How Would You Spend The Money?

Some people are ‘starters’. They love to create and develop new products and ideas. Others are ‘finishers’. They are systems people. They may not be that creative, but they can take ideas and turn them into reality.

A ‘starter’ will invent and patent a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that idea (a Shabbos lamp, for example). But without a ‘finisher’, that creative idea may never take off. The ‘starter’ will lose interest when the bulbs get hot too quickly or if production gets bogged down. And, in all likelihood, he or she will be spending many of his or her waking hours thinking about the next invention.

I think that just about sums up the dilemma that many ba’alei teshuvah face. The vast majority of outreach efforts are focused on starting and very few resources are focused on the finish. And if Shabbos lamps have a hard time making it without finishers, imagine how parents with teenagers and tuition bills are coping.

I started the Life After Teshuva Conference in 2001 to address the unique needs of ba’alei teshuva who were desperately searching for longer term support. At the “Where Do We Go From Here?” session that closed the one-day conference, the panel members opened the floor to the 230 participants and asked them for their input and suggestions. The number one request by far was for rabbis and advisors who ‘get it’ – who understand the unique issues facing ba’alei teshuva families. In fact, since this website opened, Mark has been inundated with such requests, some of which he forwards to myself and other ‘rabbi-types’. But this is clearly not a long-term solution.

For the past four years, on and off (mostly off, as I need to raise funds for the Yeshiva where I serve a Menahel, and for Project YES, my program for at-risk teens), I would approach people of means and ask them to invest in programs to address these needs. To date, I have not been successful.

Until last night.

Over the past few weeks, spurred by the incredible energy and dialogue of this website, I have been soliciting prospective donors to make this issue a tzedakah priority in their portfolio. Last night I had a lengthy conversation with a donor (who wishes to remain anonymous), and I got a firm commitment to dedicate substantial funds to the long-term-ba’al-teshuvah-acclimation issue.

Now the question: How to spend the money wisely? (See Inspiring our Prospective Donors, an article I recently wrote on the topic of spending charity money wisely.)

– Should we invest in education or awareness for school heads and rabbonim?
– Should we be training a cadre of ‘finisher’ kiruv professionals?
– Should we ‘retool’ the current kiruv professionals?
– Should we pursue mentoring programs for ‘newer’ ba’alei teshuva?
– Will programs like the ones I mentioned create stigmas for ba’alei teshuva?

After kicking these questions around for a while, the donor and I decided to take a few hours off to think of ways to develop these ideas. Then, a creative (starter) idea came to me.

Why not ask all of our readers for their input?

So, here goes: How would YOU spend the money?

42 comments on “How Would You Spend The Money?

  1. I think that there is a need for women to be placed with women mentors. Of course it’s important to have a Rabbi but it is also important that women have a female role model who can help them adjust to a Torah life and who can help them learn how to set up a Jewish home.

    Melissa – I would say both are necessary; both a Rav of whom to ask halachic sheilos, and a female mentor with whom you feel a connection for guidance about more hashkafic issues, or discussing impressions of issues facing you or the community at large. Sort of like Rachel’s asking to be “adopted”; somewhere where you could feel comfortable hanging out and “absorbing” the atmosphere, with the chance to ask about anything bothering you.

  2. As a small response to Yitzchak Preis, I think that eventually every BT has to think about the pluses and minuses of staying out of town on a long term basis. In other words,the issues of religious growth, learning, shidduchim, chinuch ,etc cannot be easily negotiated and navigated out of town. On the other hand, out of towners definitely have a freshness and idealism ( in NCSY we called it “ruach”) that one has to look for in many frum neighborhoods, shuls and yeshivos.

  3. My humble addition to the many valid suggestions – As “alone” as the BTs may find themselves, the “out-of-town” BT has fewer resources, greater expense just Getting to the NY experiences, retreats, etc -Any funding that could assist us “out-of-towners” make it easier for BT’s (and those on the way) share the East Coast experiences would be very helpful.

  4. I think that there is a need for women to be placed with women mentors. Of course it’s important to have a Rabbi but it is also important that women have a female role model who can help them adjust to a Torah life and who can help them learn how to set up a Jewish home.

  5. Interesting topic and a problem indeed, however global solutions are hard to find.
    I once had a conversation with a Kiruv professional, who runs a Minyan/shul geared for balai Teshuva. The fellow is competent, and would be able to provide the second stage needs. However his Minyan/shul is labeled as a BT Minyan/shul and balai Teshuva prefer the yeshivesh shteibel…..
    What many of them need is a relationship and attention from a Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva ….
    The ones with money get more of it, the others do not.
    Balai Teshuva are taught the importance of “ase lecha rav” whoever it must be emphasized even more. (ase lecha rav- singular- not Rabbanim)
    One option – if a community has a high proportion of balai Teshuva, create a grant for the shul to hire an assistant to focus on their needs, however it must be done in a discreet way.

  6. Oops – I misread – president’s weekend – I won’t be able to make it that weekend either but thank you anyway! :)

  7. Dina – thank you for the invite – I will not be able to make it this weekend since I will be flying to my parents in Houston – but perhaps some other time! Good luck with it.

