Beit T’Shuvah is more than just a building where drug addicts go to get clean. It is a sanctuary, a community, and an ever-changing living organism. It can only survive with the service and strength of the dedicated staff who keep coming back every day to give their all to this community. If Beit T’Shuvah is alive, without a doubt, Laura Bagish is its beating heart. 

Let me take you back to a time when Silverlake wasn’t trendy and hippies roamed the streets. Two musicians, a classically trained piano player, and a jazz drummer, fell in love. Their love brought them to LA and produced a child who instantly picked up an instrument…and never looked back.

For most of her childhood, Laura went to an alternative school. I don’t mean an alternative school like they have today where they serve vegan lunches and the kids call the teachers by their first names. I mean a school run by hippies, for hippie kids—a school where the campus was the park, classes were optional, and math was a four-letter word. Because of the drug culture that surrounded the hippie lifestyle, substances flowed through the school like a river of pot. Let’s just say, the flower had power. At nine years old, Laura smoked weed for the first time…and then acid…and then speed. By the time she was thirteen, she was deeply immersed in the drug scene. “I stopped taking acid when I was 13” Clearly, 12 was a wild year for her. 

Once she graduated, she got married to her long-time boyfriend. Her husband was an alcoholic and drug addict who introduced her to harder drugs. After a while, that relationship crumbled. Laura was divorced but still married to the drugs.

Laura started attending junior college, studying music. This is where she discovered her love of choir. She went from singing in the choir to leading the choir, quicker than you could imagine. To pay the bills, Laura, a devout lover of animals, got a job working for an animal shelter. Ultimately, this job broke her heart. She could not stomach when dogs were put down. So, she would adopt them before the shelter had a chance. 

On a walk down by the LA river, one of her older dogs fell in. The current took the dog and Laura didn’t know what to do. She drove parallel to the river to find him, but it was no luck. Finally, she got out of her car and spotted him. Grabbing his paw to try to get him out, but ended up falling in herself. They both rapidly tumbled through the river, the dog held tightly to her chest. Then, they got to a shopping cart bridge and a homeless man helped get them out. By that time, half of the LAPD was on the scene to assist them as well. They told Laura she had to go to the hospital, but was far more concerned with the safety of her dogs. They were saved, blooded, and exhausted. If that doesn’t show you the level of love and care that Laura has inside of her, nothing will. 

Unfortunately, her love of animals also got her in trouble. One day, while on speed, she saw dogs locked in a kennel, trapped in the scalding heat. Laura did what any sane, dog-loving junkie would do and she let them free. Obviously, as we all know, the next step is to jump into the nearby fountain with them. It ends up that these were no ordinary dogs. These were police dogs and thus, Laura was charged with Grand Theft Dog and sent to jail. After a few more visits to the joint, Laura found a little place called Beit T’Shuvah. 

It was a Friday when Laura was admitted to Beit T’Shuvah. She literally went from her jail cell to the bema to the new resident welcome ceremony. She was enamored by this place. A screaming, cursing rabbi? A celebration of sobriety? …a band?!?!?!?! “I was excited to come to a place with my people She knew she had found a home. 

When Laura got here, there was no formal music department. Soon after she started working here, James Fuchs, Canter Rebekah Mirsky, and she created one. After over a decade, it has affected the lives of countless residents and community members. Residents have had the opportunity to play in the band and sing in the choir, unlocking a part of them they once thought lost. This year, for the first time since COVID, the choir is back in full force. A chorus of voices, recovered individuals, all singing together as one. Is there anything more beautiful than that? 

Laura is not just the choir director and keyboard player. She is a pillar in this community. Laura’s presence feels structural to the foundation of this establishment. With a deep sense of love and service, she has given her all during the good times and the bad…and the community’s gratitude for her intensifies with every note she hits. She is the column that holds our doorway. She is a constant in a world of chaos. Laura Bagish is the rock for the redeemers. 

Spotlight on Laura Bagish by Jesse Solomon

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