I am writing in response to “What more can I do?’” which expressed the emotional pain of being “outed” as a Baalas Teshuva.
As a Baalas Teshuva myself of 33 years duration I empathize with your pain. I know how deeply such an encounter can hurt. Unfortunately, it is an all too common BT experience. You are not alone.
At some point along your 15 year journey, after having transformed yourself into a sincere and committed Baalas Teshuva, a well intended but clueless kiruv mentor convinced you that being a BT was somehow a shameful condition which needed to be concealed from FFB society. Someone assured you that your new “spiritual” goal was to conceal your BT-ness and dupe FFB’s into thinking that you are one of them.
When BT’s are given the message that they have to disguise what they are in order to gain social acceptance, “fit in” & “blend in” with FFB’s, the result is dysfunctional for the frum community as a whole. Socially pressuring thousands of individuals into disguising what they are in order to deceive others cripples everyone emotionally. There is no societal incentive to acquire the tools that are needed for accepting others who are different.
Both BT’s and FFB’s are socially pressured, albeit in different ways, to conform in ways not necessarily mandated by the Torah. The result of all this pretending is that very few people will ever feel truly accepted & loved since only facades are being held out as worthy of acceptance & love. It implicitly encourages everyone to lie, compare, compete, and of course conform.
Many well intended but clueless people get involved in kiruv for the wrong reasons: the amazing “high”, the validation of their own Yiddishkeit, the confirmation of their position in the hierarchy, the self esteem rush etc. that comes from doing kiruv. Everyone knows that the cheapest way to feel good about one’s self is to feel superior to someone else.
Forgive the individual (or individuals) who unintentionally misled you by “laying this trip” on you. They didn’t have the self awareness to understand their own motivations for doing kiruv, and they didn’t understand the implications of their message that it is shameful to be what you are, that you must hide yourself away. They didn’t know better.
Instead of encouraging you to seek to find favor in H-shem’s eyes through internal, spiritual growth, you were directed to seek acceptance from FFB society through externalities that make up your disguise. The end result is that who you are (neshama, a cheilik Elokai m’mal mamesh) has become confused with externalities.
While it is unarguably halachically necessary to cover your hair, wear tznius clothing, send your kids to Torahdik schools and keep a kosher kitchen, a subtle shift away from the actual mitzvohs themselves to externalities has occurred in your outlook. Your sheitle, your clothing, the type of hat that identifies the school your children attend, and your kitchen are what you use to compare yourself to the woman who “outed” you. Externalities, and the comparing, competing and conforming that accompanies the focus on externalities, are really all about social approval seeking.
Rabbi Naftoli Weinberg wrote, citing the Chovos HaLevovos, that performing mitzvohs in order to impress others (social approval seeking) is tantamount, in a way, to avodah zarah (Yated, Center 20) in the very same issue of the Yated that contained “What more can I do?”. Social approval seeking is spiritually self destructive, and a big waste of energy.
Only the mitzvohs remain yours forever : the mitzvah of kesuei harosh, the mitzvah of tznius, the mitzvah of chinuch, and the mitzvah of kashrus. The externalities will not remain. Your sheitle and your clothing will be given away or thrown in the garbage, the hat style used to identify your kids’ schools will go out of vogue, and your kitchen will be remodeled or sold with the house it occupies to someone else.
Forgive whoever unintentionally misdirected, and confused you. The focus on externalities, mitzvohs done with a social agenda — because everyone around you is doing it, and you will hurt your children’s shidduchim chances if you don’t, etc. — is perhaps all that they’ve ever known. They certainly couldn’t provide you with a better motivation if social approval seeking/social pressure is what motivates them.
Be that as it may, when we look for the good in everything, instead of focusing on the painful, we will inevitably see H-shem’s love. Every experience no matter how horrible has a gift for you. It is essential to remember that you are the one choosing what to experience.