  8. Rachel wrote:I really wish there was a program where frum families could “adopt” a ba’al(at) teshuva.

    Oo, oo (hand up in the air, waving wildly) could we make one?

    Seriously – could this site be set up to include some sort of “match singles to families” listing, by city? Like shidduchim. If you’re in the same city, checking out segment of the community and determining basic comfort level should be easy enough; where do you daven, do we know people in common.

  9. Aryeh and Daniel-will you be at the Melaveh Malkeh in KGH this Motzaei Shabbos. I will. Perhaps, we can discuss a possible chaburah on Chumash and Siddur with special emphasis on Rashi, Ramban and other Rishonim such as Ibn Ezra and Seforno with change-ups on Siddur, Machzor and Haggadah. The objective would be two-fold-enhancement of textual skills and increased appreciation of the questions raised by the Gdoleo Mforshim HaRishonim in their understanding of the text.

  10. I hate to quote a Gadol when not 100% sure, but I believe it was R”Wolbe, ZTL, who said that baalei teshuva are like orphans. How is this so?

    We can’t turn to our parents, siblings, or other lifelong role models to help us make major life decisions. They cannot teach us chumash or dikduk. They cannot help us with contacts or open doors for us in the frum velt. We have often moved geographically far away from our support network in order to establish a frum life. We don’t have a thousand cousins dotting every community in the northeast and all over Israel. We are rootless, save our emunah in Hashem, our relationship with our kiruv rabbis, and whatever friendships we establish with our peers, who often are themselves BTs. It is easy to become hefker.

    As orphans, we needs what any other orphan might need. This includes a good education, hashgafic guidance, and people who support us and help us cope when we run into life’s bumps. We are not ‘projects’ but when we lack these essentials, we may come to see ourselves, and the world may come to see us, as nebach.

    If you ask me how to spend the money, I would say look to a place like Rabbi Singer’s in Passaic, and make more of those. Its a yeshiva for working people. Many are BTs but not all. Many local rabboim ‘tutor’ there, give shiurim and friendship. Its the next step after an Ohr Someach experience, for the person who works, has a family, etc., where learning is offered on many different levels.

    Yes, I would make modifications. I would add more language and skills programs for women, and perhaps for men. I would add tutoring for kids of BTs in the afternoons or evenings — maybe even a peer-to-peer program. The point of the place, though, is that it is not a shul, but a yeshiva. A place where those who come around are interested in growth, whether they are BT or FFB. A person doesnt have to feel weird for wanting to grow — in fact, just the opposite. This common goal creates a somewhat familial relationship, more so than a typical shul. A makom like this gives a person roots. With roots, no one is hefker.

  11. TO David K.

    Ample classes in the community? Yes and no. It seems that there are shirium given every night somewhere in my current neighborhood. But just focused on Hebrew Grammer/Vocabulary and intregration of those skills into Davening/Reading Chumush with Rashi? Not that I have found. My wife went to an all women’s Chumush shir and the women were struggling with indentfying shoreshim or even pronouncing correctly words such as “ote’cha” Or how to pronouce a shvah na or other vowel signs.

    So, I think there is a real need for Kitah Alef Level skills in the BT world for men and women.

  12. Dina:

    a woman’s only Shabbaton in Passiac? My wife, son and I live in Passaic, and I feel that she would be REALLY into this! How can I get the information to pass along to her?

  13. Ilanit:
    If you are interested, we are running a women’s only shabbaton and learning program in Passaic over presidents weekend – Shabbos-Sunday-Monday, full day learning, all ages. We are an independent program but are supported by Aish, JRC, and others. This is precisely the reason we have started such a program – support for those who are already “in the door”! You can ask the administrators for my email and contact me.

  14. I got zapped by Aish’s Discovery.

    When I left I believed in G-d and haven’t eaten pork, shellfish, or cheeseburgers since.

    Cut to: one year later.

    I get a call for a two week program at Ohr Somayach in Monsey.

    One month later I subletted my NYC apt and was at Ohr Somayach for the next 3 years, B”H!

    Got married. B”H!

    Moved to Queens.

    Every blue moon I get a call on my answering machine from one of the rabbeim from Ohr Somayach interested in how we’re doing.

    I usually return the call and have a nice conversation.

    I’m still not “at home” in Queens, even with all of the shuls to choose from.

    And I’m not sure Ohr Somayach is home either.

    Where is my home?

    Would I feel more at home if I owned my home?

    In between jobs a few years ago I learned for a few months in Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv. But as much as I like it there, it’s also not home.

    I started davening in a different shul lately, after I had started davening in a different shul from the other shul I have been davening in. But I still don’t feel at home.

    Is it the goal of a BT to feel at home?

    Can we ever truly feel at home before Moshiach comes?

    Do FFBs feel at home?

    Can the money go to building homes?

    I know: BTville! We could even charge admission.

  15. What an amazing question to think about! To think that someone is willing donate money to help others become more observant and more learned…that is truly “kol areivim zeh l’zeh”. To be frank, I think that it would be extremely helpful to invest funding into some programs for women. There are all sorts of programs for men to learn, go to yeshivah, etc – but women run the home, set the example for the children (along with the men!), cook (mostly) – women are “akeret ha’bayit”. Women imbue the spirit of Judaism throughout the home. It would be helpful to have programs for all sorts of women – college-age, engaged-to-be-married, already-married, working, stay-at-home, etc. I know I would certainly appreciate it.

