What Was Your Transformational Experience?

Many BT’s became committed to Torah Observance after some type of Transformational Experience.

These experience can be a first Shabbos, a trip to Israel, a Discovery seminar, etc.

Did you have a transformational experience? What was it?

17 comments on “What Was Your Transformational Experience?

  1. In retrospect, it was probably the very undramatic-seeming moment when I decided, instead of taking a stupid cross-country drive with my friend after graduating college and before law school, I would go on the Jerusalem Fellowships program at Aish HaTorah instead.

    Even though everything that happened in my life ends up pointing at my ultimate choice to go in this direction, on reflection right now I guess I have to say that this seems to have been the moment of truth. As the poet said,

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    (I’m still friends with the other guy too!)

  2. ps

    today i, my husband and our kids are the only observant jews in the entire family.

  3. at the bat mitzwah of my cousin (i was 20 then) in a conservative shul i made a commitment that i would be observant 10 years from that. it was like a deal between me and hashem. sounds silly maybe, but well, i was still young. but i kept my promise. after finishing college and relocating back home ( i had been abroad for some years) i guess it was also the hidden knowledge that i soon would found a family and therefore i had to make finally decisions.
    i started with reform but very soon turned to orthodoxy.

  4. Yes, a slow and steady series of events led (continually lead, present tense) to a more observant life. But the one moment that stands out:

    I had been attending a Reform congregation for about a year.

    One Saturday morning a friend and I drove to a large Shabboton at another Reform temple and sat in a shiur with a visiting Reform rabbi. He was a nice guy and obviously very well-studied, but he kept using the phrase “the Torah authors” and discussing the Revelation as “whatever actually took place on Sinai…”

    I had to suppress the urge to stand on my chair and shout “What are we all doing here if that’s what we believe?! G-d. Gave. Torah. To Moses. On Sinai!”

    I began studying with an Orthodox Rabbi and attending his congregation the next week.

  5. When I was in my first year of high school my parents became concerned that my very Jewish elementary school had already become diluted by incoming non-jews in junior high, and high school the Jewish ratio was even more disproportionate. They pushed me into Jewish teen groups so I would find myself a nice Jewish boy. B’nei Akiva had a profound influence on me, and I began my journey. The final push into shomer Shabbosdom was the rally in Washington D.C. supporting Israel during the 6 Day War, where, at the dramatic sudden announcement of Israel’s victory, Jews of every stripe, from no affiliation to the bearded Orthodox, joined hands and danced for joy (the cute Ner Israel guy on the bus from Cleveland and back that hocked me on Yiddishkeit in both directions didn’t hurt either).

  6. A few thing come to mind:
    A series of Shabbos experiences via NCSY Shabbatons in high school

    Finding answers about the whats and whys of certain Halachos

    Reading THE NINETEEN LETTERS by R Hirsch

    Learning about the laws of Lashon Hora and Judaism’s sensitivity to people

  7. I was 17. A (nonobservant) friend invited me for dinner at the local Chabad rabbi’s house. I just knew he was going to be dismissive and sexist, because that’s what orthodox men are like. But he made eye contact with me and asked me my opinion about various issues in the community at large.

    Now I’m a suburban ima with two FFB toddlers. Yay treating people with respect!

  8. For me, while I toyed with the idea back and forth, the real moment where I decided I needed to get serious about it was at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway. We were driving up to visit my parents in CT. We pulled in for a bathroom / lunch break. I went inside and got a hot dog. “Hebrew National” (and yes, I know, I’m just saying…) My wife was holding our first baby, and eating a sandwich she made at home before we left. We got to talking, and suddenly it hit me. Sure, she’s a baby now, but soon my daughter would see that Mommy is keeping kosher, and Daddy isn’t. Wouldn’t that send a confusing message? What the heck would she do? How would she handle it? I didn’t flip over right then and there, but that’s what got the brain cells working again. And that wasn’t the sole reason I became observant, but of all the reasons, I think that was one of the more important ones, and it’s the one that sticks most in my mind.

  9. It was not just one thing, but many over three years.

    When I was 18 years old, I knew nothing about Orthodox Judaism, but I understood clearly that Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism have absolutely NO FUTURE. That was 1981 and since then, Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no future, and are not worthy of having a future. Nobody told me that, I came to that conclusion completely on my own, after attending a Conservative Judaism school.

    When I was 19 years old, I entered a Sukkah for the first time in my life, where I felt something very special, something that I never felt before, something I could not describe in words. Years later, I learned that the Divine Presence [Shechinah] is inside each Sukkah.

    Some Jews feel reluctant to return to authentic Torah Judaism because they feel that it somehow discriminates against Gentiles or because they feel it will separate them from their Gentile friends.

    I never had those problems because all of my friends were secular Jews, just like me, and also because even as a very young teenager I understood clearly that Gentiles always persecuted the Jews and will never be our friends. Maybe I learned that lesson from countless beatings by Jew-hating Christian children at PS 119 in Brooklyn who targeted me because I was a Jew, and my Jew-hating 6th grade teacher at PS 119 in Brooklyn who openly encouraged all the kids to beat me up, starting from the first day of 6th grade, in addition to recommending that I be removed from IGC (Intellectually Gifted Children) and placed in the moron class.