Although being “outed” by a stranger was undeniably painful, since you have the choice of perspective you can use that experience as an opportunity to acquire a healthier, more authentic, internal, spiritual sense of self and embrace a better, truer spiritual goal for the future.
Rabbi Dovid Gottleib (a BT) wrote in a Jewish Observer article nearly twenty years ago: Once a BT, always a BT. No matter what you do, or how long you’ve been frum you will never be a FFB. Never. You didn’t need to be one in the first place.
It would have been a simple matter for H-shem to have created you as an FFB, but your truest self (neshama) needed to experience His love and guidance in a way that most FFB’s never will. Your BT-ness is a testimonial to H-shem’s involvement in the affairs of human beings, and a monument to your own integrity and courage.
The frum community is comprised of many different cultural groups and many different types of people. Every group and every Jewish person is essential to fulfilling the collective mission of Klal Yisroel. Your BT-ness is not a stigma that needs to be concealed, any more than it is a stigma to be Sefardi instead of Ashkenazi, Litvishe instead of Chassidishe, French instead of South African, or brown eyed instead of green eyed, etc.
The truth is going to be a problem for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be your problem anymore.
It’s time to stop scrutinizing yourself in the mirror to try to figure out what part of your external disguise you need to adjust in order to conceal your BT-ness. As long as you seek to be someone else, you have no chance to discover who you are meant to be. Peace comes to each of us when we stop pretending to be something other than our true selves.
Give yourself the acceptance, approval, and validation that you have been trying to get from FFB society. Why look to them to give you something that you can give to yourself?
Every movement towards authentic, internal, spiritual self definition (neshama), as opposed to disguise/identification with externalities for social acceptance, produces what Gila Manolson (a BT) in Outside/Inside calls a positive ripple effect in the frum community. By accepting the real you, you help others in the frum communtiy to accept the real them. It makes for a spiritually & emotionally healthier environment for everyone.
The Torah cautions all of us against this human tendency to try to be someone that we are not. The second of the Aseres HaDibros reads: “You shall not make for yourself [lecha] any carved idol [pesel], or any likeness of any thing…” (Shemos 20:4). The Degel Machne Ephrayim points out that the word lecha can be understood as “of yourself”, and the word pesel is related to the word pesolet (garbage). Understood this way, H-shem is telling each of us: Don’t throw away who you are! Don’t see yourself as garbage! Don’t make yourself into a “likeness of any thing” by trying to be someone you are not! (Outside/Inside p.90).
Most BT’s (and their children who may be FFB’s) experience some level of painful social and institutional discrimination. Once a secular Jew has undergone the total life transformation to Yiddishkeit, he/she ought not to be misdirected into to a life of concealment and disguise. Duping FFB’s into believing that you are an FFB too is not one of the 613 Mitzvohs. Give yourself permission to stop the madness.
This misdirection is a cause of recidivism on the part of disillusioned BT’s and their children who do leave the frum community altogether. The externalities needed for social acceptance by FFB society are not spiritually or emotionally sustaining, and could not sustain those who left. A G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life could have sustained them and kept them part of the frum community. Acquire a G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life for yourself and for your children. Klal Yisroel needs you.
All of us would do well to take a closer look at what is happening: As the ranks of Baalei Teshuva continue to grow the systemic problem of concealment and disguise will become more and more untenable. It will invariably trigger a great deal more unnecessary pain like that experienced by the anonymous Baalas Teshuva writer of “What more can I do?”. It also threatens to result in destabilizing, large scale social backlash. With insight and planning both can be avoided.
Project Inspire and Acheinu are now trying to turn more FFB’s into front line kiruv workers to staunch the hemorrhaging of Klal Yisroel brought on by assimilation. Both programs need to give those they are recruiting to do kiruv, FFB society, and those who are being m’karved better spiritual & emotional tools to achieve the healthy social integration of more sincere, committed BT’s into the frum community. Every Jew is important, and every Jew counts.
