lives and perpetuates the myth that our families do not suffer these travails. In doing so, we can deal more honestly with each other and provide the strength and comfort necessary to deal with the realities of life. As we enter the High Holy Days, reflecting on our own imperfections and striving to be better, let us find the strength to acknowledge our imperfect families and begin to share the real struggles of real life with friends and community. 


Stewart Vogel is senior rabbi at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.

Second chances at Beit T’Shuvah’s creative company


High turnover is typical in the competitive Los Angeles marketing industry, but at BTS Communications, it has little to do with burnout. About 80 percent of interns and staff are hired full time or find work at another creative company after a six- to 12-month stint.

The other 20 percent? They relapse to an addiction and have to leave.

As a marketing and design firm affiliated with the drug and addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah, BTS Communications is populated almost exclusively with people who have struggled with serious drug, alcohol and other addictions. Some have been convicted of crimes and have served time in jail. Many are estranged from their families. 

But these interns and staff members who join BTS Communications to work in graphic design, photography, copywriting and more say that their experience there has given them the hope, meaning and practical skills necessary to gain a new lease on life.

“It’s given the residents hope that they can learn something. It’s given them a way of expressing their own creativity and artistic talent. It’s helped them learn how to write and be of service to other nonprofits, so that now they’re learning how to put their talents together and use them to serve somebody else,” said Beit T’Shuvah COO and Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz.

The beginnings of the enterprise go back more than two years, to when John Sullivan, a resident with an art background, told Beit T’Shuvah staff that their marketing materials could use improvement. He volunteered to help, and soon took charge of designing all communications materials for the facility near Culver City. Eventually he hired several interns from Beit T’Shuvah, most of whom had art experience, to help him, and began recruiting additional clients and charging them for marketing work. 

To help pay for equipment and office space less than a mile from Beit T’Shuvah, BTS secured a $250,000 grant from The Jewish Community Foundation as part of its Cutting Edge Grants program, paid over a three-year period. Sullivan, its co-founder and creative director, also won the L.A. Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition, beating out dozens of nonprofit ventures to receive $12,500 for BTS.

Now the agency is poised to bring in $400,000 of business this year. Close to 70 percent of that is from outside clients, with the remaining work coming from Beit T’Shuvah, according to Lon Levin, president of BTS, and one of two employees who are not current or former Beit T’Shuvah residents. (All of the interns are residents.) 

“It’s grown exponentially in the last year,” said Levin, whose goal is to hit $1 million of business in the next year or two. 

The agency technically is a nonprofit. After paying salaries, rent and other expenses, all profits are meant to go to Beit T’Shuvah, although it has yet to break even, according to Levin. 

While many early clients were Jewish nonprofits, BTS is now branching out to secular and mainstream businesses and agencies, including Mammoth Mountain, FinditParts and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. 

Levin, a professional illustrator/cartoonist who also has held advertising positions with Warner Bros. and Sony, said that BTS has the advantage of being able to offer quality marketing work at a bargain rate — one-half to two-thirds cheaper than a comparable marketing firm due to its low overhead, he said.

The group also is starting to specialize. Levin says BTS is developing an expertise in designing mascots and logos, and he hopes to leverage his staff’s photography talents to expand into the action sports area.

“They’re doing professional-quality work, and we were really impressed with their previous projects,” said Matt Davidson, director of programs and marketing at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades.

Plus, he said, the shul would have been unable to afford a full-service marketing firm, offering copywriting, design and photography services, elsewhere. The connection to Beit T’Shuvah and its social mission were “icing on the cake,” Davidson said. 

Working at BTS has been life-changing for Beit T’Shuvah residents like Kendl Ferencz, a 26-year-old woman who was the marketing agency’s first intern and is now on staff as senior art director. She said she doesn’t know if she would have stayed sober were it not for working there. 

An artist from the East Coast who once was offered a scholarship to a graphic design program, Ferencz had been in and out of rehab programs for years. Whenever a program would end, she would get placed in a transitional job — such as working in a coffee shop — which she found so depressing and uninspiring that she would relapse. Working at BTS gave her hope that life could be different, she said.

“It gave me a reason to think I can be a person again,” Ferencz said. “I just thought that I had screwed up my chances.” 

Her experience isn’t unique: Ferencz says she sees over and over again people coming into the agency “sad and quiet and sort of lost,” then slowly becoming inspired.

“It brings them back to life again. Treatment does that, but what happens after treatment? It’s cool to watch people come in here and totally change.” 

Borovitz said it’s been a great way to help people get into non-entry-level employment, but there’s been other value, too.

“We’ve taught other nonprofits how to market themselves, and taught people that addicts aren’t just throwaways,” he said.

While Ferencz remains on staff for the time being, many residents use their skills and training to get jobs elsewhere. 

Levin told the story of one employee — BTS has a staff of 10 — who once was in prison for embezzlement and drug use. He became very polished at bringing in new business for BTS, but thought he would never be able to get another job due to his background. Several months ago, he interviewed for a position at a marketing firm in Los Angeles and got the job — making three times what he was at BTS.

Levin said stories such as these are common, and that the impact this agency has on people’s lives is what attracted him to become president. Although Levin has had a prestigious career in entertainment and publishing, he said he no longer measures success financially. 

“I was looking more into how can I help people; how can I do something that will be significant or change someone’s life.”

Moving and shaking: City Hall Passover, Shalhevet School crowned champs, Beit T’Shuvah runs


Los Angeles City Hall held its first-ever Passover celebration, which was organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The March 19 festivities took place on the City Hall forecourt, adjacent to the Spring Street steps. It brought together city leaders and clergy, including Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; L.A. City Council Members Jan Perry, Paul Krekorian, Dennis Zine, Bill Rosendahl and Joe Buscaino. Rabbi Joshua Hoffman of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) led the ceremony. Jonathan Freund, interim executive director of the Board of Rabbis; Rabbi Judith HaLevy, of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, who is president of the Board of Rabbis; Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue; and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also participated. Cantor Phil Baron of VBS led a chorus of sixth-graders from VBS Day School, and additional music was performed by kindergarteners and transitional-kindergarteners of Beth Hillel Day School.


Ryan Dishell. Photo courtesy of BBYO, Inc.

 

 

 

Pacific Palisades teenager Ryan Dishell, a student at Crossroads School, has been elected to serve as the international vice president of programming of the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) leadership program and high school fraternity, Aleph Zadik Aleph. Dishell, who was elected to the board of the worldwide pluralistic teen movement during BBYO’s international convention this past February, will hold the post for a yearlong term beginning in July.


Shalhevet School's Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University's annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams. Photo courtest of Yeshiva University.

After beating the Frisch School Cougars of Paramus, N.J., 62-53, in a basketball game on March 11, the Shalhevet School’s Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University’s annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams.


Run

Beit T'Shuvah resident Noah Mann completes the L.A. Marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 26 seconds. Photo courtesy of Beit T'Shuvah.

