Of Eagles and Turkey

You grew up in Philadelphia and you are a passionate Eagles (the local football team) fan. Somehow, you were able to land two tickets to the New Jersey Meadowlands Arena to watch the NY Giants play your beloved Eagles in a crucial playoff game in January (Sorry, Eagles fans, not this year).Here’s the question: What color jersey do you wear to the game? Do you proudly wear Philadelphia green, do you ‘wimp out’ and wear the despised New York blue, or do you ‘punt’ and wear some nondescript color?

Well; are you a conformist or not? Do you go with the flow, are you indifferent, or does part of you enjoy walking against traffic? The question is not about if you could wear Eagles’ green (you certainly could, if you look like a linebacker and if you don’t particularly mind getting a beer bath from the upper deck), but also if you should – or if it is prudent to do so.

I certainly do not mean to carry the analogy to its logical conclusion – that ba’alei teshuvah are entering a hostile environment, Heaven forbid. Nor do I suggest that you will be subjected to a ‘cholent bath’ should you wish to attend a Shabbos kiddush with out-of-the-‘yeshivish’-norm clothing. Having said that, there is the very significant reality that as a ba’al teshuvah, you have moved from a diverse population to one where certain norms are often maintained. In the secular world, this would be like moving from SoHo to Salt Lake City. (It is important to note that this reality is more pronounced if you chose to settle in more buttoned-down communities such as Monsey NY, Passaic NJ, or Kiryat Sefer, Eretz Yisroel, as opposed to, say, Seattle WA or St. Louis.)

There are also very far-reaching consequences of your conforming-vs.-independent streak decisions. It’s fine to proclaim your self-expression at age twenty-five or thirty, but what are you going to tell your teenage son in ten years when he asks you, “Does Hashem really care if I wear a hat?” (if you select a black-hat lifestyle) or when your nineteen-year-old daughter asks you, “Where does it say in Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) that I can’t wear a thumb-ring or spike my hair?”

Enjoying the Give-and-Take

As one of those responsible for the creation of this website, I am having a great deal of nachas (pleasure) from the give-and-take of these important issues. I think that all responsible views should be aired – even those that may be a bit off the beaten track. It will help everyone frame his or her opinions and generate constructive dialogue.

I have much more to write on this subject of conformity – and on the topics of finding a Rav who understands your issues (not always that simple), relationships with your family members (keep close, if at all possible), Thanksgiving (I strongly feel that most of you should not ditch that one), raising your FFB children (too long for a sound-bite), and the broader issue of where to position yourself in the shades-of-gray spectrum of Jewry (I’m not even ‘going there’ now).

Time permitting, I will try and contribute to these posts in the future. In the meantime, please allow me to offer my very best Gut Shabbos wishes (Shabbat Shalom to contributor Shirah Shuraqui) to all our readers and contributors.

B’ahavah (with much affection)
Yakov Horowitz
Monsey NY

6 comments on “Of Eagles and Turkey

  1. Max, all:

    No offense intended with my stadium analogy. I apologize if any was taken.

    I was addressing the overall mindset of people who ‘walk the path less traveled’ – such as the sports fan that I wrote about or the guy who has the self-confidence and spunk to wear a bow tie in a room full of tie-wearers. (Incidentally, speaking of non-conformists, my wife and I recently attended a secular lifecycle event where I was the only Rabbi-type person in the room – and I was wearing a Chassidic suit no less. The only other person so attired was a charming non-Jewish, African-American executive who was wearing an Italian long black suit that looked almost exactly like mine. We took a few pictures together and had a great laugh.)

    I have spent all my adult life teaching – and trying to live – tolerance and acceptance. In fact, this is taken from the Handbook that I wrote for the rebbeim in the Yeshiva where I serve as Dean:

    “We will continue to promote understanding and appreciation of frum people across the spectrum, and tolerance and respect for non-religious Jews and non-Jews.
    We will teach understanding of various minhagim (customs) during our Yom Tov and year-round halacha learning, regardless of the minhagim of any particular rebbi.
    We will promote pride in our Yiddishkeit but not degrade non-Jews during parsha, limudim, etc., or use ‘goyim’ in a disparaging tone.

    Having said that, not everyone is that understanding, and some members of our community frankly do not have the range of life experiences to allow them to appreciate (or even understand) significant non-conformist diversity of thought and deed.

    Ba’alei teshuva parents (and FFB’s) often ask me for advice regarding non-conformist positions or lifestyles that they are contemplating. In my post, I was trying to project the complexity and implications of these moves.

    Yakov (Horowitz)

  2. Yaakov re:rotten apples

    FYI refer to the comments of Rob(# 9)and Menucha Kagan(#17) after Rabbi Mayer Schiller’s post from December 13th. I think you’ll find them sad but illuminating.

  3. Yaakov,

    My model was an expression of a fondly held hope not of my experience.

    As did Dr. King “I have a dream…that one day my 4 little kinderlakh will live in a Jewry where a man is judged by the content of his middos and not by the color… of his hat!”

    May all our futures be pleasant ones not like our present ones.

    Shabbat Shalom

  4. Max,

    As a Giant’s fan I found your post offensive. Besides, everyone knows the Eagles’ fans are the worst.

    On a serious note, I have at times unfortunately encountered the hostility, albeit subdued, alluded to in the football analogy. Worse, there are really some rotten apples parading about in the full garb of Torah-loyal people. Hostility-with-a-caveat may have its deficiencies as an analogy to our experience, but your symphony orchesestra analogy may understate it in the opposite direction.

    I hate to say it but people really do have to be on the alert for rotten apples. Otherwise, they could be in for a big surprise when they bite into this thing called Yiddishkeit.

  5. Sorry Rabbi. In spite of your caveat I find the football fan allegory offensive. Not having to be wary of a cholent bath just means that FFB’s are less prone to outward displays of hostility than are Giants fans. The implication of the metaphor is that everything about the BT’s past is a “wrong” allegiance rooting for the “wrong” team. That, in effect, our desire for non-conformity is another vestige of our past “goyishkeit ” that ought to be chucked out.

    I submit an alternative model. Yiddishkeit is a symphony orchestra playing classical music. Certain sections of the orchestra have been dropped due to budget cutbacks (re: the long and bitter golus). BT’s are musicians who were schooled in a different style of Music. Yet they are equipped with the same instruments re:neshomas and in some cases new-to-the-ensemble instruments (TA DA introducing the woodwind section!) as the FFB classical music veterans. Obviously as these new musicians schooled in Jazz are inducted into the Orchestra they must retrain in a (new to them) classical style. Yet this does not mean that they need forget all they ever new about Jazz. Certain elements of their old style can infuse those old classical pieces with a fresh unprecedented new sound. And how about those woodwinds? They emit sweet sounds lost for so long that we’d nearly forgotten how beautiful they were.

    Come FFB and BT alike with us to the Bais Medrosh/ Bais Knesses/Shabbos table/chesed organization where we will make beautiful Music togezer!

  6. What’s the question? You wear your black suit and black hat. And if the game’s on Shabbos you wear your streimel.

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