Much has been learned in the last 40 years about what works and what doesn’t work well when it comes to kiruv. It will benefit none of us if these lessons are ignored, and everyone just keeps repeating the same old dumb mistakes over and over again.
This letter was originally published in the Yated.
Nice work CB.
Thanks for taking the time to find and post “What More Can I Do?”.
Being the packrat that I am, I have many of the Yated’s emails in my inbox. Here’s the original letter:
WHAT MORE CAN I DO?
I sat across from you at a wedding last night. We’d never met. My friend who sat next to me introduced herself and somehow the conversation led to her saying that she has been a baalas teshuvah for 11 years. You replied, “Really? That’s amazing!” Then you looked at me and said to my friend, “She (referring to me) doesn’t look religious, but you, you’d never know! You look like you’ve always been religious!”
I was stunned. I was wearing my sheitel. My long black dress covered my collarbone, was down to my ankles, and was covered by a jacket as well. I blended in.
My children are in black-hat yeshivos. I am frum. And yet somehow you knew that fifteen years ago I was not. Somehow you decided that it was okay to comment that it was entirely obvious to you that I wasn’t always religious.
I look in the mirror now wondering, “How did she know? Once a BT, always a BT?”
You can put on the outfit and the shaitel, and still, someone who has never met you before, and has never even spoken to you, someone who doesn’t know your family, and has never been in your home, can look across a table and somehow know.
You embarrassed me and you hurt me. I question myself now when I look in the mirror. Please be careful the next time you make such an offhanded remark.
I don’t know you, but I would presume that my kitchen is as kosher as yours, my shaitel is as fine as yours, and my kids are as remarkable as yours. I constantly wonder what you saw that was your clue that I am a BT. I will always feel that somehow, no matter how hard I try, I can’t quite entirely fit in.
Please don’t hurt another woman as you hurt me. I’m sure you didn’t know how hurtful it was or you wouldn’t have said it.
Most women do wear shaitels for conformity, but not necessarily for conformity to the community or even to conform to beauty standards. We wear them to conform to the American corporate workplace. When I hear that women can rise to corporate heights in a tichel or hat, I am skeptical. I have never seen a woman at a high level in my large corporation wearing a snood, hat, or hijab. Even the African American women wear their hair in the most Caucasian styles possible.
The goal is to love and honor H-shem, not to be “more frum”.
Doing anything external in order to be “more frum” than others smacks of ego, and the ego’s need for social competing/comparing. That road is a spiritual dead-end for everyone who travels it–BT’s and FFB’s alike.
The Poskeim don’t discuss how to cover one’s hair until the Magen Avrohom 1633-1683 who gave the p’sak allowing the use of sheitles, his proviso being that a sheitle not be mistaken for a woman’s real hair.
This p’sak has subsequently been upheld with few exceptions. The most noteworthy contemporary exceptions are Rabbi Ovadia Yosef shlita’s p’sak eschewing the wearing of a sheitle altogether, and the re-issued takanos of certain chassidishe communities.
The Magen Avrohoms p’sak was modified in some groups i.e.: several chassidishe segments follow the p’sak of the Dvrei Chaim and mandate a tichel, hat, or cloth head-band to cover the sheitle.)
Many Gedolim in the past 30 years have decried the trend towards more and more “natural looking” sheitles in keeping with the intent of the Magen Avrohom’s groundbreaking p’sak. Consequently they have issued noteworthy takanos limiting length, styles, and even materials used such as eliminating the flesh colored or “white” fake scalp and the “hair” itself.
Today the decision to wear a sheitle, a certain style of sheitle, a length of sheitle, a sheitle composed of certain materials, a sheitle with a tichel/ hat/ band over it, or eschewing a sheitle altogether and wearing a certain type of tichel (choice of cloth and color pigeon-holes the wearer) are about what “country club” (segment of Klal Yisroel) a husband and wife affiliate with. All the above have a source in Halacha, and conform to Halacha.
