“That’s the moment when I not only got to spread the message to local communities but I also got to spread the good news of healing and recovery all over the country,” Jessica F. shares from her office at Beit T’Shuvah.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Jessica moved to Los Angeles with her parents at the age of five. Raised in a Jewish community, Jessica embraced her roots and was involved in many Jewish programs growing up. “My parents were great role models and heavily involved in the community. They also raised me with deep values of helping others whether it be through service or volunteer programs,” she explains.
After graduating high school, Jessica enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and it was quite the culture shock for her. “I had no idea what I was getting into at college. I was a very sheltered child,” she relays. Coming from a graduating class of one hundred and fifty students in high school, Jessica’s freshman class of over ten thousand left her feeling less like an individual and more like a number.
In an effort to connect with her new and extremely large university community, Jessica immersed herself in the “Greek Life” of fraternities and sororities and its accompanying partying lifestyle during her four-year stay. “I sort of lost sight of what was important. Working hard, doing my best and helping others kind of went by the wayside,” she describes. However, she never lost her Jewish identity during her time in Madison and was very involved in the community while at school. And like most kids, “I was just figuring out my own identity and it was an unexpected and interesting journey,” she recounts.
Following graduation, with a degree in History under her belt, Jessica returned home with no clue as to what she wanted to do. It didn’t help that the economy had tanked, following the 2008 housing collapse, and finding employment was difficult. However, another organization she had been introduced to, through her parents’ involvement in the service community, was Vista Del Mar. With a mission of providing exceptional programs and services for at-risk children and families throughout LA County, Jessica began volunteering at VDM working with teens.
After a few months of working there, “One day I was speaking with my dad and he recommended talking to Harriet Rossetto about volunteering at Beit T’Shuvah,” she shares. Unlike many staff members and residents at Beit T’Shuvah, Jessica was actually introduced to BTS while still in high school. “I was fascinated by the non-traditional way of practicing Judaism they expressed there. The celebratory nature of it all really intrigued me,” she recalls.
During that conversation, Harriet recommended Jessica go to group and learn about the “what” and “hows” of approaching recovery at Beit T’Shuvah. It was an eye opening experience for the recent college graduate. She also met with Doug Rosen during that time. “He said I want you to learn about Partners in Prevention and I want you to participate in it,” she says. Shortly thereafter she began a six-month volunteering stint going to schools and working with teens to help them learn about addiction and themselves. The experience was a revelation and an inspiration for Jessica. “While working with these kids I saw mirror images of myself and the similar struggles I had during my adolescent years,” she explains. And it was during that period that Jessica discovered her true passion and what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. “The fear went away and the veil was lifted. I had found my calling,” she shares with a huge smile.
It was now 2010 and Jessica temporarily left her volunteer work behind to embark on a previously scheduled three-month trip of discovery to Thailand and India. During that time overseas, her experiences further reinforced her desire to help those in need. While in India she continued to stay in touch with Harriet R. and Rabbi Mark B. and one day, “Rabbi Mark emailed me saying he wanted me to come and work for them at BTS. My calling had come to life,” she recollects. And upon her return in April of 2010, Jessica was hired as an employee with the Partners in Prevention Program.
However, once she began her life’s calling at BTS, Jessica realized she had some of her own demons to face and address. “Within the first two weeks of working with the residents I realized I needed to remove all illicit substances from my life in order to have an authentic and lasting impact in my work,” she describes. That change enabled her to embrace her new path and flourish as a member of the Partners in Prevention team. Likewise, shortly after starting at BTS, Jessica also helped forge a partnership program between Beit T’Shuvah and Vista Del Mar. “To have our residents help spread the message to the kids at VDM is something I’m very proud of to this day,” she relates.
Because of that stellar work and commitment to the community she was additionally offered the opportunity of coordinating “Freedom Song”, an original BTS musical, in 2013. And as mentioned earlier, that experience, of traveling all over the country and seeing the impact of “Freedom Song” on so many communities, has magically expanded her call to healing and helping those most in need.
Also with the support of BTS and Doug Rosen, Jessica has faced one of her biggest fears – going back to school. “With their undying support I was able to go back to school in 2017 and in three months time I’ll be receiving my Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy,” she exclaims with an even bigger smile. In the last six months Jessica has also begun working with Rabbi Joseph in the Elaine Breslow Institute as Education Program Director. “Now I get to work with Jewish clergy, educators and clinicians to help them spread the Beit T’Shuvah teachings back to their respective communities,” she shares.
She concludes by saying, “BTS has become my rock, my community and my family. My friends, my boyfriend and people I consider my family of choice have all come from my connection to this place.” Having begun her Beit T’Shuvah journey as a teenager attending services to now being a stalwart fixture in the very lifeblood of this “House of Return”, Jessica still has many more transformations of her own left to reveal. And as her remarkable evolutionary process continues to expand and grow one thing is for certain – souls will be saved and lives will be changed.