Four Common BT Road Bumps

Partners in Torah recently listed four road bumps a BT might hit:

• Daily life as an observant Jew is not always easy. Many demands are made of us, and life is infinitely more complicated for a person concerned with Shabbos, Kashrus, a large family and yeshivah tuitions than it is for one with 1.2 children, a dog, and a boat.

• Very few BT’s can afford to sustain the high level of learning and regular interaction with inspiring personalities that they enjoyed in the introductory stages of their return.

• They’re no longer courted and wooed by people eager to ease their entry into the frum community. They’re viewed as successes, and the attention is focused elsewhere.

• Their view of the observant community is transformed from that of an outsider to an insider. Suddenly they see warts and imperfections that they somehow missed in their initial encounters. Reconciling these imperfections with their initial, overly-positive perspective is never easy, and often discouraging.

23 comments on “Four Common BT Road Bumps

  1. I have been down on the greater “frum community” for at least the last two to four years I think. I am finally getting over it; I realize that with all of its problems, hypocracies, ignorances, etc…it is what it is, and my job is to “be all I can be”, to try my best, to turn a kind eye towards others and if I don’t like something in the community, to make sure I am not doing the same thing I don’t like in others.

  2. Abe referred to “…having an “impact” on people, which is basically a desire rooted in geiva…”

    Without his seeing into the hearts and minds of people doing kiruv (which, by his own logic, he can’t do without really knowing them personally) his accusation can only be a guess.

    This and the rest is a restatement of Abe’s past position that one-on-one kiruv as part of an organic relationship is the only kiruv with merit. We can agree that it’s preferable without agreeing that it’s the only modality that needs to be tried now.

  3. Surely different metaphors work for different personalities, experiences and challenges.

    It would be wise to recall that many of the roadblocks, much less bumps in the road, that we face as BT’s are merely specialized versions of the rough-and-tumble experience of growing into adulthood… parenthood… middle age… and beyond.

    It is easy to assume that the road not taken would have been smooth, well lit and bedecked with clear, accurate signage.

    But life really isn’t like that.

  4. Regardless of our financial resources, we have personal resources (thought, time, energy) that can still have a positive impact.

    We could mitigate a lot of these road bumps if people doing kiruv would focus less on having an “impact” on people, which is basically a desire rooted in geiva, and rather focus on creating and maintaining real relationships with people. (Yes, that limits the amount of kiruv any one person can do in his/her lifetime, since one’s time and energy for maintaining relationships is limited. Perhaps this is what Reb Simcha was referring to — people who are no longer able to have real relationships; not with others, not with themselves, not with Hashem.)

    Sooner or later, the training wheels come off. With practice and some falls, riding the bike gets easier over time.

    I do not agree with this analogy. Life is not the mechanical skill of riding a bike, and balance is not something you’ve got one day and never forget. The issue with teshuva and living a Torah life is not what kind of bike you’re riding, or how proficient you are in any physical ritual, or how to superficially blend in/disappear into a frum community — but rather, who you are ethically (honest in business….) and, if you must use a bicycle analogy, what direction you’re headed.

  5. In a published Chumash-Rashi shiur (from 1983, I believe), the Klausenburger Rebbe ZT”L discussed the concept that the redemption will come when the generation will be all guilty or all innocent. He said this does not necessarily mean that 100% of us will be bad or 100% will be good. Rather, we will have a great polarization where each Jew will go all the way to one extreme or the other, leaving no one in the fuzzy middle.

    I think we can see signs of this today. People are not content to be in the middle. This is both a threat and an opportunity.

  6. Regardless of our financial resources, we have personal resources (thought, time, energy) that can still have a positive impact. Sometimes we overemphasize our limitations. Who says kiruv always has to be a high-budget, high profile PR campaign?

  7. Bob Miller:

    I agree with you one-hundred percent. That’s why I opened my comment by stating that I was nonplussed by the implication of Reb Simcha’s words. But being that he was an adom gadol b’Yisrael — who himself invested much time and energy in the ba’al teshuva movement — I feel that his insight needs to be reckoned with. Exactly how to go about doing that I have no certainty. And so I only suggested a possible answer, given of the tenure of the times.

