Beyond The BBT/SEZ Shabbaton

The Shabbaton is over. It was great and we want to first thank everybody who participated. There’s a slight let down that invariably comes after being so involved in planning and executing an event like this. Rabbi Tatz teaches that happiness is a result of moving towards completion of something meaningful. The greatest joy is right before the time of completion, but afterwards there is a decline on the happiness meter. To recalibrate the happiness we need to reframe completed events into steps in the continuing projects of perfecting ourselves, our communities and the world.

From a logistics point of view, things went very smoothly. We had the right amount of people (about 90 for lunch) for the facilities we had. The food was good and plentiful and the meals were relaxed and friendly with lots of good conversation. We added a Friday night communal meal this year, which made a big difference. David and I would like to thank our wives and families and the Greenwald family for the amazing job they did with the planning, serving and cleaning up. Thanks to Congregation Ahavas Yisroel for providing the facilities. A special thanks to Serach and all our hosts for their amazing home hospitality. Finally, thanks to all the speakers for their thoughtful words on individuality, integration and inspiration.

The Melava Malka was well attended with a number of people coming in after Shabbos. Chaim Linn served up some great music, including a live version of Davy Pray, with a special cameo from one of our KGH friends, Richard Maisel, singing a tune he wrote about Yerushalyim many years ago. We also had the pleasure of listening to Jameel at the Muquata talk about the need for us Americans to keep continually connected to Eretz Yisroel. He’s in America to blog about Nefesh B’ Nefesh who have scheduled a live and online Jewish blogger’s conference this Wednesday.

The Serandez (SEZ) people were terrific and friendly, despite the slight age gap between the BBT’ers and the SEZ’ers. However, all the Dvar Torahs were growth focused and that was the common bond on which we planned the event. I’m reading a book by Clay Shirky called “Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organization without Organizations” in which he describes a Small World network pattern in which small densely connected groups sparsely connect with each other. In our situation, Beyond BT and Serandez were each a densely connected group with similar interests, sparsely connected primarily through David, Serach, Ezzie and myself. If you want to understand the changing social phenomena going on in the Jewish blogosphere and the greater Internet community, this is a good book to read.

One note of interest was that quite a few of the Sez’ers that I talked to had a least one BT parent. The Shabbaton gave me a greater appreciation that our FFB children have quite a different world view than us BT parents. I don’t think we’ve really explored this enough here, so if any child of a BT is game we would really appreciate a post on the topic of FFB children of BT Parents (we’ll put it up anonymously if you want).

In terms of the larger picture, the Shabbaton was planned for the attendees benefit and many expressed appreciation of the great group of people assembled and how wonderful it was to be comfortable just being ourselves without fear of judgment. A meeting like this also sensitizes us to the needs of others – people need places to live, new jobs, shidduchim and often just a listening ear.

One of the projects I’ve been marinating and mentioned at the Shabbaton is called Beyond Kindness or Beyond Chesed. It’s goal is to make us more aware and proactive in our Chesed. For our own sakes and for Klal Yisroel, we need to go beyond doing kindness when it smacks us in the face, to becoming true Baalei Chesed by seeing and seeking out the opportunities around us all the time. G-d willing we’ll flesh this out more in the next few months and perhaps we can collectively take a step towards becoming a growing community of Torah and Chesed pro-activists.

18 comments on “Beyond The BBT/SEZ Shabbaton

  1. Are there any implications to this? Is this the reason that BTs are treated so much better in non-Yeshivish communities?

    I would venture to guess that because the yeshivish community often shuns secularity, the fact that a BT has extensive knowledge/experience of the secular world is something that the yeshivish community would tend to look down on. Some of it is plain old xenophobia, too – being afraid of someone who used to have a different lifestyle.

    As to your second comment (no. 17) – right on!

  2. But we BTs are still a self-diminishing species.

    It’s half a joke and half a serious statement. Here’s there serious part.

    We BTs clearly have much to offer the frum world in terms of sincerity, idealism, enthusiasm, energy, creativity, secular knowledge, and most of all a growth-oriented approach to Judaism.

    In our need for acceptance (in communities, schools, shidduchim, etc), we often hide our BT-ness and stifle the important characteristics mentioned above. By doing that we greatly diminish our potential contribution and our own Judaism.

    As I mentioned at the Shabbaton, there is a big difference between fitting in and integration, with integration being the far superior choice, while fitting-in seems to be the more popular BT choice.

    I think we need to have the courage to show that we are proud to be BTs and we are great Jews because we are BTs. Hashem chose to have us born into not Frum families and we have made and continue to make unbelievable choices to grow as Jews.

    And we need to show our children that we have chosen a path of growth and continue to move on that path. That really is what Torah Judaism is all about – Growth. I think we should show it and teach it proudly and reject the lesser path of blending into the scenery.

  3. But we BTs are still a self-diminishing species.
    I’m curious what you mean by this, Mark. Are we actually about to go on the endangered species list or is it that we are so concerned about integrating into our surrounding communities that we don’t even know who each other are (or is it “is”). As was discussed in previous posts, many of us reluctant to readily disclose our roots.

    Are there any implications to this? Is this the reason that BTs are treated so much better in non-Yeshivish communities?
    It seems to me that the more the secular world infringes upon the yeshivish community, the more frightened the frum become, and more fences and issurim are erected to keep the secular out. And perhaps, because we still have this apparently pervasive “odor” that just won’t go away no matter how many showers we take, we BT’s could be held at arm’s length as well…Just a theory…

  4. Worthy of a few posts.

    Similar to Esther, I don’t know that my mom would call herself a “BT” per se. She, and her friends, simply became more observant. They didn’t go through a system – Aish, OS, etc.

