Are We Too Obsessed With Integration?

If you look at a person’s music collection or someone’s seforim collection, you can get an idea of what they enjoy listening to or learning.

A quick glance at the “Topics Discussed” section of BeyondBT will show that aside from “Project Notes” the topic with the largest number of postings is “Integration”.

It’s an issue and a concern, there’s no denying it.

I am much happier discussing this topic in the form of ‘comments’ on this website, than with those I daven with or share carpools with.

We want to fit into a community. We’ve changed our lifestyle, our friends, our food tastes so that we can fit in. Yet, there are times when we can’t help but wonder, “Will I ever fit in?”

As a baal teshuva for about 20 years (and I’m only 36) I can honestly only recall a few times that I’ve felt like I really don’t fit into the ‘frum community’.

-There was the time I went to a shalom zachor and didn’t really know any of the songs.

– There was the time that I brought my lulav and esrog to a friends’ house for Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah (I’ll never make that mistake again).

– There was the time when I was asked where my father learned and I replied that he wasn’t observant.

In truth, I think, these feelings of ‘not fitting in’ are mostly self-created.

Now, I would not include general lack of a ‘learning background’ as not fitting into the ‘frum community’. We all have educational hurdles and I, personally, have used the excuse of being a ‘baal teshuva’ far too often as a crutch.

I feel that I am the one who doesn’t allow myself to always integrate into Torah observant society.

In fact from my experience that it doesn’t really make a big difference what my background is to the following people:

– Those who need me for a minyan
– The owners of seforim stores, kosher restaurants, and grocery stores where I shop
– The PTA of my children’s school who utilize my volunteer services
– The fellow Jew who I say, “Good Shabbos” to
– All of the of friends I’m make over the years

It’s a difficult issue, I know. Maybe we just focus on it too much?

33 comments on “Are We Too Obsessed With Integration?

  1. I tend to agree with Ora and Bob (no surprise, right Bob?)

    Most of our non-Torah Observant brothers and sisters fall into the same category as myself when I was growing up, Tinuk Sh’nisbo (a child catptured as a young age). An understanding of this helps us deal with others and our own past.

  2. There’s a general unawareness of history, including Jewish, American, and any other kind.

  3. I’mJewish

    I think “the majority of people simply aren’t interested in being religious” is an illogical statement. The majority of American Jews aren’t religious, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re uninterested so much as uninformed. Otherwise you’d have to use the same logic and say that the majority of Jews in Bnei Brak are just interested in being hareidi, the majority of Jews in Shilo just happen to be interested in being dati leumi, etc. At some point it becomes clear that education is actually the main factor in the Jewish religious equation.

    I don’t see what American cultural practices have to do with what Dovid said. I understand that many people feel fine with limiting their Jewishness to a few cultural/religious activities on holidays. That doesn’t make it any less sad/strange that they tend to know so very little about why it is they do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do.

  4. >>It was shocking to me to learn that almost everyone that I knew from either Reform or Conservative backgrounds had no clue as to who founded those movements or what the movements stood for or anything else regarding their flawed formulas.>>

    I agree with you that most have no clue as to who founded those movements or what the movements stand for, but I’m not sure what’s so shocking about it. The majority of people simply aren’t interested in being religious, that’s all. Except, perhaps, for fond cultural relics and memories (we light the menorah because of some story about the oil lasting, we make noise on Purim because it’s fun to make noise, we exchange presents wrapped in blue and white instead of red and green in late December). I don’t think it’s any different for Jews than for any other religion in that regard. Just as the majority of Jews in this country are cultural / secular Jews, the majority of Christians in this country are cultural / secular Christians for whom Christmas = Santa Claus and Easter = bunnies and Cadbury eggs.

