Full Beyond BT Shabbaton Recap

Here’s the full recap of the BeyondBT Shabbaton.

Shabbos started off on the right foot with a gorgeous Kabbalas Shabbos led by Rabbi Gili Houpt. After davening, the participants headed for dinner at their hosts’ homes. A tremendous thanks to all of our gracious hosts for housing and sharing meals with our participants.

Although it was late, and hot, aproximately 50 people showed up for an oneg at the Linns which included an elegant dessert spread and an amazing dvar Torah from BeyondBT contributor and commenter Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz whose family made the trek all the way from Springfield, Massachusetts.

After Shacharis, there was a nice Kiddush at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, where we continued the shmoozing that was kicked off at the Oneg.

Shabbos lunch was really a treat. Our over 100 participants came together for a meal suffused with Ruach (again led by Rabbi Houpt), good food, new and old friends and incredible achdus. We didn’t have to talk about what Yeshivas and camps we didn’t go to or whether we were Chassidish, Yeshivish or Modern. We were just a bunch of people with the commonality of purpose of making new friends, deeper connections and increasing our Ahavas Yisroel.

Beyond BT coordinator Mark Frankel shared some thoughts on the origins of the blog, his own teshuvah journey and his conviction that every Baal Teshuva’s story is “Inspired”-worthy. He also pointed out that due to the fact that most of our children are FFBs, it turned out that the BTs were actually in the minority at our own Shabbaton.

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz, a guest contributor and commentor and a good friend of the blog (FOB) gave a beautiful dvar torah highlighting the individuality and preciousness of each Jew and his/her personal growth trajectory.

Steve Brizel was somehow able to weave his personal thoughts on tesuvah with a Hakaros HaTov for NCSY, his family and his Rebbe, along with a three staged approach to teshuvah all within the 7 minutes alloted (not bad for a lawyer).

Jennifer Meltzer, who blogs here under a psuedonym, shared her journey from being a child of the 60s to being a growing observant Jew.

Mark then did a roll call introducing old and new friends including Beyond BT Contributors Aryeh Leib Ecker and David Kirschner and pointing out some bloggers including Serach and Ezzie from SerandEz (and, yes Eliana is as cute in person as she is in her pics and vids), Shoshana from Beyond BT and SweetRose, Rebecca and her husband Aaron from Life with Estee (Estee thoroughly enjoyed lunch keeping her mother busy by doing laps around the dining room), and a blogger and commenter known and loved throughout the Blogosphere the always-present “Anonymous” who chose to remain anonymous.

There were also a few other bloggers who chose to remain anonymous. That doesn’t mean that they sat through lunch with paper bags over their heads, they just didn’t publicize the blogs that they write under psuedonyms (Dov Bear, was that you?) .

An important rule of our blog was revealed – and that is that while we allow commentors to use their actual names and one psuedonym, under no circumstances are they allowed to argue with themselves.

After lunch and a well-needed two-hour break, Rabbi Yacov Haber from Yeshiva University presented a shiur linking Shabbos Nachamu to Tu B’Av. Rabbi Haber weaved the themes of Achdus and increased Torah study together through the events of Tu B’Av as a means of hastening the geulah.

Following Minchah, we gathered for shalosh seudas including egg salad imported from Massachusetts and made with eggs fresh from the Simenowitz’ farm, yum! (Those of us that were smart enough to purchase the Simenowitz’ maple syrup at the Melava Malka were in for an even sweeter treat!) The singing was amazing and was highlighted with The Modzitzer Rebbe’s “Ship Niggun” written by the Rebbe from the deck of a ship departing Eretz Yisroel with the land still within his sights. As the niggun filled the room, you could feel the Rebbe’s passionate longing for the land. (Thank you Rabbi Schwartz for sharing this niggun with us.)

Our good friend Todd Greenwald, who has been involved with the blog from its earliest stages of conception, shared part of his teshuvah story which included a strong traditional upbringing and his father’s “fortuitous” introduction of him to a Rav at the perfect time.

David Linn refused to share his personal teshuvah story insisting that no one is interested in hearing a boring teshuvah story that starts with getting struck by lightening and falling into the Grand Canyon. He did, however, share the story of “The Monster” pointing out how seemingly mundane everyday events can teach us the deepest teshuvah lessons.

