Just Fitting In

Well becoming a blogger may be less difficult than becoming a BT- but at some point in both you just have to log in and do it. Mark tells me blogs are better when typed from the heart, so unlike my own BT journey (more in future blogs) I will type right in with not much forethought.

What are the biggest challenges facing us BT’s today- that’s a pretty grand question. My gut reaction is that it depends where you live. Really? Yes. I think there are basically three places we live: (1) in-town, (2) Out-of-town, (3) Eretz Yisroel. Let’s start with the third as it’s easy for me- I have never lived in Eretz Yisroel, only visited, learned in Yeshiva (or other places in more Zionistic days, but that is also another story.

So let’s define “in town.” That’s anyplace within the radius of a circle whose center is Brooklyn (probably does not matter where in the borough for purposes of this classification), whose length reaches Monsey, or maybe Lakewood; I’m not sure about that. Withing the circle is “in town” and appraoches, attitudes, reactions, and most importantly who BT’s are treated are different from “out of town” which is everywhere else. At least, the rest of the USA- I don’t know about the rest of the world.

When living out-of-town, the BT is challenged by thoughts of “how am I doing?” Am I improving or not in my learning, davening, and avodas Hashem? Am I progressing faster or slower than someone else, is it right for me now, am I ready for that, etc.

In-town, it’s all about fitting in, or perhaps avoiding standing out. This has ramifications is learning for us, yeshivas for our children, shidduchim for BT singles, and for BBTs (B’nei baalei teshuva- I’m not sure our children are full fledged FFB’s- yet another topic for a future post), the shuls we daven in etc. There have been recent streams in which FFBs wonder if there is an end to kiruv- meaning why do BT’s tend to cling together? Fitting in can be challenging, and there is a lot of required conformity for success, and that might be a little against our grain.

For example, there’s one statement that menahelim dread- “When I was in Yeshiva……” (or maybe what’s with yeshivas these days…). I told the menahel of our cheder, “I promise you I will never say that since I was never in Yeshiva.” He laughed. But, if a BT comes forward with a comment, or worse, a complaint on the educational process you may get set up as a nail needing to be banged down (and can kindergarten school records be used in shidduchim??) I had the best education my parents could buy me, for which I am grateful, but this does not help you understand yeshivas! We learned very quickly that conformity is the answer to most issues in our children’s education (at least through middle school- past that I do not know yet). Not being a complainer means that when we want to address an issue, we can be heard. This is not easy- fitting in to a model that may or may not be me to help my children! And since we are BTs from out of town, we’re still working on figuring out the in-town model that we should conform to. Out-of-town we did not see that- acceptance and welcome were much more forthcoming, especially among the solid, long-term FFB families- maybe that’s the difference.

I’m not completely sure why, but I think in-town most things are more challenging for BT’s than out-of-town. Do you agree?

6 comments on “Just Fitting In

  1. Hi there. I am a 28 year old single male from Staten Island, New York which is one of the 5 boroughs of NYC. I am not frum but I do want to learn more about Judaism. I also find that it is much harder to connect to the frum community in the NYC area. From personal experience, I find that the NYC frum community does not accept or welcome non-frum Jews or Jews that want to learn more. For example, people do not invite me to their homes for Shabbos or Yom Tov. And I feel they look down on us. Anyway, many frum people have told me it is better to be in an out-of-town community than NY. This summer I want to go to Chicago to check it out and see what happens there. So many it is a sign from Hashem that I do not belong here in NYC and will have much more success in finding a rabbi and social network in an out-of-town area. I just hope that everything works out.:)

  2. David, I certainly know your brother, and I remember meeting you too! I would swiitch it around- children of out of town BT would be BBTOOT! Sounds more interesting.

    Hey, I’m an engineer, I like acronyms. I am not partial however to compound acronyms.

    But I’m glad you noticed my differentiation between children of BT’s and FFB’s- some would call them FFBs but I think they have a special outlook which they get from us.

  3. Eitan, I whole heartedly agree, NY is NOT the center of the universe- the concept of “in town” sort of proves that- I used to be so out of town I didn’t know what that meant.

    Even so, I think that there are very many equal facilities for BT’s out of town, in learning, low key accepting shuls, etc. In fact there might be more warmth out of town. That’s why I agree with Michoel here.

    Also “Fitting in” is certainly not exclusively a BT concept, it pertains to many parts of life, frum and otherwise. But it is certainly one of the challenges we face as BT’s, and I think it’s harder in town than out of town.

  4. As one who has lived in-town for about 10 years and out of town for about the same, I think OUT of town is much easier and healthier for baalei t’shuvah. The stratification of communities is much less and it is easier to find one’s place. That is to say that there is much less external pressure to define onself. Also, financial pressure is generally less, which is a big help for those that don’t have family support.

  5. Melech,

    It’s great to have you aboard. I believe you know my brother.

    Quick question: So, is an out of town child of a Baal Teshuvah an OOTBBT (the initials are beginning to get longer than the actual words!)

    Be well.

  6. As someone much earlier in their BT journey than you are, I would say ‘in Town’ is much better. For finding learning and having resources, restaurants, and lots of frum people to interact with there’s nothing better than the NYC area (sorry, as a Westerner-from Colorado-I refuse to bow to the NY as center of the universe psychology. NYC is A city, not THE, even Jewishly there are great, large communities up and down the East coast.) except for eretz Yisrael. I think many of the ‘fitting in’ problems you describe also happen to non-religious, and non-Jewish people just as part of growing up and having family. My non-Jewish friends who have just recently finished college tell me about similar issues with the culture of the place they work, having to fit in to get ahead, etc. Thanks for the piece. Keep ’em coming.

Comments are closed.