  5. PS: I would think that the Monsey Tzadik (Post#6) was referring to the emotions that some new BT’s have for the chilul Hashem that the Reform and Conservative movements are. As I became more observant, it became all the more clear to me that most of the Yidden who claim “I’m Reform” or “I’m Conservative” have little or no knowledge of those movements. All they know is that they’re not Orthodox. So that pretty much free’s them of any obligations religiously. It was shocking to me to learn that almost everyone that I knew from either Reform or Conservative backgrounds had no clue as to who founded those movements or what the movements stood for or anything else regarding their flawed formulas. The only individuals we must castigate are those who lead these movements and mislead everyone who is involved with them. It is not up to us to give them what they’re due. That, Hashem has well in hand.

    I’ve heard lots of snide comments from FFB’s (both yeshivish and modernish) about the Lubavitcher chasidim and seen smirks on faces when Breslov is mentioned. This only shows their ignorance of Torah. You have to wonder sometimes why some folks keep themselves occupied with puting others down instead of puting in the effort to learn more about their brothers and sisters who have been given insights into Torah that they themselves have not. It could be ability to learn Gemara, ability to daven properly, ability to find one’s path in Torah…whether it’s in the Chasidish velt or the yeshivish velt…It is easy to point fingers at those who are different…

    The MAIN THING is to always keep the MAIN THING…the MAIN THING!

  6. Neil, I think Bob’s comment fits in nicely in this thread. Perhaps his comments will lead to further thoughts about kiruv to those who have already “moved in” to a community that is on-the-edge observant. I try to do hashkofa kiruv whenever I find myself in such places. In my BT position, I have a view from outside the box. This quasi-neutrality has allowed me to interest many into diving-in deeper. Some of the folks I’ve met in such places, though they are “observant”, live lives more similar to the secular life I left behind than the observant life that I try to live now. IMHO, there are many BT’s who have integrated (or are currently in the long process of doing so) into communities that offer a sort of half-baked yiddishkite. If and when I have the opportunity, I do my best to provide them with some perspective. We BT’s can be a powerful tools, and our integration into the frum community should be a two-way street…

  7. those I daven with or share carpools with.

    Hey! Whats wrong with those you share carpools with?!?

    j/k :-) excellent post.

  8. Shalom Chaim,

    Your post was just brought to my attention. I love it, but you posted it to the wrong thread. Could you please copy it to the correct place, although it looks good wherever you post it.


  9. BS”D

    “I also practice kiruv to the orthodox. It is my own opinion, perhaps the only such opinion in the world, that orthodox Jews need kiruv as much or more than non-observant Jews, and that includes the so-called FFBs.”

    Baruch H’, it certainly is NOT the “only” such opinion.

    As a “Ben Teshuvah” (over 18 years) and fellow Mashgiach, I have held similar views, but it goes back at least to Moshe Rabbeinu and even much further to Hashem Himself when he “created” Teshuva “before” space, time and matter, etc.

    And Moshiach will make (even) the Tzaddikim do Teshuva. (Perhaps also with the help of others, including a few Mashgichim? ;-)

  10. Bob,
    This quote is from the end of the fourth chapter of THE LONELY MAN OF FAITH:

    “His quest is for a new kind of fellowship, which one finds in the existential community. There, not only are hands joined, but experiences as well; there, one hears not only the rhythmic sound of the production line, but also the rhythmic beats of hearts starved for existenial companionship and all-embracing sympathy and experiencing the grandeur of the faith commitment; there, one lonely soul finds another soul tormented by loneliness and solitued yet unqalifiedly committed.”

    When I read this my first thought was about the JBlogosphere and specifically BeyondBT and it’s ‘community’ and the growth that it brings.

  11. I have not read the Rav on this, but if it is obvious to all of us that different people need different things from their “social space.” These needs can also change with the onset of family life, if only because the social needs of others get plugged into yours.

    I believe the healthiest people, among whom I do not count myself, are those who need very little social reinforcement. It is not, however, healthy to “need” none; such people usually do not relate well to others despite their view that they are doing just fine as lone wolves.

