Mark Borovitz is a rabbi, a recovering alcoholic and former prison inmate who says the Jewish High Holidays helped him turn his life around.
“I was saved by the theme of the Jewish High Holy Days: T’Shuvah, which translates as repentance, return and response. When I was arrested for the last time in December of 1986, I had a spiritual experience,” Borovitz told The Huffington Post.
His spiritual experience was that “the man upstairs is trying to tell me something, and I have to sit here until I figure it out.” He has spent the last 30 years honoring this experience and responding to it.
“I am from a nice Jewish home in Cleveland, Ohio. My parents were hardworking, decent people. … I was not beaten or abused. I just always felt half a step off.” Borovitz felt out of place and could not withstand the psychic pain of losing his father at 14 and a mother struggling to provide for the family on only $2 an hour.
When watching successful people, Borovitz believed that they had accomplished what was important, and he wanted that life, too. “I went deeper into my psychic pain. I could not keep quiet, and I wanted to have money, so I could be ‘right.’”
To feel accepted, he hung out with other kids who were drinking, stealing and hustling. He even worked for the local organized crime network, stealing and hustling stolen merchandise. “I was in my glory,” he said. When forced to leave Cleveland because someone wanted to kill him, he left for California to join his brother and help him in his business.
In 1986, “I began to study with the Jewish Prison Chaplain (a rabbi named Mel Silverman). We learned about the concept of T’Shuvah together. I studied Judah in the Bible. He did a complete T’Shuvah with his father and his brother Joseph.
“I began to realize that I was more than an alcoholic and thief. I began to have hope that change was possible. I began to believe that I was redeemable. I began to do a ‘Chesbon HaNefesh,’ an accounting of my soul.”
According to Borovitz, his Shesbon HaNefesh included writing down:
1) All the paths I took that led me to living poorly
2) What my thinking was that made it OK for me to do wrong things
3) Who was impacted by my actions, including God and myself
4) How these people were impacted
5) What I needed to do to restore our relationship, including an apology, restitution and a plan not to repeat these actions again. I just need a plan to remember what I am capable of and how to stop myself from erring again.
6) All of the paths/good that I had done as well
7) What my thinking was that helped me to do good
8) Who was impacted by my actions, including God and myself
9) How these people were impacted, and
10) What I needed to do to keep doing good things and how to use my gifts and talents to do more good.
Borovitz has done an inventory and accounting of his soul based on this Chesbon HaNefesh since Yom Kippur of 1987. “It has freed me to be the person I was created to be, the person my family raised me to be, and the person I have always wanted to be,” he believes.
Against all odds, by committing to do this work on his self, Borovitz has reconnected with family, friends (some of them), made new friends, and gone to rabbinical school. He has been the senior rabbi of Beit T’Shuvah for 23 years.
“I have had the honor of leading many lost and broken people to a life of hope and change through teaching and living T’Shuvah as a possibility for every last soul, no matter the sin.