    In consideration of (1) the frum community’s financial woes juxtaposed with (2) the possibility that the final geula is imminent, and (3) the diminishing returns of investment in kiruv rechokim if, in fact, the “selection” process alluded to by Reb Simcha is coming to an end…well then, a logical conclusion can be deduced. And that is to redirect finite financial resources to encouraging and enabling ba’alei teshuva to make aliyah. Why ba’alei teshuva especially? Because, as Reb Simcha points out, they are the ones who Eliyahu HaNavi “has selected to lead the Jewish people to the redemption of Mashiach.” As such, the leaders need to be supported in their leadership role to the maximum extent possible.

  8. Shua,

    How can we have enough information to decide who is destined to leave the fold and who to come back? Even if the “grim reality” you referred to is a reality, that gives us no particular guidance about individuals. This points to a need to focus kiruv as broadly as practical, and not to cut it back arbitrarily. Who wants to bear the responsibility for those (whether few or many) who do not return because we abandoned the enterprise of reaching them?

  9. I am currently reading “Reb Simcha Speaks,” (Artscroll, 1994) published two years after the petira of HaRav HaGaon Simcha Wasserman, zt”l. I was nonplussed by one of his assertions.

    Under the section entitled “Prophecies for Our Time” Reb Simcha’s words concerning ba’alei teshuva are a source of tremendous encouragement: “those who have returned are those whom Eliyahu [HaNavi] has selected to lead the Jewish people to the redemption of Mashiach.” [p. 33].

    But tellingly there is a downside. On the next page Reb Simcha recognized the following tragic reality: “…there is a selection going on now. Some people are being brought back, and some people, due to the high intermarriage and assimilation rate, are being thrown out. There are prophecies concerning this unfortunate fact. Those prophecies state that there will be members of the Jewish body who will be removed from it.”

    Consequently, the vital importance of safely riding over the bumps in the road cannot be overly stressed, the failure to do so being dire.

    Are there any practical policy issues which need to be re-evaluated in light of Reb Simcha’s viewpoint? I can venture the following possibility for debate. A valiant and wonderfully successful kiruv effort has been undertaken over the past few decades. But time is running out and we must face the reality, as did Reb Simcha, that the vast majority of Diaspora Jews are beyond saving…and are not, in fact, prophetically destined to be saved. They are — in Reb Simcha’s drastic words — being “thrown out” by the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself. In light of this grim reality, should the financial resources currently directed to kiruv rechokim be diminished, and redirected instead towards promoting and financing aliyah? Food for thought.

  10. “Bob Miller
    September 10th, 2009 12:18

    Sooner or later, the training wheels come off. With practice and some falls, riding the bike gets easier over time.”

    Nicely put, Bob! (Its amazing how, in so many words, one can fit an entire idea.)

    Gute voch everyone, and shana tovah u’mesukah! =)

  11. ChanaLeah,

    If you really want to know,

    my experience is that public school teachers are more experienced.

    I’m sure there will be knee jerk reactions defending the yeshiva teachers, and I’m not saying there aren’t some fine teachers in yeshiva.

  12. Since it’s the start of another school year, meeting teachers is on my mind. I was just thinking tonight how the teachers I’ve been meeting lately have been so very young, and inexperienced. (Possibly this is more of a concern in girls schools). I thought back to when I was in elementary school, admittedly a long time ago, and can’t remember any teachers who were just a couple of years out of high school. Does anyone else have trouble reconciling this? Is this also happening in the secular school today, or is it mainly a yeshiva phenomenon?

  13. Partners in Torah did not use the term road bumps, rather I used it for this post, and I somewhat regret it since road bumps are meant to go over and not confront.

    I don’t think the answer is deal with it and move on, rather we were brought these problems precisely because they are the ones we have to confront directly.