Following Maariv, we kicked off our Melava Malka with pizza and the Beyond BT Jam Band (aka “Six Guys With Beards”). The band was made up of R. Gili Houpt on Guitar and lead vocals, R. Shmuel Simenowitz on Guitar (electric and acoustic) and back up vocals, Bruce Goldenberg all the way from Baltimore, on drums (often joined by his ten year-old son Simmy who doesn’t have a beard), R. Avi Epstein on keyboards and back up vocals, Jesse Asher on bass and Dr. Meyer Halberstam on violin.

The band played late into the night presenting classics as well as some original material. Special guest Reb Shlomo Carlebach (in the form of R. Dovid Schwartz) shared stories and niggunim that, I must tell you my holy brothers and sisters, were mamish the deepest of the deep.

Our Hakaros HaTov goes to all of our participants from near and far, our hosts for opening their homes and especially to Mrs. Frankel and Mrs. Linn for an unbelievable job that would make the most accomplished party planner envious carried out with the able assistance of the Frankel, Linn and Greenwald kids, second generation bloggers.

Thanks to all who joined us for this special Shabbos. We hope to see you all (and many more) next year!!

17 comments on “Full Beyond BT Shabbaton Recap

  1. “Chavrusas are important because they are not not just people with whom you pour over a book.”
    how true I’ve had my chavrusa for nearly five years – he lives in the 5 towns so we learn a few nights a week over the phone, poring over the seforim, but our families have become friends over the years so by simchas (and the occasional stolen shabbos) we actually get to pour over the books together as well!

  2. As a follow up, I would like to thank both both Mark and David for moderating a great blog. I had thought about relating my own teshuvah story in more detail but in retrospect, I think that for me, the keys were:
    1) an emotional committment to Torah which prevailed against some initial skepticism via my participation in NCSY which opened my eyes to Torah.My first regional event showed me a range of rabbis and advisors who were able to present Torah in contemporary terms that appealed to me and whetted my appetite I then went to National Convention a few weeks later.As a student in a small town ( Fallsburg, NY)where my family and coommunal milieu was Orthodox shul, drive to Shabbos, kosher inside and not so kosher outside, I was dismayed and curious about what it meant to be Jewish.Being together at a National Convention was a revolutionary experience just in seeing so many of my contemporaries who were interested in searching for their Jewish roots. I learned how to “wash”, bentsch, keep Shabbos and to love “ruach” or Jewish music in NCSY.I bought my first Jewish books ( RSRH’s The Nineteen Letters and Choreb) and my first pair of Tzitzis at a National Convention.Who can forget Divrei Torah from R N Bulman ZTL and music from R S Carlebach ZTL? These moments still ring in my ears. “National” became a noun, not an adjective.After a while, I lived from event to event and letters from advisors.I remember “discussions” throughout my high school years about not going to basketball games, skiing,and movies on Friday nights. I was raised with an appreciation for Classical Music. I can remember my parents and siblings leaving the house on the way to hear the NYC Philarmonic play Tzchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” while I stayed home. Kashrus was far tougher for me because I enjoyed going for dinner with my family. I distinctly remember that my non-Jewish classmates were far more sympathetic to my growth in observance than my Jewish classmates.NCSY’s rabbinical leaders and advisory staff were of huge assisstance to me during those years.

    2) attending yeshiva and learning how to learn and to appreciate the depth and breadth of Torah study.My rebbes and friends helped me grow and develope as a Ben Torah.One of the major factors in my YU/JSS experience was that many of our rebbes were Talmidim of RYBS and that we always went to hear RYBS’s annual public hashkafic lectures/drashos. While NCSY gave me the emotional cornerstone, YU and JSS gave me the intellectual basis and Mesorah to navigate a committment to Torah and the challenges of American life.

    3) When I entered law school in 1976, I slowly realized that singlehood , even on a short term basis, was not the optimal lifestyle for a BT. B’H, I met my wife the following fall and we moved to KGH in 1978 after our marriage. We set up a household at a young age in KGH, raising two wonderful Bnos Yisrael and getting the most out of our belonging to two great shuls. We are very proud to be members of two shuls with rabbanim that have always reached out to us-the YIKGH and CAY.Believe it or not, we met on a Motzaei Shabbos without a shadchan as a go between on the Upper West Side and quickluy discovered that we were both college educated BTs whose fathers were accountants and that we wanted to raise a family of Shomrei Torah UMitzvos.Her family adopted me as a son. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of marrying the right person at a young age as a BT because you are generally “setting up your own shop” in more ways than one and because extended singlehood and Torah observance do not go hand in hand.

