Harriet Rossetto’s new book, “Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir” (Author House), is a fitting companion to her husband’s 2004 best-seller, “The Holy Thief: A Con Man’s Journey From Darkness To Light” (HarperCollins).
Both books are brutally candid accounts of lives that had lost their meaning until the authors found a sense of purpose and were able to rebound mightily, especially after meeting each other. They also describe their unlikely love story, that of a secular Jewish social worker and increasingly spiritual ex-convict who together have made a life’s work in the rehabilitation of broken souls through Beit T’Shuvah, the residential treatment and prevention center they lead in Los Angeles.
Both Rossetto and Borovitz lost their beloved fathers when they were 14 years old, and soon after lost their way until, many years later, an epiphany changed their lives.
Borovitz, who grew up attending synagogue regularly, led a two-decade life of alcoholism, gambling and thievery. He describes the moment of his second arrest as one of “divine inspiration” and “prophecy.
“I felt I was being led back, back to the tradition, back to Torah. … I just knew,” he wrote.
He studied Jewish texts in prison, apprenticed with the rabbinic chaplain and years later went to rabbinical school at the University of Judaism, where he received his ordination. His book describes just how low he fell and how he came back to a life of purpose through his love of Jewish wisdom — and of Rossetto, the woman who gave him a job and a sense of dignity after his release from jail.
Her Judaism comes from an appreciation of the wisdom of what she calls “sacred obligation,” of committing oneself to a daily routine, from making your bed to paying the butcher on time, confirming that God is in the details and that one’s every action matters.
Her story traces her failed marriage and series of affairs; she describes herself as a Girl Scout on the outside with a streak of Wild Child that brought her down. Her addiction was despair, not drugs. But she found a sense of meaning in helping Jewish prisoners as a social worker, and establishing Beit T’Shuvah as “a place that heals the healers” as well as those with addictions and self-destructive behaviors.
Rossetto’s book, like her husband’s, inspires by telling a deeply personal story that resonates with the seemingly simple but profound truths of living with honesty, self-awareness and a faith in the ability to repent, recover and restore a sense of dignity — in others and in oneself.
Harriet Rossetto will attend Shabbat services at The Forest Hills Jewish Center on June 1. She will do a short reading from her memoir and give a talk following Kiddush.