Finding Your Comfort Zone

I think one of the hardest parts of becoming a baal teshuvah is in finding a comfort zone. Being an Orthodox Jew is not a once-a-week thing, or even a once-a-day thing. It’s something that permeates and becomes your whole essence – your actions, your thoughts and yourself.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when facing so many changes. A simple thing to do in such a situation is to shut down your mind and blindly follow what others tell you to do. The problem in this is that, down the road, you often catch yourself in a place that isn’t really you.

Becoming religious is a long journey. Many people walk over mountains and through valleys on the way to finding the place that is right for them. I know I did.

It took me a long time to find my comfort zone. I tried out a lot of different models, but finally had to settle on my own concoction of halacha and individuality. A balance between keeping Hashem’s commandments without letting it engulf me completely, not sublimating myself in exchange for acceptance in a specific community. And this balance and concoction changes all the time. But what’s the most important is that I didn’t lose myself, my uniqueness, while at the same time I conformed to what the Torah requires of me as a Jew.

What’s so important on this journey is to find people who support you – wherever you stand religiously. People who care about you and want the best for you, even if that means you are not in the exact same place they are. Since I have managed to find wonderful people who know and love and support me for who I am inside, despite the fact that at times I make different religious decisions than they do, my religious identity and security has blossomed significantly.

Finding your niche within the Orthodox world takes effort, hard work and patience as you work it out. But the efforts are well worth the rewards.

10 comments on “Finding Your Comfort Zone

  1. Esther,

    I really do enjoy your comment. Where I live in Staten Island, there are many communities of frum Jews, none I feel will enable me to grow, because I do not feel comfortable around them because I am very insecure among them. Plus I am a 28 year old single male and there aren’t frum or BT people my age on SI. I realize it is imperative for people to find people that they will be comfortable around. For example, in the near future I want to attend some of the programs offered by the kiruv organizations in Manhattan. That will benefit me. That will also benefit everybody in general: to find friends like yourself and learn to grow with them and to take the best of everything that is out there. In general, take the best of what life has to offer. Kol Hakavod for that post Esther!!

  2. I think this post is really important. Unfortunately I know a number of BTs who decided to completely stop their involvement with frum life after a time. Their reasons all come down to having become part of a frum world that wasn’t for them. There are so many valid options and once you become committed to one group, you are told that this is the “right” way and you unfortuantely hear bashing of other groups. Then if you find that the lifestyle isn’t for you, you don’t realize that you could try one of the other ways and still be frum. So I think it’s important to be self-aware and find the right path for you instead of just what others tell you.

  3. I came from a liberal MO background, but became more frum after a year learning in Israel. I grew up feeling quite self-conscious around yeshivish people, resenting feeling judged and not quite a good enough Jew. Objectively, I did have great room for improvement. My knowledge of halacha and machshava was very shallow (and I didn’t even know it!), I was totally dismissive of the dangers that modern media/culture present to spiritual growth, and the idea of being covea ittim was foreign to me.

    I now have multiple regular chavrusas. I usually daven in shuls with mostly black hats. I know who the Rif is and know about the Moetzes Gedolei haTorah. I totally understand why “modern” is often used in a pejorative sense in the Yeshivishe velt.

    However, I continued on to do a Ph.D., and I don’t wear a black hat. Despite these “shortcoming”, I no longer feel self-couscious when sitting with yeshivish Jews. I found that most of the time, I was creating discomfort for myself in two ways. Firstly, the sense of “being judged” was often in my own head. I was taking (even innocuous) cues from people around me to judge myself. Secondly, people have a sixth sense for a person’s lack of confidence. If I sense that a guy is unsure of himself, I naturally become less shy about imposing my own opinions. I found that the more knowledgable I accumulated, and the more confident I became of my hashkafic path, the less resistance I got from people who held differently (this work in both directions, from more modern Jews to jet-black Chareidim).

  4. I think one of the mistakes BTs in general make is thinking that being frum means changing one’s basic personality. That somehow, keeping halacha and being “spiritual” means doing away with one’s happy go lucky nature, instead saying “Boruch Hashem” and being serious, deep and introspective all the time. It’s a charicature, but a true experience for many. The most in-tune, balanced and happy BTs I know (and the most accepted by the FFB world by the way), in contrast, are those who never ran from their personalities, but enhanced them with appreciation of Hashem and His Torah.

  5. Someone once wrote: “A good religion should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”

  6. My message may be a cliche but, the person you have to feel comfortable with first is yourself. Then find yourself a person who is higher than you in Torah and mitzvot that you have a rappport with and can take advice from and make him (if you are male) or her (if you are female) your confidant. Then find a Rabbi, or a Rav, who you can ask questions to that is in tune with your personality and lifestyle. Then just be yourself, and those people who can accept you as you are you can call your friends, and the rest are Yidden whom you are commanded to have ahavas yisroel for.

  7. I think that this is an excellent post, and addresses a natural fear that we all had when contemplating taking on Torah and mitzvot.

    I compliment you on the entire website.

  8. I’m not trying to acid rain on the kiruv parade or anything, but It’s exceedingly difficult to imagine finding the comfort zone or any sort of niche within any given frum community framework. Its a pretty expensive/ hyperstructured and mostly uncomfortable couch to get comfortable on and belong to with a bland surfacey fabric covering and plenty of nails for backstabbing unless you’re well cushioned. Or maybe i’m just lookin for belonging on all the wrong couches in the wrong communities…

  9. I love this website for exactly this sort of post. I wonder sometimes what would be left of “me” if I cut away all the secular parts of me. My various degrees, the books I enjoy reading, the people I enjoy spending time with, the groups I am a member of, my worldview, etc. Can someone be frum and still read secular books dealing with lifestyle choices that no frum Jew would ever consider making? Can I support civil unions for gays and still be frum? Can I support laws which benefit Christians and will probably have the net effect of increaing Christian outreach because I think they are good for America as a whole?

    This is turning out to be a ramble with no real point, so I will stop with my (somewhat) rhetorical questions. I am just glad to know that others struggle with what I am struggling with. It makes me feel not alone.

  10. I decided early on in my teshuvah journey not to get so hung up on ‘fitting in’, and embarked on my own unique path, knowing that as long as I know in my heart I am doing what Hashem wants.

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