The Mitzvah of Kesui Ha Rosh is fulfilled by a married woman covering her hair, period. The details of how a married woman covers her hair communicate a lot about “country club” affiliation, but the details don’t say anything about genuine internal devotion to
It’s a really good idea not to confuse externalities and “unwritten” social/cultural conventions for genuine Avodas H-shem.
Not only MO in Israel wear scarves. Hundreds of the old-yishuv type UO like Toldos Aharon and Eidah also do, as well as thousands of chassidish women in the US, Antwerp, London, Argentina, Montreal etc.
In Israel, the Modern Orthodox look so much more classically Jewish and fitting in an almost ancient way. Scarves for the women and large kippahs that are pourous.
The glaring externalities of certain groups are reflective of a greater dysfunctionalism that abhor a utiliatrian approach to Judaism.
It should, it should. Many things should. Those who wear shaitels have whom to lean on, but a scarf is definitely better.
For the frum, shouldn’t “conformity” mean “conformity with halacha” ?
“By one standard of frumkeit, a woman who covers with a scarf is actually MORE frum because she is within the bounds of more halachic opinions!”
Mr Hall, by ALL standard of frumkeit a woman who covers with a scarf is actually MORE frum because she is within the bounds of more halachic opinions. Shaitels are preferred by many over scarves for beauty and conformity, NOT for halacha.
Yated Ne’eman (USA office in Monsey, NY) makes available to their print subscribers an email distribution called Yated USA Weekly with some of the content of each print issue.
If they archive these emails in-house, they might agree to send you the email for the back issue in question. Contact their office, which might also have a back print issue around.
I have no way of knowing whether “What More Can I Do?” was posted on a blog somewhere in cyberspace.
The authoress did not publish her name or contact information with “What More Can I Do?” which was published as a letter to the Editor in the Yated. I did not cut out and save her piece.
As you point out, the Yated does not have a web page or web archive.
Perhaps try contacting the Yated office at 845-369-1600.
Best of luck.
“This piece was published in the Yated on March 21, 2008. The cry–from-the-heart that was “What More Can I Do?” was published two weeks earlier.”
Thanks for the information, but I don’t know where to get back issues of the Yated, and they don’t have a web archive. Was the original article posted on a blog to which someone can direct me?
Regarding the Rambam’s psak, most of us “BT’s” are not really baalei teshuva per se. We grew up in CJ or RJ or unaffiliated; we didn’t really have enough background to say that we are “returning” to anything that was previously in our lives.
We should all be blessed to live the way we want to and to continue trying hard and figuring out how to outsmart the Yetzer Harah and really serve Hashem.
Great article! As always, the keys are communities, a rebbe and friends who can serve as role models and chaverim bdeos. IMO, the aforementioned factors are the criticak keys as well as recognizing that there are multiple paths within the Mesorah for BTs to reach the madregah that works the best for them and maximizes their spiritual growth. There is no reason for any Jew, and especially a BT, to be unhappy because they are in the wrong community and without friends and role models they can relate to as friends and as sources of inspiration and advice.
This was a great post.
I would like to add that sometimes people misconstrue advice and conclude something that was not intended, when they are not fully understanding the subtleties and/or contexts. Such as: having a kiruv mentor/rebbetzen/rav give advice that integrating into one’s community is important, including blending in in terms of clothing etc., especially for the sake of one’s kids, is not the same as saying that they should hide the fact they are BT. However that conclusion is easy to reach if the person doesn’t appreciate the difference. It is the responsibility of both the mentor to explain himself with clarity, and that of the mentee to seek clarity so this sort of thing doesn’t fester for 20 years.
In general the more at peace a person is with him/herself, and the more self respect he has, the more someone else will respect him despite or because of his differences. I believe this is a universal truth. Therefore, the more someone seeks to “hide” being a BT with his community, the more he is broadcasting a lack of self esteem when it is “discovered.”
