Epiphany and laundry

Epiphany and laundry

Center's founder embraces the shadows within her

Harriet Rossetto, the founder of Beit T’Shuvah, finally understood one of life’s basic truths.

“It all boils down to maintenance,” she said. “Epiphanies and peak experiences evaporate – and then you’re left with the laundry.”

That explains why her memoir is called “Sacred Housekeeping.” It traces her story – “the founding of Beit T’Shuvah, and how I came to find myself in the process, and how I found my husband.” (Beit T’Shuvah is the Los Angeles rehabilitation center she created 25 years ago; she is married to Rabbi Mark Borovitz, its spiritual leader, whose magnetism attracts and retains recovering addicts.)

“My change began with making my bed,” she said. “Literally. As an antidote to existential despair.

“Why bother?” she reported thinking. “Life is hard, and then you die. Making my bed seemed the utmost in futility.”

Therefore, “the statement that I matter, that it matters how I live, that it matters how I take care of myself, and maintain myself – making my bed, going to the gym, caring for my clothes – I realized that everything requires maintenance.

“My thoughts – so that I don’t think myself into negativity. My spirit requires maintenance; my relationships require maintenance. They don’t just happen naturally.

“Maintenance is sacred. That’s where God lives – in the details of daily life.”

Much of the conversation about Beit T’Shuvah involves dualities – or perhaps more accurately thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, as opposites face off and then gradually are woven together into an integrated whole.

“Part of me wanted to save the world. That’s the part that starts projects. And then it is overtaken by the negative voice that says, ‘Are you kidding? You’re never going to do this.’

“It is a seesaw. I couldn’t figure out which was the real me. They’re both the real me. Putting them together requires simple, small actions. That is how you integrate parts of yourself, by doing the right thing even when you don’t want to.

“I can be specific,” she continued. “There are times when I don’t feel so great about my husband. If I am in the supermarket, and I see something he likes, I argue with myself. Should I get it, and do the right thing? Put it in the basket, even if I don’t want to right now? Should I take the high road, or be vengeful? Should I go to the gym when I’d rather sleep for the extra hour?

“It’s small stuff. Daily stuff.

There’s also the weekly stuff. “Friday night is always restorative at Beit T’Shuvah,” she said. “You see who will stand up and express gratitude. There are always things that affirm or reaffirm if you are looking for those things.”

She is human – she cannot always look for them. “Sometimes I feel like angry birds are pecking at me,” she said. “Last week, we had a staff member die here suddenly. We worry about money all the time. We always have to spend time on healing.”

“I believe duality is part of the human condition,” she continued. She finds great wisdom in the Jewish understanding of the yetzer hatov and the yetzer harah – the good and evil inclinations, which both live in every human being, and at times seem to have nothing to do with each other.

“A teaching has guided my work,” she said. “A rabbi who was a very pious and holy man had followers who were addicts, thieves, drunkards, felons. Nobody could understand it. Someone said, ‘Rabbi, how can you relate to these people?’ And he answered ‘When I look at them, I see myself, and if I see anyone in whom I cannot see myself, it is because I did not look hard enough.’

“People we call normal also have a duality. They deal with it by perfecting the outside. They hold it together with a shell. They deny the problems.

“People are ashamed. Most people live with a good deal of shame. At some point, the addict stops trying to look good. He says, ‘I can’t be all good, so why don’t I be all bad,’ instead of trying to integrate.

“Yetzer hatov and yetzer harah both come from God,” she said. “It’s not the dialectic of good and evil. The path of spirituality in Judaism is the path of integration. It is becoming whole by embracing the shadow parts of yourself and redirecting them to do good.”

Who: Harriet Rossetto of Beit T’Shuvah

What: A breakfast, where she will discuss her memoir, “Sacred Laundry”

When: Sunday, March 3, 9:30 a.m.

Where: The Ma’ayanot School; 1650 Palisade Ave., Teaneck

Why: To give parents a chance to discuss addiction and other issues

For: Parents and other adults

Cost: $10

>How: Register online; do a web search for the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies and follow the link to “Freedom Song,” or call Bess Adler at 201-488-0834

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