Iâ€™m not an established or frequent poster to Beyond BT (admin: ahem). But Iâ€™ve been reading the site since it started and a few things have struck me in recent months. In the top right hand corner, it says that: â€œBeyond Teshuva is focused on providing ideas, connection and support for Baalei Teshuva in their continuing quest of learning, growing, and giving.â€
For the first few months, boy did the site live up to that promise! It was amazing to hear about other peopleâ€™s family issues, difficulties finding a spiritual â€˜homeâ€™ and efforts to get closer to Hashem.
Maybe itâ€™s inevitable that the first blush of excited posting and sharing should evolve into something a bit less febrile and emotional. Something perhaps a bit more considered and â€˜visionaryâ€™.
The question is, how do we get from â€˜hereâ€™ to â€˜thereâ€™? And itâ€™s a hard one to answer, not least because itâ€™s hard to ask difficult questions, and to really grow in pursuit of an answer.
Is Beyond BT a mechanism for validating our exciting lifestyle and choices, or is it a forum for really exploring why certain choices have been made â€“ and dare I say it, even exploring the possibility that certain choices and assumptions are no longer correct or appropriate?
The former is certainly more comfortable. On a personal level, I found it extremely heartening to know that other people were having difficulties with family members; or struggling with what it really means to live a Torah lifestyle.
One of the earlier posts, from a parent whose children had become frum, was also the first time that I had really heard about how it impacted the â€˜other sideâ€™ in the equation.
The shiur on how BTs should try to relate to their families â€“ stop preaching, and come down from your high horse! â€“ was also a lightening bolt. It made me realize that on many occasions, my attitude towards my in-laws had been less than helpful. I was so busy justifying my religiousness, I forgot to honestly question if I was really living up to the Torah ideals I claimed to represent.
That was a hard realization. But ultimately, a very useful one. Itâ€™s unlikely that my parents-in-law and we will ever be on the same page. But by sheer dint of being my husbandâ€™s parents, they still need to be respected. I certainly donâ€™t agree with a lot of what they do and think.
But that post made me realize that agreeing with them â€“ or getting them to agree with me â€“ is not what the Torah wants. It wants me to treat them kindly, for me to swallow my pride (and all my defensiveness) and to make our time together as pleasant as I can by not responding to barbed comments or thoughtless remarks.
But you notice, this is not a validation of how I was already doing things â€“ it was a headlong challenge to it.
Itâ€™s very difficult to continually challenge and question ourselves. With so many people seemingly willing to do just that for us, we can get sick of it. But challenging our own assumptions is the only way we continue to â€˜growâ€™ both as Jews, and as people.
I would like to see more posts on Beyond BT that explore some of the really difficult questions â€“ the ones that are lurking underneath the surface, but are rarely discussed out in the open.
There are many reasons for this, not least that itâ€™s hard for posters to put themselves â€˜out thereâ€™ when they know they may well be subjected to a whole bunch of criticism.
So, I would like Beyond BT to usher in a new era of considered debate, soul-searching â€“ and soul-finding.
But this will only work if posters are able to express themselves truthfully. If we write about a lack in our own lives or observance, for example, that lack shouldnâ€™t be seen as a general comment on a whole community. Beyond BT should not be about who is more â€˜rightâ€™.
What I would like it to be is a place where we can challenge ourselves, and others, in a constructive way. Where we first ask how a difficult issue or challenge applies to us, before liberally applying it to everyone else. And where we arenâ€™t afraid of going “beyond” what we know â€“ or at least, thought we knew â€“ about our religion, our personal observance and our own behavior. A place where we recognize that whatever our starting point or current position, there is always room for improvement.