For the final stretch of a long goodbye, I’d like to shed some light and gratitude on our beloved Rabbi Joseph Shamash. There is no one Shabbat or T’Shuvah gratitude that could truly put into words what he has meant to our community. This spotlight won’t even cut it…but what’s the harm in trying?
Rabbi Joseph has always referred to himself as a “Persian-Jewish Cowboy,” a name that many of us laughed off, but may have held more weight than we realized. For years, Rabbi Joseph managed to herd a disjointed community towards a common goal of recovery at a time when all hope seemed lost. He’s our John Wayne, our Clint Eastwood—all wrapped up in a man who is far more sensitive and emotionally intelligent than any cowboy ever could be. If this Cowboy analogy isn’t landing for you, let me ask you this: Is there rehab on this planet more like the Wild West than Beit T’Shuvah?
Before Rabbi Joseph was a Rabbi, he was just “Joseph, that kid who’s really into sports.” At nineteen his love of sports and of television combined into one, when he got a job working for Fox Sports. After that position, he moved his way up the ranks of the broadcasting world. During that time he worked for Dan Patrick and even TMZ. He was doing exactly what the child version of himself had dreamt of, but something felt off. He knew that somewhere else was calling his name.
At this point, his grandfather, who he was very close to, had become ill. Just before he died, he told Joseph, “Put your faith in God and know that everything will be okay.” Those words struck Joseph to his core; he knew it was time to start climbing that next mountain. So, Joseph embarked on a trip to Jerusalem. While there, he found a renewed sense in his Juadism and in his purpose. His passion for Judaica studies led him to the realization that he wanted to become a rabbi. This was what was calling his name.
In 2017, while still just a rabbinical tadpole, Rabbi Joseph started interning at Beit T’Shuvah and the whole world seemed to open up for him. Being able to help people, lead them—teach them, was truly his calling. He walked in the doors brown-eyed, bushy-tailed, gluten-free, and ready to rabbi.
Throughout his time here, Rabbi Joseph has made a deep and long-lasting impact on all of us.
The following people are only a fraction of those who have wonderful things to say about Rabbi Joseph. If we wrote them all down, the quotes could fill 30 torah scrolls.
“Rabbi Joseph played an indelible role in Beit T’Shuvah’s leadership transition, and he did so with kindness, compassion, and tremendous dedication to the mission. I am incredibly grateful for his service and spiritual leadership which upheld our organization and community during moments of change, joy, and loss.”
-Sergio Rizzo-Fontanesi Ph.D.
“The best thing about Rabbi Joseph is his ability to see others.”
“Who am I gonna roll my eyes at now?”
“Rabbi Joseph models what a life in service is all about, service of the heart and service of the soul
-Chaplain Adam Siegel
Director of Spiritual Care and Programming
“The finest and most brilliant person of his generation—wait—I just remembered you want me to say something about Joseph and not me… How about- Rabbi Joseph. Your compassion, engagement and humility were constants in the emotional ups and downs of Beit T’Shuvah. You mattered so much to us because the Beit T’Shuvah community mattered so much to you.”
As many of you know, Rabbi Joseph has decided that it is time for him to climb his next mountain. This week was his final one as Beit T’Shuvah’s Interim Community Rabbi. His journey with us is not at an end, it has just changed forms. Rabbi Joseph helped Beit T’Shuvah through a time of great transition and what he has done for us will never be forgotten. The new journey he is embarking on is to become an educator, teaching in Judaica Studies and Milken Community School. The very same subject that led him to Beit T’Shuvah in the first place is now taking him on his next path and none of us could be happier for him. He never gave anything less than everything he had to our organization and in return only ever asked that we…hold on.
Rabbi Joseph has always been a teacher to us all. He has taught us how-to live-in recovery, for a purpose, and with integrity. He’s shown us this everyday, by living his own lessons. If you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day. If Rabbi Joseph teaches you how to fish, you’ll empty the ocean.
We know that this is no “goodbye.” Rabbi Joseph will always have a connection to this community and lessons he has taught us shall ring through the halls until the sun grows cold. Like I said, this spotlight doesn’t do justice to the amount of gratitude we all have for Rabbi Joseph. All it can do is serve as a tip of the hat as we watch our Persian-Jewish Cowboy ride off into the sunset.