August 7, 2019


8.9.2019 Weekly Torah Portion

This week’s Parashah is D’Varim. This translates to things/words. It is the opening chapters of the 5th Book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, aka 2nd law, because we get a recap of the laws and stories of the Israelites journey from Egypt and many new laws as well. I often call this, Moses’ Ethical Will to the People Israel, including us.

Moses is afraid of what will happen when he is no longer in charge and wants to give strength, history and context to the “derecho/way” that God has laid out for us. I am experiencing this Parashah in a completely new way this year. I also have turned over control of Beit T’Shuvah and our Spiritual Program to Rabbi Ben Goldstein. I , like Moses, am also afraid of what will happenJ! Unlike Moses, who wanted to blame the Israelites, I want to recap where Beit T’Shuvah has been and how we can keep the mission and spirit of us in an ever-changing landscape that is more concerned with checking boxes than with healing souls.

We began our journey at 216 S. Lake Street in the Rampart division being neighborly and respected by the gangs that controlled the area. I was Harriet’s secretary and began and daily Torah Study and led Shabbat Services when the bi-weekly Rabbi wasn’t there. I was still very rough around the edges (in fact I was mostly edges) and hated to be taken advantage of. I also hated that people we were trying to help were taking advantage of Beit T’Shuvah and Harriet. So, I was very loud and not always kind. I am sorry for those years. I am grateful for all of our Ethics groups, Torah Studies and being able to laugh and live with an amazing group of people. I also am grateful for “getting” to help grow the program from halfway house to Addiction Recovery Center.

I moved on to visiting Jews in Jail as the JCPS coordinator along with Torah Study and leading Shabbat Services. Here again, I was not always kind and had less patience than I am proud of with people who did not live up to the deal we made with them in Jail in order to be sentenced to Beit T’Shuvah. During this time, I also applied and was accepted to Rabbinic School. I started to calm down and learn more of Rabbi Herschel’s teachings which we would study together at Ethics and in other groups. We opened the women’s program and I loved teaching Torah to 2 diverse groups, male addicts and female addicts. The different lens that each group brought to the text was fascinating and helped me to grow my own soul. I am grateful to those men and women for teaching me

In November of 1999 we moved here to 8831 Venice Blvd and I began our Spiritual Counseling Program in earnest. Here again, I was not always the quietest of people and I am sure that I pushed people out with my anger and large presence. It was fun and crazy, we were sure we would never fill the place up and, by March of 2000, we were full and have stayed that way ever since. I realize that I can be an acquired taste. I am more a Prophet than a Rabbi, as my friend and teacher Rabbi Ed Feinstein says. In these 20 years, I have stayed abrasive and kind, loud and loving and pulled people into living well and, in all truth, pushed some people away.

What I/we have created, however, is a place of belonging with responsibility. A home for people of all shapes and sized, races and creeds, Jew and Gentile, straight and gay, loud and soft, abrasive and shy, etc. In other words a Big Tent that sees the humanity in everyone and sees everyone as an individual for whom T’Shuvah is always open to. We are a place that celebrates imperfection, celebrates the majesty of being human and is in awe of our partnership with God.

This is what I am turning over to Rabbi Goldstein and Sergio and all of you. I pray you will grow this bigger and better than I ever could.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mark