  16. Daniel, were there ample classes and opportunity for you to learn Hebrew? Do you think there was enough emphasis in your Kiruv community on language skills?

  17. On a side point, I have to recommend checking out some of the Torah of Breslov and Rabbi Nachman as an “anti-body” against the cynicism and spiriual angst than can develop post-tshuvah. It’s helped me a lot internalizing and individualizing my relationship with Hashem, instead of getting hung up on various things that bothered me in the FFB world, or various disillusionments and the like. There is really something there for every Jew (though I was quite wary of Breslov for a long time, not knowing if it was “serious”).
    Check out “Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom”, translated by R. Aryeh Kaplan. You won’t regret it.

  18. If the question is one of investing funds, it would seem that Jewish literacy is likely the most important and practical form of assistance for Baalei Teshuva, especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to spend time in serious learning. This was a major part of the philosophy of Shapell’s, my first yeshiva- that equipping a BT with text, language and learning skills will help people long term be “frum with confidence”, and moreover, to have the tools to grow more independently, with more self respect than could otherwise be the case. Torah study is ultimately the lifeline of Jewish life.
    When I think of the stresses and often very difficult life changes that come with being newly religious, as well as the often tremendous psychological and emotional challenges and upheavals that come with such paradigm shifting, I remember the “in-between” period as being the most alienating, difficult and lonely. Knowing how to learn has made me, B”H, wonderfully independent and growth oriented in my religious life.
    “Teach a man to fish”, after all, is ageless wisdom, and ultimately the highest form of tzedakah, I believe.
    In addition, Shabbatons, seminars, etc are probably always helpful.
    But practically, learning workshops, or perhaps scholarships for learning programs? Or perhaps something along the lines of that phone chavrusa program in America, with a bent towards skill building. Or maybe establishing a volunteer network in Jewish communities to establish chavrusas with Baalei Teshuvah(FFB to BT, or veteran BT to fresher BT) to the same ends.
    These are just ideas. Also, the support group thing couldn’t hurt.
    Definitely in a more abstract sense it is best to help people help themselves (not again in a negative sense, but in the sense of integrating and reaching a comfort zone or equilibrium as an observant Jew). There is nothing people really need beyond that, in the end. BTs have great strengths, and it’s a chillul Hashem that they are often not treated with the respect they deserve. It all boils down to bechira. Hashem should help us all not to confuse with the means (of spiritual growth, serving Hashem- i.e., clothing, scholarship, etc.) with the inner substance. A person seemingly lacking much on the outside might very well be a Prince or Princess of Hashem on the inside. Nebuch on the one who disresrects them.

  19. the other day after being in and out of the shomer shabbot world and now a father I realized, “I have no real idea how to daven properly and I better fix my bad habits and lack of skills quick!”

    So, I turned to a person who I’ve heard as a zibbur and liked his voice and sincerity. We sat down for ten minutes and I was in tears. I couldn’t say basic words in Hebrew – this despite almost at least 10 years of being around shomer shabbot people and shuls, and worse, going to Ulpan and getting to level II for adults. I can say all the letters and I know all the vowels, and I even recognize most of the roots of the words, but pronoucing them evenly without too many errors was eye-opening and tear inducing.

    The Rabbi was caught off guard at a 32 year old man crying. He promised to work with me more, told me to say less of the structured prayer, and focus more on what I need to say — in other words, not to try to keep up with the zibbur or try to say all of davening.

    It was comforting. But that is a HUGE area that I think many of us BTers are falling ,.. is in our basic Hebrew skills. And I am not talking about getting to be able to read a Hebrew Newspaper — just Ashri, Shema, Brachot, A few Hallukahs.. whatever your personal Rav tells you to focus on.

    But we need that initial support and follow-up, because for many of us, just going thru the motions and pretending that we’re keeping up when we are not, is not good enough. Plus I don’t want my son to follow in my bad habits, which is why I am trying to break them today (before he is old enough to see me in shul).

    And women? What about y’all? I talk to my wife about this at length. It seems that many women in our community *in the norhteast, near New York City) lack fundamental skills as well. Am I wrong? Aren’t we setting a dangerous cycle? My grandmother was from an Orthodox family but she never saw the “whys” just the “do’s and “don’ts” and got turned off.

    We can’t make the same mistakes. I think Hebrew needs to be emphasized for Adults at ALL levels — and it can religious texted based. We need real Hebrew Teachers from Israel. So, how would I spend the money? Developing Intensive Emersion Hebrew Classes for adults at their pace/lifestyle and affordability. That would greatly enhance our Jewish lives. It need not be secular at all, or focused on getting to read a newspaper — just religious texts would be nice!

    Let’s break our teeth on Hebrew!


  20. I commented previously on education, employment and integration. I can see that if your particular way to teshuivah means that you have to walk away from a job, etc., then a “Nefesh BNefesh” type of organization may be helpful. I will not reiterate my views on education and immigration.