    One reason I succeeded as a Baal Teshuvah when others failed is that I read every English language Torah book many times, even 20 times, compared to others who only read them one time.

    Another reason I succeeded as a Baal Teshuvah when others failed is that when I had a question, I asked 6 or 7 Rabbis, or even 10 Rabbis. This taught me more than if I would have only asked one Rabbi, because no two Rabbis answer a question exactly the same way. Also, it is unrealistic to expect any Rabbi to be able to answer every question, they are only human.

    Another thing that helped me is that during my first 15 years as a Baal Teshuvah, all of the Orthodox Jews I met were: sweet, kind, righteous, idealistic, giving, loving, honest, patient, caring, special people. I know that there are bad people in Orthodox Judaism, but I never met any of them until after my first 15 years as a Baal Teshuvah.

  10. I previously posted at length on this thread after the first BT Shabbaton three years ago. Interested readers can find it in the archives.

  11. This thread is a great chance for hakarat hatov – showing gratitude. Thanks for the opportunity.

    Not a single transformative moment or epiphany; but a few elements stand out even decades later.

    One was a USY shabbaton/regional kinnus for Connecticut region at Grand Lake Lodge in Lebanon, CT. Around ’74 or ’75; I don’t recall. That shabbat was led by some of the more traditional minded young people in the Conservative movement. I left that Shabbat determined to make changes in my Jewish life. I went home and announced I would start keeping kosher (as I knew it). Danny Seigel left me with three instructions: read through the entire Tanach, learn Hebrew (he gave me the name of a book to get me started), go to yeshiva (he gave me the name of Diaspora Yeshiva in Yerushalayim). I bought a little siddur that Shabbat that I still use.

    Two was speaking with and reading the writings of Rav Meir Kahane. Rav Kahane was the first American rabbi I can recall who told me and many others ‘God and Torah make noble demands of you.’ At a time when American rabbis (even many Orthodox ones) were selling a religion of self-fulfillment and satisfaction, even entertainment, Rav Kahane’s forthright statement ‘you have responsibilities’ and ‘you have to commit and make sacrifices’ was a real challenge. His direct encouragement led me to the beit midrash and to Israel. Once in Israel, his encouragement kept me in the beit midrash and set me on a path of learning that I only wish were half as dedicated as he modeled for me. Similarly, he was the first to teach me ‘one has to DO for Judaism, not theorize overly much.’

    Third, the assistant rabbi at the only Orthodox shul where I grew up was, for a very short time, Rav Elihu Jacob Steinhorn. He made himself available to answer my beginner questions. He opened his heart and spoke wistfully about his years in Israel. He was my local link to love of Torah and love of Israel (land and people).

    Lastly, Cantor Sydney Rabinowitz who was the cantor at the Conservative temple where I grew up. He was the first Jewish ‘functionary’ who I perceived was in it for the love. He was kind and encouraging. When I announced I wouldn’t go through with the farce of a bar-mitzvah, he was a key figure who kept me from causing my parents immeasurable embarrassment and heartache (though I did much of that anyway). He always remained interested in my learning and spiritual growth.

    Oddly enough, many of the large moments of Jewish history of my youth impacted me little. The Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War. Then, as now, many American Jews were too comfortable and assimilated in their own little reality.

    Certainly, the best thing as a result of all the influences I mentioned was picking up at age 18 and going to Israel on a one-way ticket. ;-)

  12. When I was 16 I was very close with a teacher in high school. When she got married and moved away, I wanted G-d in my life. I started keeping Shabbos and not wearing pants.

  13. For me, it was many things, The first one, was picking up and reading from the artscroll Gemorra the first time. I realized that there was no way that all these ideas where man made. The second, was spending Shabbos with a bunch of different families, (most of whom are BTs) and wanting what they had. Third, It was just Shabbos in general. I quickly came to look forward to Shabbos as my oasis of calm in a desert of chaos.

  14. Though I am a convert – I consider myself a BT. After spending enough time with the “messianic goyish crowd”, it finally dawned on me one Shabbos with them: “What are you doing here? These goyim, yourself included, are trying to steal jewish neshamos. They played the part of wearing Jewish relgious articles of clothing, reading from a nonkosher Sfrei Torah, collecting money on Shabbos, changing the meaning of the Pesach Seder, worshipping and giving allegiance to a man and not G-d. etc. etc.

    I told myself I wanted the real thing. I wanted to become a Jew and live a Torah life. And so I did.

  15. I agree with Mark about developing over time, but a few highlights:

    1)First Shabbos and Yom Tov after 9/11.
    2)First Shabbos with my Rav and my dealings with one particular Chabad Shaliach.
    3)First trip to Israel (it was my honeymoon).
    4)First observant wedding.

  16. The events that come to mind are my first real Pesach seder and my first Shabbos, but I think the commitment to become observant developed over time.

  17. In my case, it was not a single event, but the accumulation of encounters with supporters of the phony alternatives.

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