Those Five Magic Words

“I never would have known!”

What a thrill I feel every time I hear it. But as Rabbi Greenman so movingly describes, how healthy is it to want to “pass”?

Like all of you, I’ve explored so many stages of BT-hood; found the truth beyond those early idealized visions of the frum world. The amazement and longing that lured us to this world have matured into a grounding of understanding, regret, flashes of cynicism, and…moments of amazement and longing. Rather than suffer a damaged self-image (as warned by Rabbi Greenman) by not wearing my journey on my sleeve, I’m proud I’ve found a comfort zone: I’m proud that my instincts and impulses are frum ones.

This isn’t selling myself out. I can’t exorcise the 27 secular years; I acknowledge that the lyrics of any 70s song come to mind perfectly but I still stumble on the most-often repeated tefillos. In fact, I could definitely live more fully within the frum world but realize that I’d feel suffocated without private moments with the internet or newspapers or secular music.

Why not desire assimilation? I’m not hiding my past from my kids (how could I with defiantly secular relatives lurking in the wings)–but what about my previous incarnation is worth flaunting? The ease of pulling into the ubiquitous McDonald’s drive-through and ordering delicious treif foods? The comfort of pants and uncovered hair? What’s wrong with stifling the “true” me in the pursuit of being the me I want to be?

The time will come when I face the moment of truth, when I can no longer bury my past behind the decades spent braiding homemade challahs, clipping someone else’s hair atop my own, and holding myself in when my students say, “I’m staying BY my friend’s house for Shabbos.” Then I’ll be judged on the real me, as I join the chorus of FFBs complaining, “Making a shidduch for your kids is the worst!”

7 comments on “Those Five Magic Words

  1. Hashem created you born into an assimilated family – only for your soul’s good. Many of the things you learned there, developed there and loved there were things that can – no, must – be used to sanctify G-d’s name here and now. It is who you are – by Hashem’s Will.

    One thing I’ve learned through my years is that nothing good comes of not being true to myself….Hashem intentionally created me as the unique person that I am, and trying to pass as someone or something else is not only self destructive, but in the symphony of creation, the note that I embody is not being played.

  2. It seems to me that if you sweep dirt under the rug you end up with bulges. Ultimately you will trip over them.

    Stifling implies suppressing – ouch. Teshuva implies growth and transformation. If I was a thief yesterday but today I no longer steal, the “true” me is not a thief. Nothing to stifle. But if I was a drummer in a rock band and today I am frum, why can’t I play the drums in a chassona band? Take the skill with me?

    The Torah [medrash] teaches about Avraham Avinu’s travels through avodah zara. He rec’d reward for all of it. Why? It brought him to Hashem. It was all a part of his journey to HaKadosh Boruch Hu. Why doesn’t the Torah bury those stories? Because we learn from our father Avraham. This doesn’t mean that we should share past aveiros, chas v’shalom, with others. But it means that we should NOT look back upon our previous lives as sinners, but rather as ignorant [kidnapped] children who, had we known better, would have done the ratzon haBoray earlier. I don’t understand the stifle business.

    In any event. Good SHabbos. Yitz

  3. “What’s wrong with stifling the “true” me ?”

    I don’t get it. What makes the past you any truer than the present you? In fact I thought that the whole T’shuva process was about rediscovering/uncovering the true you?

  4. I don’t know if I’m comfortable enough in my frumness to “pass” as an FFB yet. But even if I was, I still would be open about my past, because I don’t like to lie. I guess I’m not far enough removed timewise from my pre-frum life that it wouldn’t come up in conversation. Anyone who asks me what seminary I went to will immediately find out that I’m a BT, because I didn’t go to seminary. Or if they ask where I’m from. [I’m thinking of just saying “Providence” to avoid questions.] Or if they ask me whether or not I’m going home for the passover seders. Though my community is worldly enough that there’s not so much difference between BTs and FFBs. We all listen to secular music and watch movies and play videogames.

    I often find that I’m drawn to people who are BTs, and I have a sort-of “BT-dar.”

    Then I wonder- is “passing” really an accomplishment? Are we any less frum if we’re obviously BT?

  5. For some reason or other, I often get those “five words” (and no, I don’t have a long white beard neither do I always wear a black hat). In a way, this may have spared me some of the overt elitism that others have experienced. I guess that’s a good thing. On the other hand, I often feel that these words strip me of a critical part of my personality, the struggles I have encountered and the obstacles I have overcome and those still in front of me.

  6. What about my previous incarnation is worth flaunting? – Shayna

    I don’t know. What about your previous incarnation is worth sharing?

    Were you into reading? Writing? Drama? Sports? Music – listening or playing an instrument? Summer camp? Hiking? Traveling? Or do you view your past life as a full time consumer of McDonalds?

    Okay, so there will be some non kosher memories connected to the writing, reading, drama or what have you. You can choose to skip over those parts of the story when you share with your kids or friends or whomever, but share the meaningful memorable parts. They exist.

    As my children grow I encourage them to not wear clothes that don’t fit. The pants, shirt and shoes that my 15 year old wore may not fit him when he’s 20…but the hat, gloves and scarf might still do the trick. Why dump them?

    The issue is perspective. My frum life is full of meaning, whereas my secular life was less so – but it was still filled with bracha. Why delete the bracha? Taking it with us just adds bracha to our present lives.

    Freilechen Chanukah. YG

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