Wearing the Label


First let me say that I am thrilled to be here. I have been looking at everyone’s posts, and I’m excited about delving into these issues. May Hashem help us that this group blog is truly in His service.

My name is Kressel. I began my teshuva process about 16 years ago, and IY”H my husband and I will soon celebrate our tenth anniversary. Ours is a mixed marriage. He’s an FFB Stoliner chossid.

Marrying a chossid seemed like a radical step when we were first introduced. I delayed our first date for month to consider it. But when we met, we progressed with lightning speed. We became engaged after three dates a la the Chassidishe formula. I considered my chasunah as a sort of BT graduation ceremony, and walked to my chuppah to Shlomo Carlebach’s “Pischu Li.” By entering the Chassidishe velt, I was sure I was entering the Gates of Righteousness.

A few weeks after our chasunah, life began to take on its normal routine, and we were invited to my sister-in-law’s house for melaveh malka. It was a very ordinary occasion, a small family birthday party for her then-youngest daughter. My sister-in-law’s family are Satmar, more right-wing than we are. As I recited “al netilas yadaim,” I was overwhelmed. It didn’t seem long ago that I was struggling to memorize that bracha, yet there I was, washing alongside my new Chassidishe relatives. It was amazing!

A few years later, I mentioned this incident to my sister-in-law, whom I love dearly. “But we don’t think of you as a baalas teshuva,” she said.

I felt deflated. She didn’t get it. I’m proud to wear the BT label. Maybe to some it means “ignorant newcomer,” a stage to be outgrown, but I prefer the literal meaning, “master of return.” I’ve left behind the secular world and entered the Gates of Righteousness. Yet I understand what my sister-in-law meant. She was complimenting me. It was a sign of my integration into the frum world.

We BTs have many issues facing us, but with Hashem’s help, we’re overcoming them. This question of definitions is not the most life-changing, but it’s an issue for me. Should we wear our label with pride, or should we at some point shed it, as we have our secular backgrounds? When we are so integrated that we are “beyond BT,” does that also mean that we are no longer BT? I leave it for you to discuss.

6 comments on “Wearing the Label

  1. BS”D

    I completely agree with you about giving back to the system. On my website, I have an article called The Kindness of Strangers which encourages people to find frum families to stay with for Shabbos. I wrote it because of the many people who hosted me when I was new. It’s hard to imagine that hospitality like that exists in the world until you’ve encountered it first-hand.

    But I hope this post did not lead you to the conclusion that I go around announcing myself as a BT. That is not the impression I wanted to convey at all. But I am not ashamed of it either and I don’t try to hide it. That would deny the climb I’ve climbed to get here, and I’m proud of that.

  2. For me, personally, being a BT isn’t something to go around announcing, but is definitely a part of how I view the world. I don’t make a point of *labelling* myself as an observant Jew at work, but I dress tznius-ly, even in July, and turn down offers of mints, gum, etc. because I keep kosher, and when relevant I make it clear that I could do overtime on a Sunday, but never Saturday (rare necessity, B”H) – it’s the same thing.

    It’s hard to compare work environments, as my FFB husband does high tech in a suit and yarmulka, but when we have Shabbos guests who seem to be struggling to bentch, I’m the one to notice and (subtlely, I hope) S-L-O-W down the speed of our bentching (out loud, together, somewhat for the children) so our guests can keep up. *I* remember being the last one at the table by “shalo-shudis”. . .

    And I’m the one who would be perfectly happy with NCSYers in my house (although we’re too far from the local chapter to host for a shabbaton). It’s about giving back to the system – like the favor that travels around the world.

  3. BS”D

    I accidentally deleted the following comment from Basi, so I’m restoring it now.

    Kresel’s story is very interesting to me because I can relate to her as a non-FFB living in an FFB-filled world very much. Since I associate mostly with the yeshvish/BY world, all my close friends are FFBs. Being seventeen, I’m not married yet, but every once in a while I do wonder about shidduchim (I guess I will have to think about this a bit more often next year in sem).

    Now personally, I appear to be a regular Bais Yaakov girl, and certainly I am going to IY”H go to a regular B”Y seminary. However, I’ve only been religous since I was 14/15. I wonder if people will someday set me up with mostly FFBs, or mostly BTs, etc. I normally would assume mostly BTs, but sometimes I wonder because there are not so many yeshivish BTs out there. In general most of the baalei teshuvah I know married other BTs, but on the other hand, most of the yeshivish-type ones married FFBs.

    There are so many questions here, but it’s an interesting topic to discuss.

  4. Welcome aboard Kressel! And I thought marrying a Sefardi girl was a mixed marriage (much harder on her, she gave up her rice on Pesach and for sefardim that’s a big deal).

    I also personally proudly wear the label but can see where others shun it. After all, there’s so much negativity and pigeonholing that comes with it.

    There’s no single answer to the question of “To BT or not to BT”. (Ouch that was bad!)

Comments are closed.