Culver City’s Beit T’Shuvah, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, participated in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 17. As part of team Run to Save a Soul, 54 runners, including Beit T’Shuvah residents, board members and alumni, completed the 26.2- mile race. This is the fourth year that Beit T’Shuvah has participated in the marathon, with residents training for six months leading up to it. As of March 22, the rehab center’s team had raised $125,500, surpassing its goal by $500, to help fund the cost of care for residents of Beit T’Shuvah.


Michel Jeser. Photo Courtesy of Marvin Steindler Photography.

 

 

Michael Jeser, executive director of Hillel at USC, will move to become executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW) in mid-June, USC Hillel Foundation board chair Howard Schwimmer announced on March 20. Jeser will replace JWW interim director Lois Weinsaft. JWW was founded in 2004 to fight genocide, and its education and advocacy work is done through a coalition of synagogues, churches, individuals and partner organizations. JWW’s ground-breaking solar cooker program has helped women in the Sudan and Congo to cook without having to leave their camps to search for firewood, which had previously left them vulnerable to rape and assault.


Suzy and Stephen Bookbinder and Leora and Gary Raikin were honored March 17 at Kadima Day School’s annual gala, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. Suzy Bookbinder, president of the school’s board of trustees, is chief development officer for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, while Stephen is a senior high-definition video editor at Technicolor. Leora Raikin has a passion for African folklore embroidery and lectures, exhibits and teaches workshops throughout the United States, while Gary is a CPA. A Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the school, which is now in its 42nd year, went to Ronit and Amnon Band.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com

Local Birthright offerings feature niche trips


Registration began this week for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program offering free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26 that was created to connect young people to their heritage. This year, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is co-sponsoring a variety of opportunities: With nine trips and room for 40 people on each, there are 360 spaces available, however many trips fill up quickly.

Designed to serve a cross-section of young adults in the local Jewish community, these trips are inclusive and “low-barrier” to join, said Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president. They cater to a wide variety of participants: Jews of all denominations, LGBT Jews, Iranian Jews and Jews in recovery from substance abuse.

L.A. Way —“the flagship program for L.A. community trips,” according to Michael Gropper, program director of Birthright Israel at Federation — includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The original Los Angeles community Birthright trip, L.A. Way, offers two trips this summer, for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers of the same age will accompany the group for the entire 10 days. 

Another option, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors, is for the more adventurous soul, with treks across the Holy Land, visits to cultural and historical sites, and more. As with L.A. Way, IDF soldiers accompany participants for the entire 10 days. Three of these trips will be offered this summer — one for ages 18-22 and two for ages 22-26.

Niche trips that the Federation is involved with include the L.A. LGBT & Ally Trip. It takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults as well as their friends and family — ages 22-26 — on an exploration of arts and culture of Israel’s LGBT community. Participants also learn about Israeli gay rights and visit classic Israeli sites, and the trip concludes with the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade. JQ International, an LGBT Jewish movement, co-organizes the trip.

The LGBT trip “seeks to layer participants’ Jewish identities and LGBT identities in a whole new way with Israel as a setting for this process,” according to absolutelyisrael.com. 

Meanwhile, L.A. Way’s Recovering Israel trip, intended for individuals in addiction recovery, delves into programs helping Israelis who struggle with substance abuse. It also provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment in which to learn about Israel’s culture, history and politics. Beit T’Shuvah, the Culver City-based residential treatment center, co-organizes the trip, which is for ages 18-26.

Lastly, L.A. 2 Israel — Persian Style brings Los Angeles’ Iranian community on a tour of Israel’s most famous attractions. Inaugurated this past winter, the trip is run by provider Sachlav — also known as IsraelOnTheHouse — which has a reputation for appealing to the Iranian community. Its two trips are intended for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively.

Registration for Birthright trips began on Feb. 13, and many close within a week, according to a Birthright official. For more information or to register, visit birthrightisrael.com.

Federation officials hope that the trips are just one step in Birthright participants’ continued engagement with the Jewish community. It has two fellowships through which former trip leaders and participants organize and promote events that keep their Birthright peers connected long after the trips are over.

All of this is part of Federation’s goal of making Birthright more meaningful than simply a free trip to Israel, Sanderson said. 

“For us, Birthright begins when someone applies, and the experience doesn’t end,” he said. 

‘Sacred Housekeeping’: Reflections of a soul saver


Sporting a blond wig and slinky dress, Beit T’Shuvah’s whippet-thin Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer sat on Harriet Rossetto’s knee and parodied Marilyn Monroe’s famous, breathy “Happy Birthday” crooning to JFK. 

Then the 250 or so people at Beit T’Shuvah — all of them fans of the Jewish rehab clinic/halfway house/synagogue in Culver City and Rossetto, its founder and CEO — joined in the singing.

The Dec. 29 celebration was not only for Rossetto’s 75th birthday; it also marked the debut of her first book, “Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir,” an enlightening and funny look back at her life before and during her time at Beit T’Shuvah.

When people come to Beit T’Shuvah, they’re usually in need of being saved from their own addictive behavior. At any one time, there are about 150 men and women of all ages in residence, nearly all of them Jewish, often with a criminal record. Some are repeat offenders remanded there by the courts as a last-ditch attempt to detour a dead-end life. Some are professionals whose lives, fueled by substance abuse, have spiraled out of control. Some are lost children, “nice” Jewish kids gone astray.

As part of the festivities, Rossetto received many grateful, emotional tributes. People stood and thanked her, referring to her as a “saver of souls,” something she’s made her life’s work.

One of the tributes to Rossetto was from a middle-aged man who talked about how Beit T’Shuvah had saved him. Then he echoed the gift-giver’s clichéd lament: “What do you give to the woman who has given you everything?”

Perhaps a young woman’s comment to Rossetto summed things up best: “[You created] this amazing organization because you believe in throwaway people. I came here when few people believed in me.”

At one point during the celebration, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Rossetto’s husband and partner at Beit T’Shuvah, waved toward the crowd. 

“Look what you’ve done, Harriet. You brought out all these people. They’re here because you touched their lives. Everyone here lives a better life for having met you. You’re not just a soul saver, you’re a soul enricher.”

Rossetto, wearing a glittery blouse with the text “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” in sequins, took the accolades in stride. She described Beit T’Shuvah’s long, strange trip: How she met Borovitz when he was in jail; how, after getting out, Borovitz came to Beit T’Shuvah in its early years, looking for a way to get his life on track; how he and Rossetto joined forces and became a couple at work and in life.

There were less-serious moments, too. She read aloud from “Sacred Housekeeping,” a chapter called “Rogue Rabbi & Rebel Rebbetzin,” mentioning that Borovitz, as far as she knows, is the only one who went from being a criminal to being a rabbi. She paused and added, “Usually it’s the other way around,” drawing a loud laugh.

Rossetto also talked about how Borovitz’s decision to study for the rabbinate — at the University of Judaism’s (now American Jewish University) Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies — put strains on her cravings to go to Costco on Saturday or have coffee before Shabbat services.

