Keeping in Touch with Before Teshuva Friends

Make new friends,
But keep the old,
One is silver,
And the other gold.

This was always one of my favorite songs throughout childhood. My family moved around a lot when I was younger, so it was difficult to sustain friendships while changing locations every few years. My friendships, even today, are mostly ones that have lasted a few years, rather than decades or since kindergarten.

Becoming observant also changed my friendships quite a bit. A lot of my friendships kind of slid away, as I had less and less in common with the people I used to be friendly with. I had very few Jewish friends growing up, so when I became religious, it made things even harder – they didn’t understand why, all of a sudden, I couldn’t hang out on Friday nights and Saturdays, why I couldn’t eat their food.

But there were a few special friends who stuck with me. They asked questions, learned a lot about my spiritual decisions themselves. They went out of their way for me – eating with me in kosher restaurants, learning about hechshers, buying paper and plastic plates and silverware for me to be able to eat in their homes. They accommodated me, because they knew that the friendship was worth transcending religious differences.

My group of friends today is much different than it was ten years ago, before I became religious. The friends I see and speak to on a daily basis now consist mainly of other Orthodox Jews (though those span the spectrum of “frum”). But here and there, I have a friend who has been with me through my transformation, who has seen how much I have grown, and who has grown with me, although in different directions. They understand who I am and how important my religious identity has become – and they recognize that it is part of me.

It’s nice to have these “different” faces flower the landscape of my interactions on occasion. It’s wonderful to hear a different viewpoint once in a while, or get asked a question about something I may have taken for granted. And I like the reminder that, though many things have changed, there are some things that still haven’t.

Those old friendships, though not always easy to maintain, are important, and very much worth the effort.

12 comments on “Keeping in Touch with Before Teshuva Friends

  1. A number of years ago,my public school class alumni committee sent me a questionnare re what was I doing and whether I could attend a function. The function was in a glat treif restaurant on the eve of Slichos, so I declined the invitation. However, I sent them a bio on what I was doing vis a vis my life as a Torah observant Jew, my family, etc. I did not hear anything subsequently.

  2. I’m a ger as well Johnny and that’s some rather interesting advice you were given…All my rabbonim we’re/are Hasidic but they’ve never hinted that I should abandon friends from the past.

    Anyway, at least in my experience, my closest friends are Roman Catholics. At least where I am, and as sad as this is to say, I’ve found that more secular/non-frum Jews find it difficult or awkward to become close with a frum person. Although this may be because where I live frum people are few and far between.

  3. Phil

    It was as you hope a gentle suggestion from the MO, but the UO pulled no punches. R Avigdor Miller ztl, who I am a great student of a follow in most of his opinions, actually said that a ger who keeps in touch with his old family is not a true Jew!

    Hmmm…he also said that anyone witha TV in
    his home has no share in Olom Habo.

    I admire his honesty but disgree on these issues.

  4. My best friend since junior high is Catholic. We have maintained a strong friendship for the last 13 years. For the last seven of those years, I have been religious, and she has been accomodating and interested even when my family was not. In past year I have felt particularly inclined to call her, reminisce with her, visit her. I think it has something to do with embracing the good aspects of my pre-teshuva self and acknowledging their roots. Also a little anxiety due to people are starting to call me ‘rebbetzin.’ Nurturing this friendship grounds me a bit.

  5. I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people, and I envy those who are. If you’ve got a life-long friend, then you’re definitely at an advantage.

    On that note, I’d like to tell a sweet story. About a year and a half ago, my sister discovered an email list for almumni of the summer camp we attended. Joining that list prompted me to locate my best camp friend, which was not at all difficult because her father was a university professor. It was exactly as Rachel said about her best friend; we just picked up where we left off.

    My friend is intermarried, but she is teaching her son what she can about Judaism, and I like to think I am helping with that. But here’s for me one of the neatest parts of the story: she actually knew of my kiruv website before I contacted her, only she didn’t know that “Kressel Housman” used to be “Karen Levine.” So she was reading my divrei Torah even before she knew it was me! I think that’s amazing hashgacha!

