I grew up in a relatively unaffiliated Jewish household. About ten years ago, I began on my path of religious observance. I studied in Yeshivas in America and in Israel, learning what it meant to be an observant Jew. However, I never was able to “fit the mold”. Anyone who knows me knows that I march to my own drum and that I am fiercely independent. I had no issues being the only one in shul wearing a sweater while every other male wore a suit. I believe that the community or Rabbi you chose is a reflection of yourself and who/where you want to be and fit in. I don’t go to an orthodox shul, nor do I define myself as Orthodox or with any other affiliation for that matter. I find myself as sort of a religious hodgepodge. There are things I like from all forms of Judaism, and I incorporate them into my life. I am just as comfortable in a conservative shul as in an orthodox one and I am not afraid to find spirituality in any nook possible. Yet, I know and observe more halacha that many people who define themselves as orthodox.
I recently bumped into someone I knew from my early Baal Teshuvah days at a Jewish Eastern spirituality event that used these forms of spirituality within a Jewish context. I was very surprised to see him there, although I do see Chassidim and other frum people at gatherings like this on occasion. To be frank, these practices are clearly not stamped by the OU :) This “acquaintance” of mine was clearly new to this “path”, and was trying something new. We spoke after the event, and he asked me if I was still a Baal Teshuvah. Oddly enough, I have never not considered myself to be a Baal Teshuvah. Granted, I practice in ways that are different than most readers of this blog, but I have found a level of Shabbat, kashrut, and daily observance that is right for me. I have always taken to heart the midrash that each soul heard a different torah at Har Sinai, and I am practicing mine.
Along my spiritual path, I have met hundreds of Jews who have connected to their faith at a later age, although not in what we know as an orthodox context. It never occurred to me until this person unintentionally questioned my status as a Baal Teshuvah that I might not be. I have friends who I dormed with at Yeshiva that are now Chabadnicks and others that are reform.
So, my question is: is anyone who has taken it upon themselves (aleynu) to find a deep, personal, and spiritual form of Judaism deserving of the title “Baal Teshuvah”.