    Shidduchim are inherently a much more idiosycratic issue.Let’s start with the given-we only want the “best” shidduch for our kids. Defining the “best shidduch” is in my opinion even more indivualistic in nature. David Kelsey pointed to zenophobia which asserts itself rather notoriously as to BTs, tableclothes, and many other factors that R D T H Weinreb called psychotic in nature.

    Let’s put aside what are the psychotic factors and focus on the simple and yet complicated factor of whether children of BTs should “stick to their own kind”, to quote an old song from “West Side Story.” I personally am not hung up on this issue. I only care that the young men who would be a husband and future son in law be a Ben Torah, Baal Midos and Bem Aliyah-regardless of his place of origin.Obviously, this applies equally for women. In other words, the ultimate destination is far more important than where he or she started, regardless of the presence or absence of what is called “yichus.”
    ( Parenthetically, I once heard a story about two Chasidishe women who were sitting together in a restaurant in Lower East Side. They were discussing the marriage prospects of their respective children and one mentioned yichus in some context. The other woman replied and stated that yichus died in Auschwitz! R Berel Wein also points out that yichus can only verified as to parents, not grandparents because most grandparents are in the Olam HaEmes!)

    For what it’s worth, this is my take on the issue. I am sure that others may or will differ because this is a subject that we all feel strongly about in one way or another. I really that we do ourselves and our children a huge disservice by insisting upon either just a BT or FFB. First of all, as I pointed out, the labels don’t tell you anything about the person’s midos and personality, etc. On the other hand, a BT comes without the baggage that David Kelsey alluded to. Moreover, if you really believe in integration and inclusion of BTs, then objecting to a BT as a BT and for that reason per se ( “davke” really means that you “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk”. It can send the most awful message of hypocrisy, etc to your kids. Look at it this way-when you were a struggling BT, someone reached out to you in a sheer act of chesed. It just might be the antithesis of chesed to reject such a shidduch who has “all of the maalos” but who is a BT for your own kids.

    In a similar vein, The Bostoner Rebbe Shlita once commented at an Agudah convention that unfortunately too many people apply the wrong understanding to the Gemara that a complete Tzaddik can’t stand in the place of a BT-because FFBs have a negative view of BTs. From my perspective,someone who rejects a child of a BT solely on that basis doesn’t deserve to have their child marry a child of a BT.

  21. Helping BTs learn Hebrew so that they can really participate in davening and get that connection to Hashem is crucial. My husband and I are both struggling with this now. On the one hand, we are contemplating a move into “frumville”, but we need to choose a shul before we look for a house. How does one choose a shul when davening is still foreign and you don’t even understand the criteria for a comfortable shul because NO shul is comfortable?

    Kiruv rabbis are typically not language teachers…and they don’t have to be, but it would be great if more kiruv programs included an intensive track for learning the language (reading, Torah vocabulary, etc.) to help us integrate.

  22. David- I understand what you are talking about in your reference and comments re “the normative frum world. ” Yes, there are xenophobic and cultural differences. Yet, I firmly believe and have personally seen that the cultural differences do vanish over an open sefer and a Shabbos meal. As far as the enclave mind set., believe it or not, that is a factor that Chazal seem to have inculcated into our Tefilos and Brachos as a means of reminding us of our purpose, not to act as if no one else counts in the world.

  23. I agree that issues such as employment and education warrant a sort of clearingboard ala Nefsh Bnefesh. I dissagree with maintaining BTs in an isolated Ir Miklat or Ir HaNidahas isolation chamber whereby they are not afforded the possibility of interacting and integration over the long run.

  24. Sunday is a working day for us menhalim, and a busy one at that, so I will only briefly respond to Steve and David re: the ‘finisher’ matter.

    The concept of ‘finisher’ that I raised in my post was not intended to imply placing spiritual finishing touches (“hashkafha-bolstering”) on ba’alei teshuva. Quite to the contrary, I was referring to the pragmatic assistance that ba’alei teshuva individuals and families may need as they transition to a profoundly different lifestyle.

    Allow me to use the analogy of making aliyah to Eretz Yisroel, as I think there are striking similarities between that choice and that of the ba’al teshuvah as he or she decides to embrace a Torah lifestyle.

    Aliya is a lofty and beautiful concept. Those who successfully make the move find it simply wonderful. But there are also bags to pack, apartments to rent/buy, and all the other trappings of a significant move. In fact, Nefesh B’nefesh was formed to encourage Aliyah – but also to recognize the reality of the need for transitional assistance. They plan, discuss, and strategize for months before the move is made – and then help the olim along long after they unpack their bags.

    When couples seek my guidance as to the possibilities of making aliyah, they are sometimes dismayed when my first two questions are pragmatic ones: 1) Where will your children go to school? and 2) How will you make a living there? But I feel that my obligation is to help them plan for a successful move, not just for a move.

    (My good friend Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer wrote an outstanding article on the rewards – and pitfalls – of making aliyah that appeared in the Jewish Observer, December ‘04. It is a must-read. )

    Back to the matter of ba’al teshuva assistance. Some of the more established Baal Teshuva Yeshivos have long-term assistance in-house. Many don’t. And even those who attended the more established ones are one move (re-location) away from losing this life-saving assistance.

    I am suggesting that such long-term assistance – and planning – is needed for ba’alei teshuvah, including the areas of employment, education, shidduchim, etc. (as you correctly point out, David).