In addition, the BT can offer the frum community at large so much because of their different perspective if they could just accept themselves. I find that the pages of so much of contemporary periodicals and books are authored by BTs (at least the women): Azriella Jaffe, Leah Kotkes, Sarah Shapiro, Gila Manolsen, and many more. These are people I’m sure who have found acceptance in their chosen communities.
Thanks for posting a response about that RAMBAM. For the record, I was only giving a rationalization as to why someone might hide their BTness. I think, as you wrote, it’s pretty clear what the RAMBAM had in mind in Hilchos Teshuva.
Since you might be reading this, I’m sure that your letter to the author of “What More Can I Do?” was well received and that the Yated had the chochma to publish it.
Considering that the Rambam placed the onus on society, as noted above by YMG, Orthodox community leaders should now assess how ready their communities are to receive and interact with genuine, sincere BT’s in the right spirit. The leaders could then build broad support for changes if the reception needs to improve. That’s part of a leader’s job description; nothing communal moves by itself.
We tend to take community attitudes as a given. Torah is a given and attitudes must conform to it.
This piece was published in the Yated on March 21, 2008. The cry–from-the-heart that was “What More Can I Do?” was published two weeks earlier.
Expressing the albeit negative truth that encouraging BT’s to disguise the reality of their BTness is a systemic problem that has existed within the kiruv movement for decades should not be confused with “blaming” every individual out there doing kiruv or labeling him/her as “one of the bad guys”. That is far too simplistic, and certainly never my intention.
My piece was written to provide the author of “What More Can I Do?”, and others like her, with an alternative perspective, an approach that is ultimately more sustainable and genuine.
As Mark said in one of his posts quote “great mekarvim sometimes give bad advice”. Sadly, the bad advice to disguise the realtiy of one’s BTness has been broadly disseminated—and ingested— in the last four decades. The woman who wrote “What More Can I Do?” was clearly someone who had innocently relied on her mekarvim (including her FFB neighbors/friends and surrounding FFB society) and unwittingly ingested and implemented this bad advice.
I think Bob’s point about taking personal responsibility is a good one. It’s a decision to ingest that bad advice and live a life of disguise. BT’s need to be encouraged to critically evaluate the bad advice to disguise one’s BTness from the Torah’s perspective: Duping FFB’s into believing that you are an FFB too is not one of the 613 Mitzvohs, nor is it a Mitzvah d’Rabbonon, therefore it is not a binding obligation nor a mandatory decision.
Neil’s point about quote “…the teaching of the Rambam that “one shouldn’t remind others about their Teshuva” as a proof that they should try to “fit in”, so that a “FFB” wouldn’t be prompted to inquire about one’s history” merits a response.
Context is everything. When the Rambam poskened as he did the situational context was that of significant numbers of forced conversions primarily to Islam, but also to Christianity, and people returning to the fold once they could escape. The Rambam poskened that it was wrong to remind someone who had been forced to convert and who had returned to Torah Judaism about their Teshuva.
Therefore, using the p’sak of the Rambam to encourage today’s BT’s to disguise their BTness and “fit in” with FFB society is misplaced. It is a misuse and misapplication of the Rambam’s p’sak since his p’sak did not advocate “fitting in” or “hiding one’s past”. The Rambam’s p’sak placed the responsibility squarely on Frum society to behave with understanding, compassion and decency, and placed no burden whatsoever on the returnee to try to dupe others.
Still here :), so:
I agree. However, the OP implicitly indicated a systemic problem, with which I DON’T agree.
Those mekarvim who give bad advice need to be given emergency education to save others from their folly, and yes, there are bad apples in every endeavor.
We both agree that “hiding the fact that you’re a BT” is bad advice, on many levels.
We don’t need to generalize about kiruv activists whatsoever. We just need to be aware that even good people who want to improve us might not know the best path for us.
I didn’t say there is a systemic problem of the “bad guys”, and I share your admiration of people involved in Kiruv. What I did say is that great mekarvim sometimes give bad advice, and always hiding the fact that you’re a BT is a part of that bad advice.
Just realized that I left you hanging there :).