In her book, Rossetto wrote about what led her to start Beit T’Shuvah: “Something drove me to live outside the lines, always eager to stretch rules and limitations. I hated bureaucracy. And rebellion? It was the quality I most admired in myself and others. For me, every rule had an exception, which I believed kindled the spirit of Beit T’Shuvah and was a crucial agent in the healing of exceptional people.”

After the celebration, Rossetto talked with the Journal about her own personal conflict, which she also wrote about in “Sacred Housekeeping.”

“All my life, I’ve wanted to do good in the world,” Rossetto said. “That part of me has always fought with the part of me that wants to stay in bed and do nothing.”

Rossetto emphasized that her empathy for addicts and alcoholics comes from seeing those conflicting tendencies in herself. To drive the point home, Rossetto told a story. 

There was once a rabbi, she said, who ministered among thieves, drunkards and prostitutes. His talmudic disciples asked him how such a holy man could so easily understand the problems of “those kinds of people.”

The rabbi, Rossetto said, answered this way: “When I listen to them and look into their eyes, I discover that their weaknesses are reflections of my own. It is not that I have done what they have done; but I sense within me their lusts, their desires, their weaknesses, their temptations.

“If I listen to someone confessing his transgressions, whatever he’s done, whoever he is, and I don’t see myself, then I know I haven’t looked deeply enough. I know I must be hiding something within myself of which I’m not fully conscious.”

Rossetto said that for the last quarter century, while running Beit T’Shuvah, she’s looked deep into herself and seen the darkness that addicts and alcoholics have inside them. It’s that recognition of the darkness within herself, she said, that has given her the tools and the ability to help desperate people become whole.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Dec. 1-7, 2012


[SAT DEC 1]

Lewis Black

He yells so you don’t have to. Best known for his curmudgeonly commentaries on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Black returns to SoCal with more social and political rants. Sat. 8 p.m. $39.50-$49.50. Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (800) 745-3000. ticketmaster.com.

[SUN DEC 2]

Sing to Save a Soul

Cantors from across Los Angeles come together for an elegant night of musical variety. Beit T’Shuvah Cantors Rachel Goldman Neubauer and Shira Fox perform alongside top cantors and Jewish talent, including Cantor Chayim Frenkel (Kehillat Israel), Cantor Marcus Feldman (Sinai Temple), Cantor Herschel Fox (Valley Beth Shalom) and Seth Ettinger, student cantor at Ojai’s K’hilat Ha’Aloneem. Proceeds support the recovery of residents at Beit T’Shuvah, a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center. Sun. 6:30 p.m. $25 (general), $75 (reserved seating), $100 (reserved seating and dessert reception), $200 (premier seating and dessert reception). Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.

[MON DEC 3]

Jon Robin Baitz

The Pulitzer Prize finalist and L.A. native appears in person for an evening of readings and conversation at USC. One of the nation’s premier playwrights as well as a screenwriter, television producer and occasional actor, Baitz’s latest work, “Other Desert Cities,” opened last week at the Mark Taper Forum. Mon. 7-9 p.m. Free. USC, Doheny Memorial Library, Lecture Hall Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-3252. usc.edu/calendar.

[TUE DEC 4]

David Brooks

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks appears in conversation with Rabbi David Woznica at Stephen S. Wise Temple. Brooks discusses the personal experiences that have shaped his values as well as how these values influence his reaction to world events. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $15. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 889-2299. wisela.org.

[WED DEC 5]

“Post-Election 2012: The Challenges We Face”

The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles hosts a panel discussion on how the results of the Nov. 6 election will affect us. Scheduled speakers include Bill Boyarsky, columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed; former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl; Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause; and Jessica Levinson, associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School. CBS/KCAL political reporter Dave Bryan moderates. Wed. Noon. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8503. ncjwla.org.

“Mapping Jewish Los Angeles”

Wonder what Jewish Los Angeles was like more than a century ago? Go back in time with Karen Wilson, Kahn Research Fellow with the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. Her “Mapping Jewish Los Angeles,” a five-year initiative to create a multimedia digital archive of Jewish Los Angeles, will allow users to “drill down” at particular places throughout the city — for example, Pico-Robertson in the 1950s or Boyle Heights in the 1920s. Wilson shares the first exhibits of this intriguing project — examining the history of Boyle Heights, an East L.A. neighborhood where Jews were once the majority ethnic group, from 1884 to the present. Wed. 4-6 p.m. Free. UCLA Campus, Young Research Library, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327. cjs.ucla.edu

[FRI DEC 7]

“Who Bombed Judi Bari?”

On May 24, 1990, environmental activist Judi Bari and an eco-cohort were car-bombed on their way to a demonstration to save California’s redwood trees. Director Mary Liz Thomson’s documentary — the only film to come with a $50,000 reward, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the bomber — chronicles the still-unsolved case, the FBI’s refusal to investigate the incident, the agency’s arrest of the victims of the bombing and the victims’ successful First Amendment lawsuit against the federal government. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s NoHo 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

Human Rights Shabbat 2012

Synagogues throughout North America commemorate the intersection of Jewish values and universal human rights as part of an initiative organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, which advocates for the rights of all people. Participating congregations and communities include American Jewish University, Beth Chayim Chadashim, Beth Shir Shalom, B’nai Horin: Children of Freedom-Los Angeles, IKAR, Kehillat Israel, Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, Temple B’nai Hayim and Temple Israel of Hollywood. Fri. For more information, visit rhr-na.org/resources/human-rights-shabbat.html

You can go home again


On Fridays, the children would line up, all glittery pink shoes and Ninja Turtle T-shirts, and hike up a steep driveway from the preschool yard to the temple sanctuary. They walked single file or in pairs, one teacher in the lead and another bringing up the rear, each holding one end of a rope. The kids, 3 and 4 years old, gripped the length of the rope with their little hands stained with watercolor paint and Play-Doh dye. You could hear them singing Shabbat songs as they walked, and later, as they poured into the aisles and climbed onto the chairs in the temple and tried to sit still for a whole 20 minutes. By noon, when parents went to take them home, they were spent and tousled, excited but worn out by the morning's exploits. In their backpacks, they carried small challahs they had baked for that evening's dinner. 

The last time I looked, my own kids were putting their little challahs next to a store-bought one in our dining room. That was 15 years ago. Yet I can hardly drive past their old school these days without seeing them and their little friends, loved and cared for and blessed with that unspoken compact between fate and its children — that they will be eternally young, forever standing on solid ground, thriving and triumphant and able, should they ever need at the end of a long, hard morning, to go back to the quiet safety of home. 

That's what the rope is for, what constitutes a major difference between Western and more traditional cultures: past elementary school in this country, the rope becomes the umbilical cord that must be severed in the interest of parents and child; past voting age, it becomes a noose that'll kill you if you put up with it for more than four hours on Thanksgiving. In our neck of the woods, the rope may choke you if you let it. But if used sparingly, it can be the lifeline that's always there, right below the water's surface, in case you feel you're drowning. 