    This is not ‘therapy’ or ‘hotlines’ for troubled persons, no more than we would view Nefesh B’nefesh in that light.

    But perhaps the time has come for us to consider a ‘Nefesh B’nefesh’ of sorts for ba’alei teshuva families.

    Looking forward to reading your comments (tomorrow, I guess).


  25. Steve,

    Integration for BT’s is simply not for eveyone. There is no way that most BT’s are going to fit in the normative FFB world, not when they come from very different and disparate backgrounds, and come from a very different culture. And the xenophobia which affects acceptance of BT’s and is so frequently found in large swaths of the FFB world is not some unfortunate misunderstanding that can be remedied by education, but a critical part of maintaining an enclave. You can’t consider your community superior and a world apart without it.

  26. I think that R Y Greenman’s response illustrates a profound disagreement many BTs and FFBs have with a strategy that views BTs as bringing “problems”, rather than assets to the Torah world. As David Kelsey pointed out, educational approaches that focus unduly on hashkafa as opposed to creating textual literacy in the basics of Torah may be counterproductive at least in some instances. Personally speaking, such an approach would not have drawn me or many others to Torah observance . Today, I think that it is important to have a balanced approach to hashkafa, but the type of hashkafa that is advocated by some in the kiruv world would have had zero attraction to me.

    Therapists, hot lines and the like denote the presence of some sort of disease, R”L that must be cured before a BT can view either himself or herself as “mainstream.” Instead of insisting upon marginalizing a BT because of educational background or family background , the kiruv world should focus on acceptance by the FFB world. In my opinion, “normalcy” doesn’t mean that you abandon your intensity and passion for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim one iota. It means that you are bringing these midos as tools that enable the rest of the Torah world in its approach. The fact that you may be rocking someone else’s comfort zone and stereotypes should be irrelevant if you have the self-confidence to know where you stand and that you are always striving in an uphil direction without alienating anyone in the process.

    I also think that two issues that we all should think seriously about are that most of the kiruv organizations demand that a BT remake themselves via removing themselves from the world as opposed to incorporating the best aspects of their past into their new personalties and textual literacy. I think that both removal and integration are important strategies depending on the person involved . On the other hand, there are role models in the FFB world who can and should be emulated as well. I also think that the notion that BTs can sort of reinvent the FFB world by themselves in their own cocoon is a strategy that is tantamount to saying that BTs cannot and should not integrate into the FFB world. I think that such a strategy is fundamentally flawed and doomed to failure.

    More critically, gaining textual literacy in the basics of Torah is a life long process. While I have previously written that BT yeshivos, sems, etc are the best way to start the process, remaining in a world that is populated by BTs cannot aid one’s integration into the FFB world. In this regard, I think that there is nothing more unifying than something as basic as Daf Yomi or a weekly shiur. When you open the Gemara , noone cares whether you have Yichus or not. Noone cares who you are or what you bring to the proverbial table, except your desire to learn. That is far more unifying than suggesting that BTs require some sort isolation based ir milat or ir hanidachas approach.

  27. Baltimore has a program, Yesodei Hatorah, that may be something to consider. (They could probably use some additional funding themselves.) It is adult education rather than kiruv. What they have is a variety of classes on different levels. They have separate classes for men and women. Most of the attendees are BTs, but probably not all. I don’t know all the details, but I have heard from those who attend and love it. I do know that there are Gemora classes on number of levels. Some students are thrilled that they can now learn with their sons. There are also classes in halacha and I think in hashkafa, chumash and nach.

  28. In my limited experience, those BT’s who have spent significant time full time learning (even just a few months can make a difference) at one of the baal tshuva yeshivos or seminaries are much more able to integrate, and although problems arise in their lives, they have whom to call as a result, from their yeshiva/seminary connections. They are more solid in their hashkafa, the men know how to learn, etc. I vote for creating and funding local specialized seminaries/yeshivos, or even more casual programming, or giving scholarships for people to take time off of work, so that they can study in these places. There is really no replacement for formal learning, and obviously, social and cultural issues facing BT’s can be addressed as part of the programming.
    I and a friend have created such a program for women’s learning in Passaic, with tremendous success and feedback, B”H, but we have only had the resources to run it twice a year.

  29. Rabbi Horowitz,

    I would certainly agree that there are problems for latter ba’alei tshuvas, but from my own experience and witnessing others, I think many of the problems need to be addressed earlier, not later.

    Additionally, I think it needs to be acknowledged that a more radical Orthodoxy at some point is frequently discarded for a more Modern one, even if the BT remains in the black hat fold, which he doesn’t always.

    I would suggest that the focus not be on continuing to attempt to somehow integrate BT’s into the FFB community, or bloster Hashkafas, but rather, to help them reengage in life as Orthodox Jews, as the Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas strongly encourage them to remove themselves to a large degree from the rest of the world. Over time, this is exceptionally isolating, and in most cases, eventually dehibilitating. This needs to be addressed, because when it isn’t, resentments and regrets grow. If a BT isn’t encouraged to engage in life (and I don’t just mean finding a shidduch, frequently the only distant promise of engagement ever offered) the massive fall-out will continue, and the BT movement will not find its toughest critics to be liberal secular Jews who ask the Hashkafa questions about the Holocaust or gender issues, but former BT’s like myself who ask the pointed policy ones.