  5. I asked my FFB kids and three out of four admitted they had BT parents :-)

    I once went down my Shul list and in about half of the member families at least one of the parents were BTs. I would still imagine that the majority of FFBs on the list had FFB parents, especially considering that there were much fewer BTs 40+ years ago.

    In the more yeshivish/Chassidish communities, as Esther pointed out, I would think the percentage of BT parents is much lower, even in younger families.

    So when we look at NJPS numbers of 20% BTs, we have to realize it is an uneven distribution.

    In the end, I should not have been surprised that so many of the SEZers had BT parents.

    But we BTs are still a self-diminishing species. If we had a Shabbaton with just the Frankels, Linns and Greenwalds the FFBs would outnumber the BTs by an 16-6 margin.

    Are there any implications to this? Is this the reason that BTs are treated so much better in non-Yeshivish communities?

  6. My experience is also that most FFBs don’t have one or more BT parents, but that could be because I usually don’t ask them.

    Hmm . . . ;)

    It also depends on your circles. I found that at the heavily yeshivish/Chassidish camp I attended that very few of the girls had parents who grew up secular or non-observant. (Then again, could be no one was willing to admit it :-/.)

    Funnily enough, I don’t think my parents would even call themselves BTs, although they both grew up less observant than they are today. Just like as I grew up, I became more aware of my Judaism and more careful in my observance, my parents also became more aware of their Judaism and more careful in their observance, albeit each at somewhat different points. We may have started out differently, but the internal process was similar.

  7. Mark:
    My experience is that most FFBs don’t have one or more BT parents, but that could be because I usually don’t ask them.

    In the sixties and the seventies, many young people were exploring spiritual paths. Even the Beatles had their very own maharishi. Chabad sensed this early on and attracted large numbers of soul searchers on college campuses. So probably that first wave of BT’s (obviously Chabad weren’t the only ones in the “business”) got married some time after and then had kids who are now in their 20’s and early 30’s, like my kids, and like Esther.

    Then comes Wave #2, and I suspect, Mark, that you and a lot of the BT’s you know have kids in their very early 20’s, teens, and on down.

    My experience is that most FFBs don’t have one or more BT parents, but that could be because I usually don’t ask them.
    Actually, Mark, ask your FFB kids and you might be surprised to find out they have one or more BT parents!

  8. It’s a numbers thing.

    The 2000 National Jewish Population Study states that only 20% of Orthodox Jews said they were not brought up in Orthodox homes. That would make 80% of Orthodox Jews brought up in Orthodox homes.

    My experience is also that most FFBs don’t have one or more BT parents, but that could be because I usually don’t ask them.

    Have you or any others readers seen a higher rate of FFBs with one or more BT parents?

  9. Thank you for having us all!

    Just out of curiosity – why were you so surprised that we are children of chozrei biteshuva (count me in as one of them)?

  10. David;

    Don’t worry (too much). She shared info that was valuable to me as the mother of GROWN children, not as the grandmother of kids in the midst of potty-training. And actually, David, she told me that that was the last time you gave her any serious trouble ;)

  11. Yasher Koach to all on (another) Shabbaton superbly done! I agree with Ellen completely about what a phenomenial job all the younger people did, cheerfully serving, clearing and cleaning up, etc. It reflects very well on their parents! And I barely saw Linda because she was so busy organizing everything!

    Ellen, I found the “cousin” link – it was in the comments from David Linn’s post “Letting it All Hang Out” By the way, David, true to character, did mention shoes (high top sneakers) during his Dvar Torah. That’s 3 for 3. But I do think this website very effectively serves the purpose of a BT “let it all hang out” place, therefore negating the purpose of a BT Anonymous group. After all, I’m anonymous right now! (in joke). But I’m proud of being a BT, and everyone should be, otherwise where would many of the SEZ’ers have come from?!

  12. A great big yasher koach must go to Mark, David, Ezzie, their phenomenal wives and children, and some behind the scenes friends of their, like (I think it was) the Greenwalds who worked non-stop the entire weekend to pull this off. From the moment we arrived until we finally exhaustedly pulled off, they were without fanfare serving, cleaning, making sure everyone had what they needed, and all with a remarkable and sincere friendliness, certainly making me feel as if every person there mattered. Almost made me feel out-of-town again! We didn’t even have to change our clothes from the Shabbos lunch to Shalosh Seudos! :)

    Beyond that, the spirit was as Mark said, a place where I could let it all hang out, well, OK, I’ve married off most of my kids and I’m not worrying about my grandkids’ shidduchim for now. It was interesting meeting people at various stages of their BTism and to discuss some of their processing (but that’s the social worker in me). I also had a very interesting discussion motzai Shabbos with David and Chaim Linn’s mother, who had no compunction about sharing with me her own personal journey as her children traveled theirs, which was valuable for me as a mother of grown children. I’ve periodically toyed with the idea of starting a group called BT Anonymous, so there could be a place for all of us to comfortably and safely discuss our struggles as we grow. Even now, many years along my path, I’m still working on integrating where I came from with where I am today (I should’ve talked about that one at the Shabbaton, since individuality and integration were 2 out of 3 of the themes, inspiration being the third, and that’s something I’m looking for now, and got out of the Shabbaton). If anyone would be interested in such a group please contact me at and maybe we could put something together.

    Anyway, this is looking more like a thesis than a comment, so again, thanks to all of the organizers and their wonderful families, you guys were great. And “Cousin” Charney, it was great to meet you, hope to be in touch soon!

    Ellen Lebowicz

  13. Don’t know how you found the time to write this but just want to give a big AMEN to it before I finally go to sleep. Ezzie is probably still up.

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