I saw that rope again last Friday night at the famed and fabled “Jewish rehab” clinic Beit T'Shuvah, on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. You don't have to be a patient or a family member to belong to the synagogue, or to attend Friday services, which is one reason I, and many others, were there that night. The other reason, I suspect because I experienced it that night, is that something extraordinary and transformative happens here every week. 

There is, to begin with, the range of characters you find here, and that you'd never see under one roof at a traditional shul. An African-American family sits in the front row, next to an Ashkenazi doctor and his wife, between a young, pretty, school teacher and a tall, tanned man in $3,000 crocodile cowboy boots. There's the six-piece jazz band that accompanies the slender young cantor, and the clinic's senior rabbi and spiritual director, Mark Borovitz, known affectionately as Rabbi Mark, whose personal story — ex-con saved by faith — he doesn't let you forget. 

And there is, to the great credit of the clinic's founder and director, Harriet Rossetto, the intentional shedding of pomp and circumstance, of the theatrical staging of board members and major donors on the bimah and the endless speeches by distinguished gentlemen in suits that is so common at more established synagogues. To my personal relief, there's also the condensed length — two hours instead of the usual four at traditional synagogues, the absence of a why-not-say-it-a-dozen-times-if-only-once-will-do? mentality that will have you recite the same few verses extolling the almighty's goodness and generosity until you forget what you're saying. 

Mostly, though, there's the word itself — teshuvah — and the very astonishing way in which it is realized here. In Judaism, teshuvah represents the process of confession and atonement and the eventual purification of the soul, the kind of thing we hope for around the High Holy Days, and, I dare say, rarely achieve. That is the mission and purpose of the center, its patients and staff. But it's the word's literal meaning — return — that rings especially true here.  

The minimum age for being admitted to Beit T'Shuvah is 18. Many of the patients are not much older than that. They are beautiful, brilliant creatures at the brink of adulthood, radiant with youth and promise. Just the other day, they were singing Shabbat songs and baking challah to take home to their parents. Some time between the moment they walked out of that first synagogue and into this one, they let go of the rope that had kept them on one path with most other kids their age. But now they're back, and the only thing they seem to have lost between that day and this is the sense of invulnerability, the illusion, perhaps, that they will never need a lifeline, never lose their way in the beaming, dazzling light of youth. 

Could anyone have seen, had they examined the palms of those little hands lined with sand and streaked with markers 20 years ago, the road these children would travel thereafter? Is that why they made those small, hard challahs? To leave a trail of breadcrumbs in case they went too far into the woods? 

It's not true, what they say about going home. In some places at least, for some fortunate people, you can go home again. On Shabbat, they even give you a challah in this home. It's larger than what the kids made in preschool and considerably more palatable — as good a reason as any to attend the service.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC whose column appears monthly in The Journal. She can be reached at ginabnahai.com.

The big reveal: How design makes rehab more serene


Room 9500 is the bottom rung at Beit T’Shuvah, the first stop for male addicts newly arrived from prison, the hospital or the streets. Six rookies at a time inhabit this snug dormitory as they adjust to life in rehab. For years, 9500 marked a dark and dreary start toward recovery — its windows blocked by bunk beds and dressers, the blue carpet stained and shabby. Longtime residents have called their stint in the room an “initiation,” and not in a good way.

On a recent afternoon, Drew Marr and Nick Martinez found their initiation would be a lot more pleasant.

“Wow, this is awesome,” Martinez, 19, said as he stepped into a fully made-over space furnished with new storage cubbies and polished hardwood floors, designer bed linens and a fresh coat of muted teal paint. “I feel like I’m in a hotel.”

Martinez and Marr, 27, have interior designers Jenifer Porter and Kelley Edwards to thank. “We tried to create a calm, quiet space,” Edwards said. “This is such a crucial time for the residents. We wanted to open up the room and give them something classic and comfortable.”

Porter and Edwards are two of the 70 local designers who have renovated rooms at Beit T’Shuvah this year as part of a charitable effort to give the Los Angeles addiction treatment center a much-needed facelift. Over four months, teams of decorators donated their time, talent and supplies to transform the facility’s 40-plus primary-care rooms into havens they hope will aid residents as they strive for wellness.

Organized by Heidi Bendetson, a designer herself and founder of the nonprofit Designed From the Heart, with help from entrepreneur Rhonda Snyder, the dramatic makeover will be revealed to the public in an open-house fete on July 12.

The design project has been an unexpected gift for the landmark residential rehab and synagogue, said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Beit T’Shuvah’s spiritual leader. And it couldn’t have come at a more apt time: The institution is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“This project is in keeping with our mission of letting people know that they matter,” Borovitz said. “It’s a way of telling the residents, ‘Yeah, you’ve made mistakes. You’ve come here at the absolute bottom of your life, but don’t think that you don’t matter.’ It’s our statement of belief in them.”

Bendetson and Snyder pulled the enterprise together at almost no cost to Beit T’Shuvah, which is the only Jewish-run treatment center in the country. They enlisted designers through professional contacts and word-of-mouth, giving recruits only a loose set of criteria to guide their work: You must raise all the funds and materials for your room. The room must be durable enough to support a high turnover of residents. The style shouldn’t be too ritzy or over-the-top — it should be a place of respite for residents slogging through the tough first phases of sobriety.

“The main thing we said to them was we wanted it to be a comfortable space that was therapeutic, that’s good for healing,” Bendetson said. “I’ve been blown away by everything the designers did.”

Before the project began at Beit T’Shuvah’s Venice Boulevard campus in early March, the primary-care units, which each house two residents for four to six months at a time, hadn’t been updated since the center moved to its current home near Culver City in 1999. The bedrooms were dingy and disorganized, with drawings etched into the walls by a parade of former residents. The bathroom tiles were cracked and smeared with a stubborn patina of soap scum.

Facilities manager Craig Miller stripped out the old wiring and furniture, and epoxy-coated the shower stalls. Then the designers came in with their painters, contractors and friends to fashion the new installations.

The renovation was carried out in five blocks of about eight rooms each, while temporarily displaced residents bunked with their peers. In each room, designers had three weeks to complete their work. At the end of each three-week period, residents were welcomed back to their transformed living spaces amid a clutch of cameras clicking rapidly to capture their wide-eyed disbelief, their open mouths, their heartfelt exclamations of, “Oh my God!”

Karen Greenberg said she was “in awe” when she first stepped into her redesigned room two months ago. The powder-blue walls, seagrass carpet and capiz-shell chandelier reminded her of a seaside spa, she recalled.

Greenberg, 38, landed at Beit T’Shuvah in 2008 for a methamphetamine addiction. When she returned for another stay this year, she was given the same room. “It was so messy and chaotic, but I had to humble myself and accept it,” Greenberg said. “Then I found out they were going to redo it, and the designers were truly a blessing.”