    Rabbi Greenman,

    You wrote,

    “How is it possible to bring large numbers of people into a [foreign] lifestyle and not expect them to have issues, ranging from minor to major? It is of course to be expected. Does this mean that we slow down the “assembly line”? For sure not.”

    No, by all means, why fix it if you can still sell the car without the hassle and expense of additional skilled labor and detailed specialists, right? This is how the Pinto fiasco occurred. I doubt you would run a business that way. At least, not for long.

    I am still astounded that I have to say this, but I have to be the one to say this.

    Hashkafas change. For BT’s, they change more dramatically and more quickly. If you feel like an Am Haaretz, you will recognize that your identity as a Jew is built on the stuff spoon fed to you by others. Even if you learned Gemorrah.

    Basic knowledge that facilitates your own learning is so much more empowering, and the learning more real. And BT’s can’t pick it up like a child in cheder. Language must be formally and intensively taught. It should be a priority.

    Teach language. Teach the grammar of Hebrew, the grammar of Aramaic. Everyone should be enrolled in these classes, beginner AND bais medresh. It’s even more important to a “difficult” BT’s spiritual longevity than a lecture series including “proofs” as to how evolution is a scam, or how the world really is only a few thousand years old.

    I can’t help but think that the reason this isn’t properly emphasized may be because of ego on the part of some in Kiruv who feel that what they have to teach must be more important than a language teacher. I can’t come up with a better reason.

    Eventually, for many of us, a lot of it, or at least some of it, (“it” being the hardcore BT thing) doesn’t make sense for us. A deal of some sort must be struck, and we are the ones who will need to pasken on our own lifestyle, and find our own synthesis.

    It would be very helpful if BT’s are at least given some sort of hint about this early on, not when they have finally had “enough.” It should be explained that many of them will need to find their own way. Because for many, there is no other way, and the sooner they accept that, the better it will be. Both for them as individuals, and for the sake of their Judaism.

    If the Kiruv world truly believed that the more a person knew about Torah Judaism, the more they would like and appreciate Judaism, there wouldn’t be the same focus on numbers. There wouldn’t be an assembly approach. There wouldn’t be a mold. Education–not Haskafa, not community, not integration–would be paramount.

    I therefore think that many in the Kiruv world may suspect something very different. They certainly fear the yetzer hara. They believe in him.

    They believe in him more.

  30. I was about to suggest support group meetings when I read this in R. Greenman’s response. I would love to connect with other BT’s in my community and/or extended community and try to fill a void. I have so many complex issues as an older BT that seem so difficult to resolve. The kids at risk issue is very important, and is complicated by the lack of extended family support in the BT family. How do BT parents approach shidduchim for their children? etc.. I wonder if it would be prudent to have separate groups for newer, unmarried BT’s and those “mid-life” BT’s with children, only to avoid making the newcomer’s nervous before their commitment is solid.

  31. Judging from the thoughtful responses, it appears that this is clearly a “hot topic”. That being said, I think that Rabbi Horowitz may be looking at the situation as the glass is half empty. How so? We are living in a world where approx. 80% or more of klal Yisroel are not shomrei Torah and mitzvos. Clearly this is a chilul Hashem and unless we make continued major efforts to bring those rechokeem in the door, we’re all in trouble. Hence the BT org.s.

    In the best of all worlds, once any significant number of Jews start returning, there are going to be a WHOLE SERIES of issues that will need to be addressed. However, I believe that this issue should be viewed in the context of a “quality problem”. How is it possible to bring large numbers of people into a [foreign] lifestyle and not expect them to have issues, ranging from minor to major? It is of course to be expected. Does this mean that we slow down the “assembly line”? For sure not.

    I think that the starter / finisher paradigm is hokey [in all due respect]. I have many friends and neighbors that ask me to send them secular shabbos guests. They have no time [and maybe no interest] to follow through with these guests, but does that make their mitzva of Shabbos hosting [ie “starter”] any less chashuv? I don’t think so. Furthermore, many of these types have started by having shabbos guests and gotten much more involved in people’s lives as a result…as “the apetite comes with the eating”.

    All of this being said, I do believe that continuing education and integration of BT’s is a real issue. My main thrust is that it should be seen as a glass 1/2 full ‘quality problem’ issue; otherwise some may be disuaded from bringing newcomers in the door, thinking: “why bother, they’ll just get lost in the shuffle anyway?”. This would be a horrible outcome of such caring [but in my mind misguided] thinking.

    Now, on to solutions. I give up. Good luck. JUST KIDDING.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    1) BTA [Baal Teshuva Anonymous]
    Start support groups where BT’s get together, perhaps with a trained professional or a hosting rabbi or rebetzin [or none of the above] and let people “get it all out”. We used to run such sessions at Aish HaTorah NY for years, led by Dr. Adam Lynn, of Inspired fame. The rules were that no rabbis were allowed and Adam, a trained therapist, would lead an approx. 1 hour discussion that I was told a bzillion times was extremely helpful to all who participated. It was held weekly.