    I also think it the issues apply to FFBs and if we place it in the BTs domain, we are doing both FFBs and BTs a disservice.

    Here is one way we can view each issue:
    1) We need to set or time and financial priorities according from a spiritual viewpoint

    2) Inspiration must ultimately come from within and everybody must be self starters when it comes to increasing our learning levels.

    3) Everybody wants and needs attention, but it is a limited commodity and we need to constantly assess that we in comes to both our and other peoples attention.

    4) We are all far from perfect and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we and our communities are constantly working on reducing our deficiencies. The problems usually start when an individual, community or sub-community view themselves as more perfect than reality dictactes.

  14. By the way, Rabbi Tatz’ shiur on free will is now available at TorahAnytime, which bills itself as G-d’s reason for the Internet. And I thought BeyondBT was one of the reasons.

  15. I think that the theme of the post is important. Many BTs, regardless of their age, are inspired by role models amd view them as models in how to conduct their own lives as they become acclimated to the Torah observant world. Some of my oldest and closest friends were my advisors in NCSY. I think that R Frand once cautioned that those active in kiruv should not view kiruv as a means of notching BT accomplishments on one’s belt and then abandoning a BT .

  16. I agree with Neil. Bumps are not something to be afraid of. They’re a sign that we need to slow down, recognize their existence, and not flip out when they occur.
    These bumps sound much like marriage to me. We go into it without a totally realistic view of life after marriage and then we deal with the bumps as they come.
    1 – Married life is not as easy as single life.
    2 – Not as much time to learn and study with rebbes.
    3 – Our parents dont lavish attention upon us any longer and our wives don’t do it either :)
    4 – Suddenly we discover warts and imperfections that we missed in the dating period.

    Nu, learn to deal with it and move on.

  17. It seems to me that the greatest challenge for BTs is also the greatest challenge for FFBs:

    Work at a full-time job, yet find the time for: Shabbat, Jewish holidays, praying three times a day with a minyan, studying the weekly parshah [and many other things], build a sukkah [then take it down], post messages on Beyond BT, etc, etc, etc.

    It seems that there are not enough hours in the day or enough days in the week.

  18. Neil, absolutely, although Rabbi Tatz lays out the internal inspiration road bumps, which weren’t really touched in this post.

    BTW, Rabbi Tatz was live in Kew Gardens Hills last night and he was amazing as always. He talked about the Bechira point. Hopefully they will post it on TorahAnytime soon

  19. Mark, you bring up a good point. I guess that might be part of the “mentoring process”. I think the first chapter of LIVING INSPIRED by R Akiva Tazt should be required reading for everyone. :)

  20. Sooner or later, the training wheels come off. With practice and some falls, riding the bike gets easier over time.

  21. The oft quoted gemora in Brachos 34b comes to mind: “In the place of ba’alei teshuvah the complete tzadik cannot stand.”

    I always thought that this was a reference to the initial Teshuva, but perhaps it is a reference to the Beyond BT process.

    Another question is whether the road bumps should be disclosed initially. It would probably discourage some people from doing Teshuva, but on the other hand it would better prepare those who do become BTs to know what lies ahead.

  22. Road bumps? OK, I’ll buy that. Road bumps, by design, are put in place so we don’t speed.

    These issues are constantly brought up, and with good reason.

    There are no shortcuts, quick fixes, or magic potions that will help. Issue #3, which boils down to Kiruv follow-up, has always been troubling to me (not that the other 3 issues are are not).

    While I wouldn’t label myself as a “successful BT”, I have gone over these bumps and remained Torah observant, as most of us have.

    The oft quoted gemora in Brachos 34b comes to mind: “In the place of ba’alei teshuvah the complete tzadik cannot stand.”

    I have thought for many years that this simply means that we, who have chosen a Torah observant lifestyle have the ability to remember the freshness, newness, and excitement that we first had when became observant. At this time of year, prior to Rosh Hashana and the creation of the world, it’s those memories of that newness that we can draw from to strenghthen ourselves and others. BTW, I’m really talking about myself, just in a public forum.

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