I don’t agree with you on any systemic problem of “the bad guys”; to the contrary, anyone I know involved in kiruv has been more than incredible and selfless of their time, resources, and appropriate mentorship. The bad apple can be found in any endeavor. It’s a rare BT whose come to Torah like Avrohom Avinu, and and messages such as the one in the OP strike me as more than a little dishonest.
However, being that individual experiences, particularly negative ones, color one’s perspective so powerfully, I don’t think we’re going to come to a consensus here.
I have my own psychologically based theory about the cause of negativity regarding kiruv folk, but I don’t think this is the time or place to bring it up.
If you reply and I don’t respond, it’s because I’m leaving for a bit. :)
wow, ffb. that’s quite a thesis. I can certainly agree with the essence of it: that one of the deepest human fears is to be denied one’s uniqueness. Hence once we begin to establish a certain identity, those who come close but nevertheless retain a significant difference, terribly threaten.
This explains why bogdim (traitors) always arouse the greatest, most merciless antipathy. Domestic strife (when family members don’t get along) works along similar lines. G-d save the wife who arouses in her husband the feeling of rejection!
There’s actually a pithy saying about this: “familiarity breeds contempt”.
Most likely, this also explains much of German antisemitism aganst those who tried so hard to be German. Could it also explain why certain BT “camps” despise others??
The unforgivable sin is being a minority. Where the ashkenazim were a minority they were discriminated against much worse than sephardim are today – and sometimes officially so!
In England there was a mechitza in the sephardic shul that “Tedescos” (ashkenazim) were forbidden to cross. If a sephardi married an ashkenazith, he was excommunicated. That’s right. Even when those “takanot” were abolished the ashkenazim were scorned in shidduchim. Montefiore, himself a sephardi whose wife was an ashkenazith, tried to “end the madness” by bequithing in his will a certain amount of money for every “mixed” couple.
In Argentina the ashkenazi kids were called be their sephardic peers “dirty Russians”.
In Holland a sephardi wrote about Voltaire’s anti-Semitism, “He feels that way about Jews because he only knows the ashkenazim. If he knew the sephardim he would think differently.” He then goes on to besmirch ashkenazim like the worst anti-Semites.
Dare I suggest that if BTs were the majority FFBs would be discriminated against? Sounds weird, but who knows? If the 6,000,000 Jews in America do teshuva, I’m calling first dibs on a new website: Beyond FFB.
Years ago I realized that as a Baal Teshuvah, I was caught in an ironic paradox:
My sincere teshuvah could erase any sin, but nothing can ever erase the “sin” of being a Baal Teshuvah. In other words: G_d forgives, but His people do not.
By the way, being Sephardic is also an unforgivable sin, regardless of which Sephardic country your grandparents came from; so far as the Frum society is concerned, all Sephardim are the same, even if they came from countries that were thousands of miles away from each other.
I might be wrong about those things, but that is the way I feel after 25 years as a Baal Teshuvah.
And even with the anonymity of the internet, I feel very tense about admitting to having Sephardic ancestors.
I can’t imagine the emotional stress of living a life where so much has to be concealed.
My life is easier because use my English name, which makes it very obvious that I’m a BT, since it’s a name that no FFB parents would choose (though it’s not associated with any other religion).
I understand that BTs face the problem of being judged as substandard in their Torah knowledge or their observance, but that seems to be a problem anyone, FFB or BT, can face in our trying times.
Trying to fit into a culture that has a great deal of social problems holds no appeal for me.
I’m surprised that people have been focusing on who’s responsible for conveying a doom and gloom message to BT’s, rather than our own perceptions and/or experience of this problem. When a friend of mine at college was “mishaddich” me with her cousin (cousin and friend were FFB’s), back in the day when FBI investigations were limited, we hit it off quite well. His parents figured after 3 dates it was time to do a little bit of background check on me and called a cousin of theirs in Cleveland who, wouldn’t you know it, knew my family well. Their response: “Fine people, but not shomer shabbos.” You know the rest of the story.