Heide Ziecker, Sarah Moritz and Alex Fuller gave Greenberg and her roommate plenty of drawer space to hide the heaps of belongings strewn around the floor. Ziecker had custom storage beds built by Meridith Baer Home, where she works, and obtained two sleek, forest-patterned armchairs from Janus et Cie.

“This is a room that I can really call home,” Greenberg said. “It’s so peaceful and a safe space for us. It’s not easy being back here, but this room helps me get through my day.”

The residents aren’t the only ones to be touched by the experience. Ziecker said she felt privileged to have a hand in a project that could help change lives. “I’m so excited thinking about the people who are going to be in this room for years to come and how this might be a bright spot in an otherwise difficult struggle,” she said.

Bendetson said that’s how she felt when she participated in a similar charitable design project at Good Shepherd, a women’s homeless shelter downtown, in May 2011. Until that point, her career as an interior designer had been fairly standard. But after remaking a room for a woman she’d never met, she yearned for more work that would lift her spirits so profoundly.

“I was so moved that I thought, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life — to get people together and bring them to places that need their help,’ ” Bendetson said.

She founded Designed From the Heart when the Good Shepherd project was over, and began searching for a Jewish organization that could benefit from a spruce-up. Snyder, a longtime friend who currently has a relative in treatment at Beit T’Shuvah, told Bendetson the unique healing center might be a good candidate.

But Bendetson had to chuck a few preconceived notions first. “I had to get over it being a rehab,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Why should you redesign rooms for people in rehab? Isn’t it their fault that they’re here?’ I had to get past the stigma and understand what goes on here and what it’s like for them.”

When she and Snyder approached Borovitz, the rabbi warmed to the idea immediately. It was Harriet Rossetto, Beit T’Shuvah’s founder and CEO, who needed to be convinced.

“I didn’t really see what this was about — I didn’t have the vision,” said Rossetto, who is married to Borovitz. “I can see transformations in people, but I’m not so good at transformation of space.”

Gradually, she realized that a clean, professionally decorated room could have a big impact on the facility’s 145 residents. “It’s about supporting their internal changes with an external manifestation,” she said, marveling at the night-to-day makeover of room 9500. “That can make an enormous difference in the message they get on just the first day: ‘Here’s a place that values me and my serenity.’ ”

Through programming and at Friday night services — which are routinely packed with upwards of 300 attendees — Borovitz aims to boost the self-worth of those in recovery, he said. Telling residents they deserve a beautiful place to live instills a twofold sense of value, he added: Not only do they reap the benefits of a soothing environment, but also they’re able to feel the support and care of the larger Jewish community beyond the walls of Beit T’Shuvah.

“Many people go through life thinking, ‘What difference does it make what I do?’ When you think like that, using makes sense — escape makes sense,” he said. “But when you’re involved in your life, when you’re immersed in it, when you realize that you matter to other people, it gives you a different relationship with living. Our message to the residents and the designers’ message to the residents is just that: You’re important.”

As Beit T’Shuvah turns 25, Borovitz and Rossetto hope to deliver this message on a broader scale. Beit T’Shuvah’s leadership recently purchased the building next door and plans to break ground on a remodel next month that would create new office space, meeting lounges and a youth center, among other amenities. Its board is in the midst of a $25 million capital campaign to finance the expansion and finish upgrading the existing facility.

The center’s programs already stretch the boundaries of what is typically offered at traditional rehabs, and Borovitz is eager to grow the catalog further. Residents can take part in surf therapy, basketball, creative writing and photography classes, dance, yoga and even music lessons at their own recording studio. Beit T’Shuvah has a choir and stages musical theater productions each year. Staff members — 80 percent of whom have gone through treatment at Beit T’Shuvah themselves — encourage residents to find their “passion and purpose” in life through elective activities, career training, in-house internships and, last but not least, mandatory Torah study every day at 7 a.m., Borovitz said.

“This program is not only about not drinking or using — it’s about changing the way you live,” he said. “People come because they want to live well and help others live well.”

To that end, Bendetson didn’t want to limit participation in the design project to designers by trade. She wanted to extend the opportunity to anyone with the will and the means. “If they could afford to do it and they asked to do it, I said, ‘Go for it,’ ” she said. “Love and desire are what you need in a charitable situation like this. I called my nonprofit Designed From the Heart, and I really felt that’s what they were doing.”

Local businesses also got in on the spirit of generosity. Lewis Hyman Inc. of Carson donated nearly all of the window treatments for the rooms, Snyder Diamond in Santa Monica contributed hardware and light fixtures, and Lester Carpet Co.  in the Fairfax district provided several rooms’ worth of carpeting.

Renovating a room wasn’t cheap — most units, including materials and labor, cost $10,000 to $15,000 each, Bendetson estimated. But that didn’t dampen participants’ zeal.

“As hard a job as it was to raise the money, afterward everyone said, ‘If I could do this again, I’d do it in a heartbeat,’ ” she said.

Many of the decorators left personal gifts for the residents of their rooms, such as monogrammed mugs or leather-bound journals for them to record their thoughts. Writing desks are a staple in most units. One designer hung a full-size surfboard on the wall and placed surfing photography books on the dressers.

In Mike Sauer’s room, designer Jill Wolff set aside wall space for a meaningful detail — a bronze sculpture of a miniature man pulling himself up a rope. The metaphor is clear to Sauer as he struggles to shake a gambling addiction that emerged a few years after he got sober from drugs and alcohol.

“It seems like one addiction after another,” he said.

But Sauer, 25, said he found hope at his first Shavuot celebration at Beit T’Shuvah this year. “It was cool to stay up all night and have nothing to do with gambling or drinking or using,” he recalled. “Just being together as a community and getting wrapped in the Torah — it was a pretty powerful experience.”

Gently lit by a bedside lamp amid the rich chocolate tones of his new room, Sauer looked around and smiled. “This is an amazing place,” he said. “This is a good place to start the rest of my life.”

For more information about Beit T’Shuvah’s “Grand Reveal” open house, visit

John and Paul, still alive


Last week, I started writing a column about John Sullivan, a former drug and alcohol addict who restarted his life, thanks to Beit T’Shuvah. But then I got interrupted by another great story, in a documentary called “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” directed by my friend Steve Kessler. I wasn’t planning to write about the film — until I saw a packed house at the Nuart on Saturday night give it a standing ovation.

What were those filmgoers so crazy about?

My simple theory is that they fell in love with the story of a singer-songwriter, a star of the 1970s and early 1980s whose life unraveled through drugs and alcohol and who is now sober and taking gigs wherever he can, at local Holiday Inns or even music halls in the Philippines.

I found both men’s stories irresistible, so I decided to combine them. What caught my attention in particular is that both Williams and Sullivan hate looking backward.

In the film, Kessler is constantly nudging Williams to look back. As they wander through hotel lobbies and small-town gigs, Kessler tries to get Williams to talk about his glory days, when he was one of the most revered entertainers in the country — picking up Oscars and Grammys and being a regular fixture on “The Tonight Show.”

