Posted on September 15, 2019 by Lisa Friedman
In July, I had the opportunity to spend a week participating in the Beit T’Shuvah Immersion Program for Clergy and Educators in Los Angeles. Beit T’Shuvah is a Jewish residential addiction treatment center that focuses on recovery and spiritual wholeness through a comprehensive program of Jewish spirituality, psychotherapy, and the 12 steps in a caring, community setting.
Beit T’Shuvah (BTS) was founded more than 30 years ago by Harriet Rosetto, a remarkable woman with the belief that addiction is a malady of the soul requiring spiritual healing. As a social worker visiting Jewish prison inmates, Harriet realized they had no place to go when released from the “system.” She started a halfway house with the goal of giving inmates a chance to integrate as whole people back into society. Rabbi Mark Borowitz joined Harriet in 1988 (at that time having just been released from prison; he had not yet been ordained a rabbi) and used his deep love of Judaism and personal experience to destigmatize the life-threatening disease of addiction.
Beit T’Shuvah has grown organically, from its first 25 beds in a small, run-down house located in a very rough Los Angeles neighborhood, to its current iteration as a multi-faceted residential treatment and prevention center with 140 beds (and a significant wait list). Unlike most treatment programs that last 30, 60 or 90 days, residents spend nine to12 months at Beit T’Shuvah immersed in an individualized program involving a combination of psychotherapy, 12 steps, and spiritual counseling.
I quickly learned that spiritual counseling is the “secret” to Beit T’Shuvah’s success. Theirs is a Judaism that understands the Torah as a guide to living as complete human beings — as both holy souls and imperfect beings who make mistakes. As Harriet loves to say, “You do not have to be an addict to be in recovery.” While the destructive behaviors of addiction and crime are severe symptoms of deeper brokenness, each of us lives and struggles with the human dilemma of seeking to integrate our contradictory selves.
We are all in recovery and we are all discovering ourselves.
The daily work of Beit T’Shuvah is a model for all of us. The focus is to see people for who they really are, as humans who make mistakes and take wrong turns. Each one of us matters and is worthy. This framework also allows us to appreciate the value of deep relationship, helping us to recognize that what each of us most seeks is soul connection.
One of the most profound takeaways from my time at Beit T’Shuvah was a first-hand experience of what Harriet refers to as “the difference between role connection and soul connection.” Through intimate Torah and Jewish text study alongside residents, it became clear that the most profound growth occurs in soul-to-soul relationships. While roles provide frame and structure, interactions are not simply counselor-to-patient, teacher-to-student, rabbi-to-congregant, normie*-to-addict; rather, relationships are all person-to-person, soul-to-soul.
We have the power to move away from seeing those who are different from us as “other” and perpetuating what plagues us most today – “my way is the right way, which means your way is wrong.” This manifests as people being unwilling to listen to those with opinions different from their own, and, worse, verbal abuse and vitriol used as a means through which to be “heard.” When we cherish one another for the precious souls we each are, we can move away from “us vs. them” and instead celebrate our differences, which make us each unique, special, and holy, as gifts we bring to our community.
I am so deeply grateful for my time spent with the Beit T’Shuvah community. I had the opportunity for self-reflection and introspection, and I look forward to the integration of the work of this incredible place into my life both professionally and personally.
Learn more about the Beit T’Shuvah Residential Treatment Center and Community. I am also excited about the opening of the T’Shuvah Center in New York.
*Normie is the term commonly used by Beit T’Shuvah staff and residents to refer to an individual who has not struggled with addiction.
Originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.