  12. True, as well as what’s written on “On Repentance”
    The issues of individual/community and how one fuctions is in a constant state of flux.

  13. Regarding comments #3 and #17 in particular, R. Soloveitchik comments about all of time (the past, present, and future) in the second part of Halakhic Man.

  14. Oh Yeah. It’s no big deal until it rears its ugly head, for example, all the times I thought, “I need to learn the words to this” at an event where HaTikvah was being sung…!

  15. Bob, I agree absolutely. I don’t mean to imply that one need not identify with, and work as part of, the klal. I’d go even further. The very essence and identity of the individual Jew comes into being *because* they are part of Klal Yisrael.

    On a practical plane, however, there is a dynamic tension between our roles as individual and as members of the klal. Though my thinking is more rooted in where I learned (Mercaz Harav Kook), I think Rav Soloveitchik grapples with the same issues in several places.

  16. Re: Comment #6
    “Before I started to learn mussar, I thought the whole world deficient except me. After I started, I found the world full of sinners including me. Now that I’ve learned some more, I realize that I am indeed a sinner, but I must judge the rest of the world favorably.” -R Yisrael Salanter (Lipkin)

  17. TMT

    Shkoyakh on your admirable restraint. (Or do the kudos go to the moderators?)

  18. Monsey Tzadik, where have you heard that it’s a mitzvah to hate C/R/R Jews? I recognize you are just the messenger, but I find the message abhorrent.

  19. All members of the klal have unique contributions to make, but the implementation requires a klal.

  20. If I will worry about what will be my unique,why-I’m-here-on-Earth contribution to a life of Torah then a) I won’t have time to worry about fitting in, and b) I won’t fit in, because only I can make my contribution. :-)

    Integration is good as long as it doesn’t subsume the uniqueness of the individual Jew and their contribution.

  21. As far as I can tell, this issue is more difficult when it involves not only moments of personal insecurity, but moments of important choice percieved has having critical ramifications for the future. They might come up when/if one experiences difficulty enrolling a child in the right school or finding an appropriate shidduch oneself or one’s child. Additionally, as mentioned by Bob Miller in Comment 2, this could come up when trying to choose and adjust to a new community.

  22. One aspect has more to do with where you are, and the other has more to do with how you got there.

  23. Aren’t Project Notes just a cheshbon hanefesh? :)

    Thanks for the great comments.
    I know from experience that integration to a new community does share a few thing in common with this posting topic.

    How I relate to being Torah observant usually falls into:
    A) I am Torah observant and happen to be a BT
    B) I am a BT who is Torah observant

    For me, a little A at times and a little B at times seems to work well. IMHO, when one is either one extreme or the other potential issues might come up.

  24. I think it works both ways, many bt especially the newly minted ones have an attitude of holier-than-thou. We used to have BT for shabbos and many of them just like to criticize and to judge other Jews like MO, chabbad, the state of Israel etc. Some of them even say it is a mitzvah to hate Reform and Conservative Jews, or saying we are not kosher because we used Vita herring which has wine sauce.

  25. Neil-Excellent post.We tend to forget sometimes that Torah observance demands that a Jew bridge the past, present and future. Once you are a member of a community, these factors are certainly more important, if not paramount, because this is where you are living in the present and working towards for the future, as opposed to living in the past.

  26. A lot of the discussion has touched on integration in another sense, namely, “what type of community do I want to commit to, move to if necessary, and join?” People don’t always have to take their current location or community affiliation as a given.

    About not fitting in:
    Everyone has to make some adjustments, but these can be difficult when the person and the community do not share the same orientation in Yiddishkeit. Yes, we try to make the best of the situation, but we also ponder other possible situations.

  27. Neil: I found this posting to be particularly interesting since it touches on a subject that my wife and I talked about recently, namely that you can immediately tell what a person is insecure about by the topic that dominates his or her conversations.

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