This is the emotional core of the film: Williams wants to look forward, while Kessler wants to look back. Williams grudgingly humors Kessler, until a breaking point happens at the end (I won’t spoil it by telling you).

Sullivan also humored me and talked about his past (I didn’t give him much choice). He spoke about dropping out of high school at age 16 and spending the next 17 years of his life caught in a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol and petty crimes that often landed him in jail.

There was one episode especially that stood out. It happened about four years ago, while he was in a holding cell at a local courthouse. He had agreed to a deal from the prosecutor to do 16 months for a theft charge. But unbeknownst to him, his brother had appealed to the judge to send Sullivan to a rehabilitation center. The judge gave the brother 10 minutes to find a place that would take Sullivan.

The brother immediately called a friend, who put him in touch with Beit T’Shuvah, a faith-based residential treatment center and full-service congregation that has grown quickly over the past few years.

Beit T’Shuvah took him in, helped him get sober and, eventually, helped him enroll in a graphic design program. Today, Sullivan runs a marketing and design firm, under the auspices of Beit T’Shuvah, called BTS Communications.

Maybe that’s why his eyes light up when he talks about the future. “I have something to look forward to now when I get up,” he told me.

But what on earth could Williams have to look forward to, considering he fell so far from the top of the Hollywood food chain?

This is where Kessler’s film touches a nerve. Williams hates looking back, not because he loves and misses the old Paul Williams who was on top of the world, but because he’s repulsed by that person.

“Look at that guy, so smug and arrogant,” he tells Kessler in the film.

And also, as we learn, so phony. The old Williams, short, chubby and insecure, was obsessed with being “special” and with pleasing others, especially that elite club of Hollywood players, where he was never sure he belonged.

But body language doesn’t lie. The extraordinary thing about Williams today is that he looks genuinely happy. Not just sober and at peace, but happy.

He doesn’t miss the old days. He’s quite happy signing autographs in hotel lobbies and eating his favorite food, squid, with an order of Diet Coke instead of gin. His voice is raspy, but he still gives his all playing to tiny crowds, who adore him. He loves his wife and kids, and he still writes pretty songs (he wrote the song that plays at the end of the film, titled, appropriately, “Still Alive”).

Needless to say, Sullivan doesn’t miss the old days, either. All he wants to talk about now are the new design campaigns he and his team are working on. He’s especially excited about the possibility of creating a branding campaign for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to promote its education-based incarceration programs.

“We’re perfect for this assignment,” Sullivan told me. “Everyone who works at BTS has had a troubled past. We know the value of rehab. We understand the mentality of the convict.”

Williams and Sullivan both abandoned their pasts, although those pasts were sharply different. Sullivan left behind the lost, unproductive life of a small-time criminal addicted to booze and drugs; Williams abandoned the hyper-productive but empty life of a high-flying Hollywood star who filled his emptiness by seeking the approval of others.

In the end, though, they followed a similar journey back to personal redemption: Instead of looking backward or forward, they looked inward.

Sullivan looked inward and discovered he had a talent for art.

Williams looked inward and discovered he had a talent for being human.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Opinion: Beauty that heals


Last Sunday, I took my first trip to Beit T’Shuvah. I’ve been hearing about this highly successful addiction treatment center for years and had met some of its staff, but I’d never visited its campus on Venice Boulevard, with its sanctuary adorned with stained-glass windows, as well as some 80 to 90 bedrooms housing double that number of residents in various stages of recovery.

Driving down Venice Boulevard, you’d never notice the place. Famous for its high energy and innovative, nurturing spirituality, Beit T’Shuvah’s physical plant is not much to look at.  Which is OK, really, because despite what Hollywood might preach, aspiring to physical beauty is not always the greatest path to healing.  And being a little downscale probably does some good for people who want to lay low and find themselves.

But there are times when even the most high-minded could use a face-lift — or at least a massage — and Beit T’Shuvah’s time has come, thanks to the vision and generosity of two women who have been friends since childhood, Heidi Bendetson, a designer by trade, and Rhonda Snyder, an energetic entrepreneur who has a relative currently in treatment at the center. These women’s ambitious goal — to make over some 40 bedrooms by June 17 — is officially dubbed the Beit T’Shuvah Charity Design Project. Already they’ve “revealed” a half-dozen completed rooms in what has become, in fact, a very thoughtful and touchingly sensitive “Extreme Makeover.”

For the project, the pair has already recruited about 50 designers — some, professionals; others, people who just love to redecorate — to donate time, skills and all the furnishings. This includes everything — all the floorcoverings, lighting, furniture, window treatments, bedding and even some art. They figure that when it’s all done, about $100,000 worth of goods will have been provided. And that doesn’t count the innumerable hours of professional time, including the elbow grease needed to put it all together. The project is well on its way, but like anything of this scale, there’s always a need for more help. Particularly, Bendetson and Snyder said, from more designers and others who care to donate.

To see what’s going on there is, honestly, a bit breathtaking. I visited most of the rooms finished so far, after peeking into some sad-sack spaces still in their original state. What I saw was once dank and definitely overused spaces with no charm and even less storage space that have been transformed into places that would fit well in a nice hotel.

I was ready to move in. No kidding.

“It’s like the W,” one resident in the women’s quarters told me as I walked into a well-lit bedroom highlighted by a turquoise-colored wall stenciled with a reverse-white image of an enormous and delicately articulated cherry-blossom branch — a tree of life. Modern fixtures brightened the space, and a wall-length closet enclosed with translucent glass doors added elegance.

A more masculine space in the men’s quarters was simpler but just as inviting. “I don’t ever want to leave my room,” Gabriell Horton, 37, told me. “It makes me feel very comfortable, and it’s a big part of my recovery.” Horton, once addicted to methamphetamines, he said, now works nearly full time, thanks to Beit T’Shuvah, after beginning each day with Torah study.

“Before” pictures hang on the walls outside the rooms that have been completed: Where clothing once spilled out of closets, and once-off-white walls had turned gray, now order, art and mirrors — lots of those — enliven the spaces. There’s a sense of freshness and beauty.

“We told the designers, ‘These rooms should be a haven of serenity,’ ” Snyder said.

“We also didn’t want them to go over-the-top,” Bendetson added. The goal was to make nice, livable places that are sensitive to the needs of people who not only are working on their chemical addictions, but also on their self-esteem. Mirrors help to support positive self-images, the lightness to create a positive attitude.

Lexy Nolte, 20, is one of the younger residents; she’s an adorable, smiling young woman who took time to point out all that she loves in her made-over bedroom, which she shares with a roommate. A used chest has been rehabilitated into a multipurpose bureau, dark blue carpet covers the floors, and decorative new bulletin boards allow for personal pictures on the walls.

“I sleep much better now,” Nolte said, mentioning that when she moved in, the walls had been defaced by previous residents’ drawings — all gone now. As a lyrical touch, a small chandelier serves as an overhead light, the envy of all on the hall.