    4) meeting two great chavrusas who showed me how a professional could be Kovea Itim LaTorah at all times. Chavrusas are important because they are not not just people with whom you pour over a book. They become your friends and role models in building a family and Torah life.

    5)and developing a relationship with a rebbe and GadolBaTorah RHS. a YU classmate correctlty suggested that I would enjoy RHS’s shiurim . Everyone has to have a rebbe just to link themselves back as far possible in the Mesorah to Sinai. In learning Torah, we all must work at jettisoning our contemporary attitudes and try to understand any text as much as possible thru the views of Chazal, Rishonim , Acharonim and Gdolei Zmaneinu. A rebbe is a huge guide to navigating one’s way thru the process. RHS has played a huge factor in helping me in this manner and we are shepping much nachas over our future son in law who learns in RHS’s Kollel.

  3. My family and I unfortunately found ourselves far from Kew Garden Hills this Shabbas (even though we live nearby), so we missed what sounds like a wonderful experience! (The posts about how beautiful the event was don’t make us feel any better about missing it!)
    For those of us who missed it, could some of the speakers who told their stories of becoming frum share them on BeyondBT? I think we’d all appreciate hearing them (except of course any boring stories of being hit by lightning and falling into the Grand Canyon!)

  4. Thanks to all for making the Shabbaton so special. What I loved most about it was my childrens (ages 13-12-10-8) desire to particpate at all times. They loved everyone’s stories, the ruach and the Melave Malka. For me that was truly “Beyondbt”!!!! Thanks again to all!!!

  5. The Shabbaton was really great, thanks!
    Also, thanks to David’s daugthers who helped me chase around Estee as she did laps around the room!

    Ezzie- I’ll let you know how the syrup is when we try it.

  6. It was great meeting everyone and putting faces to the writing and comments. HUGE Yasher Koach to Mark, David and their families for all the incredible hard work they put in organizing the Shabbaton!

  7. LOL. Back ON topic… the Shabbaton was really great, and it was wonderful meeting everybody (or just having a chance to schmooze, as the case may be). That maple syrup looked mighty enticing, too…

    And of course Elianna is as cute in person. Did you expect anything less?! ;) (Estee was cute, too!)

  8. Do people wander onto the “wrong” topics by choice or by compulsion? I don’t know the answer, maybe because I wasn’t meant to.

  9. Yedeeah vs. bechira rears its ugly/beautiful head once again.

    I guess comments on the actual Shabaton appear on the Beyond BT Shabbaton Report Part I post.

  10. I agree. The idea about each “individual’s free will choices that actualize the potential of that opportunity” is a power yesod (foundation) of thought. I believe that Rav Schwab was refering to the meta-hashgafa pratis that is involved in one becoming frum. As indicated in the end of your comment, a “decision here or there” or even a comment by somone, a question answered in the right way, or just seeing a family out on a Shabbos walk, or at a shopping mall has been the catalyst for many BT, including myself. BTW,
    for two years in E”Y I was blessed by hear Rav Yakov Shurin speak in my yeshiva once a week.

  11. Neil,
    On the other hand, my Rosh Yeshiva at Shapell’s, Rav Hirshfeld expressed the idea in a shiur about free will that Hashem gives each Jew an opportunity to become a “baal teshuva”. It’s each individual’s free will choices that actualize the potential of that opportunity. As many “baal teshuvah” can tell you, a different decision here and there and their lives could have turned out very different.

  12. Now I’m really sorry we coudln’t make it in.

    “We didn’t have to talk about what Yeshivas and camps we didn’t go”, there is probably more sensitivity to the individual in that one statement than in anything I’ve read on any blog in the past.

    What Mark seems to have stated is echoed by Rav Shimon Schwab (as published in his writings). He said that each BT is sort of “hand picked” by Hashem. We really have know way of knowing why some of us choose to “plug into” Torah Judaism and others we might have grown up with didn’t. Thanks for the report.

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