I was devastated. I also learned that the biggest secret I had was that I was a BT. I would sooner admit, in years to come, that I was divorced, and that I had a son with a drug problem, than that I was a BT. But like the contributor said, I now believe that in order to be true to ourselves, and have an honest relationship with Hashem and others, that we have to be in touch with all of who we are.
I think that hidden within the following paragraph lies part of the problem:
“While it is unarguably halachically necessary to cover your hair, wear tznius clothing, send your kids to Torahdik schools and keep a kosher kitchen, a subtle shift away from the actual mitzvohs themselves to externalities has occurred in your outlook. Your sheitle, your clothing, the type of hat that identifies the school your children attend, and your kitchen are what you use to compare yourself to the woman who “outed” you. Externalities, and the comparing, competing and conforming that accompanies the focus on externalities, are really all about social approval seeking.”
In fact, while Orthodox Jewish schools may be the best way to educate a child, it is not a
halachic REQUIREMENT. Confusion of minhagim (even desirable ones) with halachic requirements is one of the things that gets us into difficulty.
Another is the assumption that a frum Jew will dress in a particular way. Why, the world’s leading Sefardic posek does not permit women to cover their hair with wigs! How can we *assume* that a BT wears a sheitel? My own wife has never worn a human hair wig in her life, but since we have been married no other man has ever seen her uncovered hair. By one standard of frumkeit, a woman who covers with a scarf is actually MORE frum because she is within the bounds of more halachic opinions!
I’m sure this letter was well intentioned but I think it unfortunately reinforces some of the stereotypes.
Thanks, Neil. What a name. It could mean anything. What’s not madness these days?
I agree with you. I guess I expect too much…
FFB, from endthemadness.org:
“The basic goal of ETM is to alleviate the needless stresses and hardships of dating in the observant Jewish community. We aim to accomplish this by expanding the range of available dating options for observant Jewish singles, and to give people the confidence to explore the option or options that are most amenable to them on an individual level.
In addition, ETM seeks to promote greater achdus by tearing down stereotypes and encouraging observant Jews with different backgrounds and personal customs to consider one another as viable marriage candidates. ”
PL, there was an obvious agenda with the posted letter, but a postive discussion can spring forth from this.
There are a few issues here which are not mutually exclusive:
1) Sometimes people are hurt intentionally and unintentionally by the community they admired and respected – the pain is real and I’m not sure we should so easily dismiss it.
2) Sometimes bad advice is given by great mekarvim and we need to recognize that. There are many great mekarvim who want to know when they’ve made mistakes and there are others who prefer to blame it on the victims of that bad advice – the BTs themselves.
3) BTs (and probably FFBs also) need to do the difficult introspective work on appropriate and inappropriate desires to “fit in” as you’ve pointed out.
Neither your comment nor the post’s primary message is negative; rather, the post is cloaked in negativity in what seems to me both a trend and an easy way to address the issue: “they’re the bad guys, just don’t listen to them”, instead of working on an in-depth thesis regarding our desire to “fit in”, with both the Joneses and the Goldbergs.
The temptation to segue into finger pointing is so, so tempting, and the hard working mekarvim are such a convenient target into which to sink our teeth, but truly a cop-out in lieu of the hard work necessary for self analysis.
What’s End the Madness?
Chananya Weissman, founder of End the Madness, has often pointed out:
Chazal NEVER taught that Baalei Teshuvah are disqualified as candidates for marriage.
Sephardim and gerim also feel they must conceal what they are. Some of them change their names.
I think people (myself included at various point in my life) take the teaching of the Rambam that “one shouldn’t remind others about their Teshuva” as a proof that they should try to “fit in”, so that a “FFB” wouldn’t be prompted to inquire about one’s history. Maybe a Rabbinic-type would like to post something on the Rambam in Hichos Teshuva and the practical/social results of this.