Bendetson’s first inspiration for the makeover came after she participated in a similar charity design project for the Good Shepherd downtown women and children’s shelter. One of 30 designers on that project, Bendetson regretted never getting to meet the residents once her work was finished. When she found herself looking to do her own charity project, Snyder and other friends led her to Beit T’Shuvah, a place that values openness to new ideas and new approaches as the heart of the healing process.

Bendetson and Snyder took their proposal to the facility’s senior rabbi, Mark Borovitz, who quickly welcomed them.

“We had not seen the rooms and didn’t know what we were up against,” Bendetson admitted. And both women were sensitive to the idea that their plan shouldn’t seem to be imposing an outsider’s view onto the place.

Borovitz didn’t blink. “His response was, ‘As long as we don’t have to pay for it, go for it!’ ” Snyder said, laughing.

And so, what’s happening is a win-win. The residents sleep better in rooms that make them feel good. The designers get to hear the oohs and aahs of gratitude, and, if all goes as planned, these new spaces will lighten the lives of residents-in-need for years to come.

Harriet Rossetto, CEO, founder and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah, a tough cookie who wears her heart on her sleeve, has always known how much the facility had to offer residents, but now it’s becoming even more tactile and obvious for the residents.

“The message this gives to the people who live here is ‘You Matter,’ ” Rossetto said, smiling ear to ear.

To see photos, visit this article at jewish journal.com; to participate or donate, contact designedfromtheheart@gmail.com or visit this article at jewishjournal.com.

Fighting to beat addiction


Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish addiction treatment center and synagogue, held its second annual “Knock Out Addiction” fundraiser on Sept. 15, drawing a crowd of more than 400 to the Petersen Automotive Museum for a gala that included six boxing matches.  Last year, Beit T’Shuvah’s rabbi, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, faced off with comedian Tom Arnold, but this year, professional boxers and a “secret celebrity guest” took to the ring. 

Robert Shapiro, founder of the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness, emceed the evening. Michael King received the Knock Out Award, and Zach Wohlman, a recovering addict and former Beit T’Shuvah resident who is now a boxer, was given the Recovery Award.  A live auction of mainly sports memorabilia preceded the boxing.

Ryan O’Neal, an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee, served as the secret celebrity guest and won his fight against Jimmy Lange.

The event raised $200,000, double the amount of last year.

At Beit T’Shuvah, they sing a song of ‘Freedom’


“How long must I roam, to find my way home …”

Natalie sings the lines tentatively, tugging at her black T-shirt, her voice soft and sweet.

But soft and sweet won’t cut it for a drug addict trying to work her way back into her family on seder night.

“This is your story. Stand up for it. What are you afraid of?” director Laura Bagish urges her.

Natalie, who asked that only her first name be used for this article, plays the lead role of Shira in “Freedom Song,” a Passover-themed musical produced by Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish residential rehab facility in Culver City. The actors are all alumni and residents of Beit T’Shuvah, and at a late-night rehearsal in the facility’s lunchroom, which also serves as both auditorium and synagogue, they are feeling the pressure of the three shows they will be performing before Passover.

Playing a lost daughter feels particularly familiar to Natalie: She is 18 and was addicted to heroin when, three months ago, she left Beverly Hills High School to check herself into Beit T’Shuvah.

As the cast cheers her on, she sings with more depth, but she’ll have to get stronger before her first performance, just days away.

“Freedom Song” was written nearly seven years ago, based on the real-life stories of Beit T’Shuvah residents. Conceived as a one-time production, the 45-minute, edgy musical has played continually since then to thousands of people at synagogues, schools and other organizations across the country.

The show serves as a form of therapy for the actors, but it is also a catalyst for the audience. After each performance, the cast holds a dialogue with the audience, and nearly always someone from the audience comes forward with an addiction story of their own.

“It’s amazing that the play is such a vehicle for people opening up, for cutting through the denial and allowing people to speak in a way that seeing a didactic seminar about addiction just wouldn’t do,” said Beit T’Shuvah’s Cantor Rebekah Mirsky, a former country singer who co-authored the script.

The actors use the Passover story as a lens through which to view their own journeys, and in turn reflect back to the audience a new way of internalizing the Passover story: What are you a slave to? Do you retell your foundational story and pull meaning from it, or do you hide your truth from yourself and from others? Do you truly understand what it means to live free of deception? 

The staging juxtaposes a 12-step meeting with a family seder. The music, a mash-up of original theater tunes, Jewish liturgy and forceful pop, with interludes of rap, plays as a constant underscore for dialogue that weaves itself into the music.

As the story unfolds, the audience learns that the seemingly happy family members on one side of the stage are enslaved to their idea of normal, while hiding truths about themselves. The addicts on the other side of the stage share their tales of deception and self-sabotage — tales that each new round of actors writes into the script to reflect their true journey. The addicts, the audience learns, have grown to understand that owning their narrative is the only road to authentic living.

The show highlights the haggadah’s imperative for storytelling. Even if the story is shameful — 200 years of slavery, 20 years of addiction — telling it can be a powerful tool not only for an ongoing process of national rediscovery, but for deep and difficult self-improvement.

“For people who have had to be secretive, who have been ashamed of themselves and been hiding in many ways from themselves, this is really powerful,” said Beit T’Shuvah director Harriet Rossetto, who founded the program in 1987. “The message to addicts often is, ‘If anyone really knows who I am, they won’t love me.’ And I think that is what our people get — that sense that I can be me, and tell my story, and people will still love me.’ ”

Ira S., a 53-year-old who worked in the entertainment industry, is recovering from decades-long drug and alcohol abuse (he asked that only his last initial be used). He moved into Beit T’Shuvah in 2008 and now works there as a counselor. He plays Grandpa in “Freedom Song.”

“I’m not the kind of person that people see a lot. When I first came here, it was all about trying to get by without being on the radar. I was trying to hide more than being present, and that was a part of me that needed to change,” he said in an interview.

He said he was reluctant to join the cast and froze his first time on stage. But, now, he credits “Freedom Song” as being a major part of his recovery.

“I feel like I belong to something. I never felt like I belonged before,” he said.

Beit T’Shuvah is the only rehab residence in the country to integrate Judaism and the 12-step program. Its 120 beds, plus 30 outpatient slots, are always full. Two off-site residences house clients who are well into recovery, and Beit T’Shuvah recently purchased another building, next door, which it will use for its popular Shabbat services and an expansion of outpatient offerings, possibly including a drop-in center. Its prevention curriculum has reached thousands of teenage and middle school students.

While Beit T’Shuvah self-reports an impressive success rate of 65 percent, 85 percent of “Freedom Song” participants stay clean, according to Beit T’Shuvah’s Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who is married to Rossetto. The show allows for deep artistic expression and gives the participants responsibility and the sense that people are counting on them, Borovitz said.