    2) BT shabbatons. Large or small weekend retreats, perhaps billed as BEYOND BT and I’m sure that many kiruv org.s would come together to co host [Aish HaTorah offers to do logistics for the first one! b’n]. The weekend could have speakers dealing with BT issues ranging from shidduchim to mainstreaming to “help, my kids wants Hebrew homework!”, etc.

    3) I love the idea of a BT hotline, as someone suggested above.

    May we be zocheh to see ‘beyond bt’ issues come up millions of times in our lifetime and may we also be zocheh to see the issues solved.

  32. One of the issues that concerns me is that I feel there is so much fakeness in the frum community, including in myself, and I have to work so hard and struggle to maintain sincerity in my tefilah, in my learning seder, in my middos. I look around and think (wrongly in some cases, no doubt) “none of these people are even trying to (pick one) daven with kavannah, act like a mensch, speak properly like a thinking yid, etc. So my concern is that $$ will be spent on frivilous thing like black hats for the men, helping the women afford nice shetels, getting help with getting accepted to the “right” school, all things that people concern themselves with instead of concerning themselves with ansking themselves: do I feel alive? do I feel connected with hashem? am I using my time to be a kiddush hashem? Living in a very frum community, I think that after a while BTs may get put off by the unfortunate level of pettienss, judgementalism, and superficiality and feel very lonely as he or she struggles for an emesdik relationship with HKB”H. Note that I am exaggerating, I find a lot of sincerity and people trying their best to develop into better yidden and better people in my locale. Unfortunately also a bit of shtuss.

  33. With all due respect to R Horowitz, I think that the terminology is vague. “Finishing” especially seems to be rather devoid of any examples. I am not a fan of “retooling” because there are many approaches in the kiruv world that work and I don’t believe that we should even think about abandoning them because different people are attracted to different approaches. Perhaps, more FFBs could and should be sensitized, including mnhalim.,mchanchim and communal rabbis. I also think that we all should all thinking about integration of the BT in a number of ways-by being better examples in our own family and communal lives, etc. On the other hand, kids at risk really need a more positive hand in a variety of ways that all center around family, school and community. This problem seems to apply across all hashkafic labels and defies all of the commonly held sterotypes held in our communities. For more on this issue, I highly suggest that anyone concerned read “Off The Derech.”

  34. I attended that seminar, and so let me take this moment to reiterate the suggestion I made at the time is that I would have liked to hear more women speakers.

    As to your larger question, I do think there might be some stigma that I wouldn’t necessarily want. I remember hearing a young woman at the seminar say how alone she felt. I really couldn’t relate, but then, she was still single and I married an FFB. But even the BT couples in my community are as integrated as everybody else. So to state the obvious, I think that until BTs get married, they feel more alone, which is a long way of saying: spend the money on newer BTs.

    But if you are going to spend money on later BTs at all, I think you ought to focus on the area of chinuch. If I hadn’t married an FFB who could really teach my children Torah, I think perhaps I would feel more alone.

  35. It seems to me that people need mentoring, a connection, and one-on-one attention.

    Re-training the already existent rabbanim and menahlim is nice and might work for some schools and some communities but there may be a lot of obstacles in this approach. Teachers and principals are already over burdened with running their school, it might be difficult to ask them to do more. Although I do think one day training seminars for mechanchim would be helpful but only a small step in the process

    To reach the most people and make the most impact, perhaps funding could be used to set up a very comprehensive web site which could include such features as FAQ’s, relavant halachic articles, a hot line number (with a trained hotline support staff) and an ask the rabbi section. The goal of the web site would be multi fold: answer and address important questions and issues relavent to the already frum BT and also it could serve as a clearinghouse through the hotline to set up BT families and individuals with mentors in their communites or in some case with tele mentors

    I see this idea as a means to facilitating and building relationships with rabbonim and with mentors.

    I have specific of a web site in mind. If this idea sounds interesting, I can elaborate further (when it is not erev shabbos and my chicken is not burning….) :)

  36. Well, Rabbi Horowitz, again, you’re not just talk but taking action to fill a need! I’d vote for an ongoing, growing mentoring network run by trained and caring FFB role models. Small groups focused by a leader, who is available for private guidance, as well. Something that will grow as we grow, whether we’re five or twenty-five years into the lifestyle.
    Keep us up-to-date on your progress…we’re all eagerly waiting for it!

  37. One of the ideas I have thought of is the following: a world wide organization with an 800 number (hotline) that would be an address for the BT to turn to in case of need. Basically similarly to the wonderful medical referral organizations that exist. We could have qualified Rabbi’s in most major cities that we could refer people to. I know it sounds like a dream however if we had a central organization to manage and oversee the process then maybe it would work. The organization could charge a reasonable membership fee as well as raise money. We could have a once a year seminar/shabbaton in a central location where we would have forums dealing with the issues that are most important to us, our own “Aguda” convention. We could even publish a quarterly magazine devoted to these issues.

    The only cost would be to administrate it and for counselors. Ideally we could pay the Rabbis that are involved so they could dedicate some serious time in the local communities to this but I realize that requires an enormous amount of funding.

  38. Dan wrote a fantastic entry which deserves it’s own entry on the site. I’m going to excerpt it here and you can read the entire post over here. – Mark

    Should the Money be Spent?