Hiding the fact that you are a BT as much as possible is unfortunately a common message, which is transmitted in many ways. In fact there are entire communities where this is the norm.
Many extremely intelligent people on this blog have expressed pride when people mistake them for an FFB.
Sometimes it might make sense to hide the fact that you’re a BT, but most other times it can be extremely detrimental denying your own reality.
Unfortunately this comment and this great post might be construed as negative, but it alerts people to inappropriate common advice and therefore serves an extremely positive purpose of supporting and educating BTs.
My entry point to frum life was through NCSY and although they tried hard to steer me to one of their affiliate yeshivas in Israel, I decided to go to OS instead, preferring the more black-hat experience.
Which “affiliate” yeshivas were those? Until very recently, NCSY has a severe paucity of “affiliate” yeshivas for BTs.
I think that “kiruv” methods over the past 15 years have changed, as have those who we deem as “kiruv professionals”. Project Inspire is much more of a movement that puts emphasis on a relationship with the individual (from my understanding). This letter is important and it’s great that it was posted in the Yated and on BeyondBT. Holding onto our personalitly is very important in Avodas Hashem for both the BT and the FFB.
I’m sure this letter is giving the higher ups in AJOP (Association for Jewish Outreach Programs) some food for thought.
Letter has interesting amount of negativity.
As this had become the trend of late, I don’t see much point in responding. Great, great point, without the “it’s all the mekarvim’s fault”.
sounds like the work of “Rabbi” Henry Higgins!
kudos to the Yated for running this.
Wow! A shame to see such an important point cloaked in a bundle of negativity. BT’s need not erase their past is something all of us can agree upon. That the fault lies with the mekarvim, I’m not so sure. Perhaps there’s more to the story. Does the BT have any ability to think for himself or is he a zombie merely capable of following instructions? If the latter is the case, then perhaps he should be following his instructions to the letter. If the former is the case, then much of this screed is unfair.
I’d add that lumping all mekarvim together and helpfully explaining that, “They didn’t have the self awareness to understand their own motivations for doing kiruv, and they didn’t understand the implications of their message that it is shameful to be what you are, that you must hide yourself away. They didn’t know better.” or “a well intended but clueless kiruv mentor convinced you that being a BT was somehow a shameful condition which needed to be concealed from FFB society.” or “the focus on externalities, mitzvohs done with a social agenda — because everyone around you is doing it, and you will hurt your children’s shidduchim chances if you don’t, etc. — is perhaps all that they’ve ever known.” is not only unfair but borders on slanderous.
My entry point to frum life was through NCSY and although they tried hard to steer me to one of their affiliate yeshivas in Israel, I decided to go to OS instead, preferring the more black-hat experience. I spent more than two years in OS and instead of pushing me to add black-hat type implements, they actually tried hard to slow me down.
After returning to the US, I joined a yeshivish minyan and eventually settled on a more baalah-batish type where I felt most at home. Perhaps I’m naive but in my experience, the push to the right came mostly from me. The pull back came mostly from my mentors who weren’t clueless in the least. They were selfless, kind, understanding, and good people doing their best to help me find my way. I’m disappointed in the way the writer portrays them in this letter. His point would have been excellent without these harsh accusations as well.
Anyone who becomes a BT has a personal responsibility to do the right thing, which includes careful analysis of advice—no matter who gives it! If the advice sounds fishy (such as, “dress and act like this, and they’ll take you for a native”), don’t assume that the person giving it, no matter how superior in Jewish knowledge, is automatically correct. Instead, ask pertinent questions (such as “couldn’t this deception destroy my life when they discover where I came from?”). If the answers do not satisfy, find the right other person(s) to ask.
In the end, you have to associate with people who respect your path of teshuvah and want to help you to grow further. You have a personal responsibility to decide where to live and how to affiliate, and not to let anyone push you into a decision that is wrong for you.
Thank you for a valuable and helpful article. Can you guide me to the original article entitled “What More Can I Do?”