“They know they’ve touched someone, which I’ve heard them say again and again was a bigger high than ever getting loaded was,” Rossetto agreed. “And when you give up your external high, there is a void, and if you don’t fill that with some other highs, it’s very hard to stay sober.”

Watch the trailer below.

Running to save souls


Runners in the 26th annual Los Angeles Marathon on March 20 will include residents of Beit T’Shuvah, a residential treatment center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

Beit T’Shuvah is the only official Jewish charity participating in the L.A. marathon and hopes to raise $125,000 for their Run to Save a Soul campaign.

With a full-service synagogue and a wide variety of programs, including arts classes, job counseling and fitness workshops, residency at the recovery center can cost $5,000 each month, so the funds raised will help those who can’t afford to pay, according to Nina Haller, major gifts director at Beit T’Shuvah. Between 70 to 80 percent of the current 120 residents at Beit T’Shuvah receive some form of financial assistance. 

As of Monday, March 14, the team had raised nearly $110,000 with the help of corporate sponsors, including Conroy Commercial Real Estate, Westfield LLC and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Aside from providing an opportunity to raise needed funds, training for the marathon helps stimulate the physical and mental recovery of those suffering from addiction, said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, senior rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah.

They’re running “to and for something, rather than against and away from something,” Borovitz said. “I think [running is] an amazing tool.”

“It really shows the ability of people who thought so negatively of themselves to replace those behaviors with positive activities,” Haller said.

To date, 31 people have joined Beit T’Shuvah’s marathon team, a mix of residents, alumni, staff and supporters.

At a recent practice, Nancy Taubman, 32, a resident at Beit T’Shuvah and recovering drug addict, stopped for a brief rest after running eight miles.

“This is one aspect of my recovery,” Taubman said, between gulps of Gatorade. “This helps my focus; for me it’s [about] getting control of my life.”

Though not a resident at Beit T’Shuvah and not in recovery, Anne Richards, a 54-year-old real estate investor and resident of West L.A., nevertheless decided to run with the Beit T’Shuvah team. A previous marathon runner, Richards wanted to run this year with a Jewish charity that serves people of all backgrounds, not only Jews.

“I know that I am [an outsider] in one way, but I feel like I have been very welcomed by everybody,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like I’m just another person who is sharing this project.”

The L.A. Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier. One of 65 charities participating in the race, Beit T’Shuvah plans to hold a block party on the course.

Nicole Wainstein, a three-month resident of the facility and recovering alcoholic who found Beit T’Shuvah on Google, stood at the 8-mile checkpoint at a recent practice and provided snacks.

“I kind of just want to be a part of it and enjoy the energy,” Wainstein said. “I think it’s amazing what they’re doing for Beit T’Shuvah.”

Yom Kippur 5769: The Art of Forgiveness


On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, in 1995, Eva Kor, then 61 and a real estate broker in Terre Haute, Ind., stood outside a gas chamber at the infamous camp and offered her forgiveness out loud to the late Dr. Josef Mengele for the inhumane medical experiments he had performed on her and her twin sister.

She forgave every other Nazi, as well.

“I, Eva Mozes Kor, a twin who survived as a child of Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz 50 years ago, hereby give amnesty to all Nazis who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of my family and millions of others,” she said that day, reading from a prepared statement. Even in our culture of apology, where “I forgive you” flows freely and often speedily from the mouths of perpetrators and politicians, parents and children, spouses and complete strangers, Kor’s apology stands out.

“I call forgiveness the modern miracle medicine,” she said last January in an address to congregants at the Nachshon Minyan in Encino.

Many people believe that forgiveness is an all-purpose panacea that can free people from rage and resentment, from deep depression and high blood pressure. Over the past 10 years, in fact, the John Marks Templeton Foundation and others have donated $7 million in a Campaign for Forgiveness Research to fund more than 45 projects studying forgiveness benefits. Books and Web sites devoted to the topic have become ubiquitous, including forgivenet.com, where a person can anonymously send an e-mail requesting forgiveness, along with a book or flowers.

In Jewish tradition, the act of seeking forgiveness from someone we have harmed is clear and specific.

“For transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another,” the Talmud states. But the act of granting forgiveness, especially to someone who is not repentant or who has not transgressed against us directly, is more complicated and controversial.

Mark Borovitz, rabbi of the spiritual and therapeutic Beit T’Shuvah community, makes a distinction between unnecessary pain and existential pain, which he said is part of the human condition. He maintains that happiness is a choice.

“You can get rid of resentment, but forgiveness is something [the other person] has to ask for,” he said at a forgiveness workshop on Sept. 7, attended by about 70 Beit T’Shuvah residents, their families and others.

David Wolpe, senior rabbi at the Conservative Sinai Temple in Westwood, maintains that forgiveness can actually equalize a relationship.

“When you hold a grudge, you create an imbalance,” he said. “That is, you feel superior, and the other person is less, because they feel bad.”

Wolpe also believes there is such a thing as “unearned forgiveness,” which can be offered to someone who has not sought it.

“You are not obligated to forgive, but you may,” he said, pointing out that anger can take a steep toll on your internal life.

“Forgiveness is in the power of the forgiver, ultimately,” he said. And vicarious forgiveness does not exist in Judaism; you can only forgive someone who has harmed you directly.

For Karen Fox, a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and licensed marriage and family therapist, Judaism and psychotherapy do not separate on the forgiveness issue.

“The question is: How does this burden benefit me? Can I look at the potential of forgiveness as a way to clean some of what I carry?” she said.

Sometimes, as in the case of a rape or an abusive parent, for example, when forgiveness isn’t forthcoming from the person who caused the harm, you have to forgive yourself, she said.

“Unexamined hurt ultimately hurts the one who’s holding it.” Not letting go can lead to obsession with the incident, which isn’t healthy, she said.

But the ideal doesn’t always easily translate into real life. This has been the experience for James, 44, a resident of Beit T’Shuvah whose last name has been omitted for this article.

James had worked as a chef for a certain caterer for more than three years when he was abruptly and abusively fired last November.

“I should have seen it coming, but I was his confidant because of all my experience,” James said, explaining that he had often witnessed the man acting bitterly and vindictively toward other employees as well as his own wife.

In addition to firing James, the caterer also fraudulently reported his tax liability to the Internal Revenue Service, essentially doubling James’ taxable earnings and making it appear James had lied to the IRS on his tax return.

James is currently in contact with the IRS, straightening out the financial damage and feeling good about standing up for himself. Still, he doesn’t expect any communication from the caterer.

“It feels like unfinished business,” he said, adding that he’s reviewing his own actions to try to figure out his own part.

While he’s reserving a final decision on forgiveness, he said he’s relearning that he doesn’t have to make everything right.

“I’m grateful for the situation,” he said. “Life doesn’t ever have easy answers.”

The Shoah, Beit T’Shuvah, Clinton, Raphe and Szyk


The Shoah

How incredibly written was The Jewish Journal editorial (“Genocide 2.0,” May 2).

+