Bridging Backgrounds

It’s very natural to try to insulate yourself with those who are as similar to you as possible. As a BT, we often form bonds with those who have gone through the same experiences as us – those who have also changed the direction of their lives to include Torah. This is a comfortable enclave; there are similar stories to share, others can appreciate the world we came from and can empathize with the current struggles to balance between non-religious familial obligations and our new lives.

The problem is, insulating ourselves with those who have gone through the same experiences as we have leaves out a lot of people – and many who we can learn an enormous amount from. And it also splinters a world that is broken in enough pieces as it is – just in the Orthodox world, there are divisions between Hareidi and Modern, between Chasidish and Litvish. Not to mention the huge divide that occurs between “frum” and “non-frum” Jews, a gap that many often believe to be unbridgeable.

But if we look for the commonalities rather than the differences between all Jews, we can find a world where bonds can be bridged over these formidable canyons, a Kiddush Hashem can be made, and achdus between all kinds of Jews can be formed. When I was first becoming religious, I had a very hard time relating to my non-religious family, friends and co-workers, often judging them harshly because of the decisions they had decided not to make. But I gradually came to appreciate the fact that many of them did value their Judaism very much, but connected to it in different ways than I did.

I also had a hard time connecting with those who grew up frum, in insular settings, and whose experiences included very little interaction with non-Jews, in contrast to my formative years in which I had virtually no Jewish friends. They just didn’t seem capable of understanding where I came from, and the background that made me who I had become.

Eventually, though, I realized that you have to look at each person individually, because people are people, and Jews and Jews, and that is enough to find many connecting points. And because of this realization today, I am fortunate to have as friends people from all types of backgrounds – BT and FFB, frum and non-frum, Jewish and non-Jewish. I believe that this gives me a greater appreciation for the color that life can hold, for the fact that you can learn something from each person, and that you never know who you will form the strongest bonds with, despite their background and external trappings.

If we look beyond the background, beyond the clothing and hairstyles, we can find bonds to be made between all types. We can truly begin to build Klal Yisrael. And instead of individual broken links, we can build a strong chain of unity and achdus together.

5 comments on “Bridging Backgrounds

  1. One of the most important Mitzwah today , if not the most important one, is to love one’s fellow Jew, otherwise why do we have to work so much on Lashon Hara, we wouldn’t need the Chofetz Chaym heritage foundation to publish books like Ahavas Chesed…
    Therefore it is so important to focus on loving each other whatever the background, at the root we are all brothers and sisters, maybe we should train ourselves by speaking like Rav Shlomo Carlebach and as we meet other Jews we should say: Hello my Holy Brother !

    In order to give something to someone out of love you need really to know the person, you have to know where he hurts as the this story of the baal shem tov beautifully shows:

    The Baal Shem Tov used to tell his chassidim that he learned what it means to love a fellow Jew from two Russian peasants. Once he came to an inn, where two thoroughly drunk Russian peasants were sitting at a table, draining the last drops from a bottle of strong Ukrainian vodka.

    One of them, in a slurred drunken drawl yelled to his friend, “Igor! Do you love me?” Igor, somewhat surprised by the question answered, “Of course Ivan, of course I love you!”

    “No no”, insisted Ivan, “Do you really love me, really?!”

    Igor, now feeling a bit cornered, assured him, “What do you think? I don’t love you? Of course I love you. You’re my best friend Ivan!”

    “Oh yes, yes?” countered Ivan. “if you really loved me … then why don’t you know what hurts me and the pain I have in my heart?”

    May we all try to understand each other better and fund interest in the other until we feel the joy and the pain of our holy brothers and sister… IT IS KNOWN THAT IF WE WERE ALREADY ALL IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER THAT WE WILL BE INVINCIBLE AND ETERNAL, MOSHIACH WOULDN’T EVEN NEED TO FIGHT FOR US.IF WE ARE ONE DOWN HERE , WE CAN BE ONE UP THERE WITH HASHEM WHO REPRESENTS ALL JEWS…


  2. Mark –
    Rebbetzin Heller is completely right and goes one step further than I did in my post. I think giving to every person is an incredibly way to promote achdus and unity, and there are always myriad opportunities to do so.

    Rachel –
    I am glad you appreciate the post. As I said above, we may not express our connection to Judaism in the same way, but I think we can learn much from each other and connect in many ways as well.

  3. I am a liberal Jew for whom Judaism is tremendously important, though my manifestation of Jewishness is different from yours. I appreciate this post very much.

  4. But we can still hang out here together on Beyond Teshuva :-)

    Rebbetzin Heller advocates a similar approach to yours and says that when we approach a person, we should ask two questions:
    “What can I learn from this person?”
    “What can I give to this person?”

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