  6. I hesitate to ask Johnny this question, but I think it’s important. What was the nature of your rabbis’ statements about your maintaining your old friendships? Was it more like, “you must stay away from them.” Or was it more like, “My dear friend, I think you’d find it in your best interest to ‘leave the past alone.'” I really hope it was the latter.

    On a different note, maintaining one’s friendship with your “old” friends — even the non-superficial friends — will be easier if they don’t get the feeling that you’re trying to sell your new beliefs or lifestyle on them. (The ‘you’ in this sentence is the ‘generic you’.) I speak from experience, the wrong kind of experience.

  7. Another thought about this topic. There was a family whom we had known casually in pre-frum days, knew them throughout beginning stages of growth as well. The husband was always interested in Yiddishkeit but not enough to do anything about it on his own. The wife at the time was anti-Yiddishkeit period.

    We maintained contact with them and once I bumped into the husband and explained to him that I could not shake his extended hand but that I was really happy to see him and see that all was well with a big smile. Soon after my husband saw him and embraced him warmly.

    To make a long story short, the entire beautiful family is frum today, living a beautiful Torah life in Eretz Kakodesh. The husband later told me it was my husband’s warmth, hug and our concern and connection to them that did it.

    Who knows what really did it. But experiences leave a Roshem. When someone is strong enough to be able to connect to others confidently in who they are and how they live, everyone gains.

    Reaching that point doesn’t happen overnight though which may be why some Rabbonim advise new balei teshuva or converts to leave the past alone, at least for a while. Initially it’s probably best to focus on self=growth.

  8. I think it’s mostly fear that keeps us away from certain relationships due to differences. Friendships are ideally begun and maintained out of respect and in order to respect people who live differently, we have to be fully confident in ourselves and the way we are living without being judgemental overtly towards others.

    We have been lucky to have friendships with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Unhealthy people or unhealthy relationships with them usually die their natural death, this happens with all people.

    It also takes work to maintain and grow a friendship. To take the minute or two to remember to call someone, email, invite or just make someone feel you thought of them or cared.

    I’ve been lucky to form relationships even with some of my business clients, people from backgrounds as diverse as you can get. They are my best references. And I learned alot from them as well. Respect of a person is the key.

    I try to keep the respect issue in mind whether I am shopping in Williamsburgh or an African-American neighborhood or Chinatown as downtown Flushing is called these days. If we smile at people and treat them with respect, despite the obvious Kiddush H” taking place, they, most of the time will respond in kind. And you never know what good or relationship can come out of a positive contact with someone.

  9. I think that after becoming frum you find out which friendships were the really deep ones – and those are the ones you should really stick with.
    A lot of friendships are quite superficial and when you change so much you realise it. You find yourself with people you can no longer relate to and have nothing to talk about. Some relationships can’t handle the growth in your life – but I think it shows that they were superficial from the start.

  10. I’m actually at my best friend from elemntary/middle/high school’s house right now. [She’s an actress. I saw her opening night.] She’s not Jewish, but her dad is, so she’s always been exposed to Jewish culture to some extent. Whenever I visit she always is accomodating, and despite how much we’ve both grown, we always can pick up where we left off.

  11. I am a ger tzedek and, despite attempts by my rabbonim to the contrary, I have kept a few of my oldest and best friends and am in contact with my “old” family too.

    I think it’s inevitable that one grows away from most friends as one goes thru life – many are just companions thru a specific experience or period like college. In addition, when one changes lifestyle it is likely that as one has less in common with the old crowd it will fade out of one’s life.

    As commented above, non Frum and even non Jewish people who respect you as an individual will usually show interest and support for your choices…

  12. I grew up in an area that had a very large secular Jewish population; my high school was 25% Jewish.
    I have sadly found that it was easier to stay friends with Jews who are completely secular rather than those had some strong non-Orthodox affiliation. For example, my secular friends my eat treif and break Shabbos, but they would never try to argue with me that really it is OK to eat treif or drive to shul like my (active) Reform or Conservative acquaintances might.

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