    I am going to say some things which might counter commonly held views of kiruv. Three parts.

    Part I – If this idea takes off, whatever the role, please be real, and state limitations.

    Whatever role a person is – starters, finishers, middlers, etc,.. they should at least be aware of what they’re good at, be up front about their limitations, and explain what they can do and why they’re doing it. They must be honest – and if they suspect they do not have only the other person’s benefit in mind, they may need to look within before proceeding. The harm could outweigh the good in the long term.
    Part II – My take on contemporary kiruv.

    There are many types of people and reasons why they go into kiruv. I think few would disagree that each of them feels they are doing it sincerely and l’shaim shomayim.
    Spend money on advertising brand X, and more people will buy brand X. These ads can be very funny, powerful, or even make some people cry. Obviously, Torah is more than a brand or product. I am bothered when I see many of the kiruv advertisements. They get people in, and they might make x number of people more religious, but it also takes the Torah down to the level of an advertisement. It reaches many people, but what kind of Torah is conveyed this way? It is Toras H-Shem that you can get from a loving concerned fellow Jew, or an 8 second media clip? Wal-Mart drive-thru kiruv?

    Kiruv professionals may says that such depth can be sought out later on, but I think that’s a cop out because the community at large doesn’t support this depth, and the BT will feel even more isolated and more needy among the people with whom he/she should feel most at home. That’s why a sensitive BT’s need a Rov, or Rov-like person to be their anchor, and validate their needs among a sea of people who do not share those needs for the most part.
    Part III – What to do and how to do Kiruv

    A Paradigm shift. To go against the grain and do the hardest thing that many FFB could do in front of a frum or non-frum person: Admit that he can learn good things from a non-frum Jew, and try to get to know and understand him a friend. Most people want to be heard and understood – just by doing that can be the nicest thing for someone. Learn to see every Jew as equal, as a member of the “club”. Only a small minority of Jews are born into Orthodox families. Any FFB should know that if he were born to the non-frum majority, who’s to say that he’d become frum? Cultivating a relationship were we both can be teachers and students could also solve many problems besides kiruv (teens at risk, shalom bayis, shidduchim)
    For those who think (frum=completed), and its just a matter of learning more, saying more tehillim, I wonder about that. If the person never grows in their depth and concern for a fellow Yid, what are they learning? Maybe they are acquiring the subject matter, but are they internalizing Toras H-Shem in the process? BT’s often are isolated from family, from the former world that gave them their comfort, and have difficulty retreating home to most FFB communities that do not fully accept them as equals. They accept them warmly for what they’ve done, but there’s always a glass mechitza between the “old rich” and the “new money”.

    I’ve meandered a bit since it’s late. But if defining different roles in Kiruv is going to happen, what would prevent people from having an agenda, albeit a noble one? I see the kiruv approach as having an agenda to “make” the other person frum. Even after they sign the Dati line, some BT friends confessed that many people were nice to them, but it wasn’t as an equal. It was as a “project”, or as a “Me established frum family”, “you, spiritually tattered person needing help”. I’m sure they didn’t say that, but I’m trying to convey an expression by hyperbole. No matter what though, it can be very insulting.

    So real kiruv has to be a grassroots effort, and it will probably entail as much work for the FFB’s as the BT’s. It’s not easy, but hey, if this type of personal growth to help others isn’t what life is about, then what is it?

  39. I’d say pursue mentoring programs for “newer” ba’alei teshuva. I know I personally would find something ike that incredible helpful, so I imagine other ba’alei teshuva might feel similarly. Especially those of us who aren’t married with families of our own, who feel alone in the Orthodox world.

    I really wish there was a program where frum families could “adopt” a ba’al(at) teshuva.

  40. Well, you’ve certainly hit on a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m associated with a shul that has done a wonderful job of getting people in the door but has too often left them on the threshhold.

    I think many kiruv rabbis may suffer from a business approach, i.e., they tend to think in raw numbers rather than in terms of continuing development. “We had 20 families become shomer Shabbos last year” is a far easier benchmark of success than trying to calibrate how older baalei tshuva are continuing to grow.

    Too many baalei tshuva, even years after committing themselves to Torah observance, are still davening in English, are still unfamiliar with basic halachos, are still unsophisticated in Torah hashkofah, because so-called kiruv shuls are so overly user-friendly that their rabbeim are afraid to move committed baalei tshuva along for fear of scaring prospective baalei tshuva away.

    Moreover, these kiruv shuls may water-down their davening to the point where serious b’nei Torah find nothing inspirational in the davening and can’t bring themselves to daven there, even though they may desire to help the kiruv effort.

    I believe the current popular cliche is “paradigm shift:” we have to rethink the way we balance maturity and sophistication in Torah observance with the need to attract newcomers and make them comfortable. We need to open ourselves up to new ways of thinking that avoid stagnation in spiritual development.

    -Should we be training a cadre of ‘finisher’ kiruv professionals?

    – Should we ‘retool’ the current kiruv professionals?

    – Should we pursue mentoring programs for ‘newer’ ba’alei teshuva?

    And don’t worry about stigma. If it’s a concern, it’s there already. And if our efforts succeed, it won’t matter as more and more baalei tshuva become mainstreamed. (Look for my next post on “passing.”)

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