Fitting In

Do you feel that “fitting in” is one of the biggest challenges facing BTs?

What factors have you seen contribute to being successful in this area?

What are some strategies if you’re committed to Torah Judaism, but feel the “fitting in” goal is too difficult?

28 comments on “Fitting In

  1. To Ellen #25: Give me a call sometimes, I’m in the Bayswater Directory. I’ll try to be better about calling you back. I shamefacedly admit that I lost your phone numbers from the last time you called and left a detailed message (my bad). Now that it’s time for a full confession I will also admit that I really was there only for the Kiddush and that I usually go to the Beis Medrash of Bayswater (Rabbi Shapiro’s shul).

    Bayswater benefits from young families moving in, even if we fifty-plus ladies sometimes feel outnumbered by the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. We can still fit in. If the conversation turns to kids and the stuff that they do, I talk about my grandchildren rather than children. Simple. Let the younger women worry about whether their sheitels are stylish and their clothes are fashionable and their shoes are trendy and what everyone is saying or not saying about them.

  2. Judy: Of course I remember meeting you! I thought maybe you were just there for the kiddush. You were right about Bayswater. It is a more laid back community. Now if the community were more fifty-plus…But it is true that at this point in our lives we can more comfortably feel “this is who I am, take it or leave it.” Of course, the preponderance of the “leave its” is a little disconcerting. But it is enabling me to look more at my own path in Yiddishkeit, so that I no longer am as dependent on the “when in Rome” attitude.

  3. To Ellen #20: You already go to my shul! We met after that Kiddush, remember? I’m the lady in the oversize white sneakers (the only shoes that fit my swollen feet comfortably).

    I think one has to be fifty-plus to get a healthy attitude, plus be comfortable in one’s own skin, so to speak. All of my daughters are married off, and I have only one son not yet married (he’s too young now) so I’m no longer worried about what people will say to the shadchanim.

  4. To Susan #19: Try to strike a healthy balance. Become a part of a community of nonjudgmental frum women more interested in learning from each other than in molding others into one shape. Be open to listening to ideas but hold fast onto values that are important to you. Be strong in your own views but accept that others may differ. Find a rav whom you can follow and ask questions of when you disagree with the consensus of the community. Learn to discern exactly what is the halacha, the minhag, the chumra, the custom, the norm, and “what everybody does.” Stay true to yourself and don’t fear interactions with other people; in fact, welcome them as a chance to test your own courage of convictions.

  5. Now that I have gotten on my soap box and obsessed about integration,(ad nauseum, I might add) I’d like to throw out something else. Can we find a way to look beyond our labels and become one cohesive Observant Community? I, for one would love it.
    There is far more to be gained from tolerance and dialogue than fear of difference.

  6. I’m not so sure the concerns expressed here about conformity within social groups are unique to orthodox Jewish social groups.

    In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not.

  7. Hey Judy:

    Your attitude sounds pretty healthy to me. Which shul do you go to? Is there room for one more? I can’t wait to put on my davening sneakers!

  8. Dear Judy,
    Thanks so much for your sincere response. I appreciate it.
    Do you and others find that there is a good deal of consensus among members of your communities with regard to behavioral norms, perceptions of the secular world,etc.? When I hear the same views echoed over and over, and done so with fervor, I come to doubt myself. In addition, whether right or wrong, I live with the constant fear of being molded, and becoming a stranger to myself and my family.
    The molding factor, moreso than anything else, has made me extremely anxious about interacting with others.

  9. For what it is worth, I’d like to mention that I need to live by my emes in order to sleep at night. At the same time, I know that I must give others the derech eretz that is due them.
    The only way that I can achieve this balance is by remaining silent when my candor might upset someone else. I am giving up a piece of myself in the process, but I don’t know what other options there are.

  10. To Susan #16: In the words of Pirkei Avos, make yourself a Rav, acquire yourself a friend. Try going to some shiurim for ladies, make chitchat with the other women afterward, speak to the Rav giving the shiurim and stay in contact following the lecture. Latch on to people, both Rabbonim and Rebbetzins, who can answer your questions about frumkeit. Don’t remain an outsider, it’s not a good feeling, involve yourself in the community as much as your own personal situation permits you. Find chesed projects to get involved with that you feel comfortable doing, and become friendly with the other women volunteering. Do and ask and follow up and hopefully knowledge and understanding will flow your way, Bisiyata D’shamayim.

  11. My kiruv took place at a time when Bnei Akiva frum was the only kind of frum around. Now, that kind of Yiddishkeit has all but disappeared in the area in which I live. What I need more than anything else is insight into the reasons for my city’s transformation. By gaining such insight, I might be in a better position to deal with my feelings of being an outsider.In addition, hopefully, I will be far more able to understand and appreciate the contribution to Yiddishkeit that the Haredim are making.Chaveirim kol Yisrael.If I’ve offended anyone’s sensibilities through my candor, please grant me slicha and mechila. Best wishes for hatzlacha and bracha in all that you do.

  12. Communities also differ markedly in their degree of insistence on conformity, and in the types of conformity they stress most. Some people can choose their community, while others (at least for now) are basically stuck.

  13. There are so many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to make an effort to fit in, and if so, how much. We’ve discussed it here before in so many contexts: How important is it to learn the language called “yeshivish” Should BT’s “dress for success” in the so-called FFB world or perhaps not? What is the value of conformity? Does frumkeit require you to give up your “independence“?

    The question is worth recycling from all these different angles, because across the different stages of life it keeps recurring, and often in places and contexts we least expect it — even if we think that, by now, we’ve got it down.

  14. Going back to the original topic, I’ve never been able to fit in properly. My sheitel’s crooked, my clothes are unfashionable, my shoes are pure comfort not style, my job is unusual and my car is a junky Pontiac. I can’t pronounce the “ch” sound, I use English not Ivrit for many common expressions, and I attended a public co-ed high school.

    You know what? My shul is nonjudgmental, and none of the other women ever show up anyway (they’re all at home with babies) so it’s only me and the Rebbetzin, whom I adore.

    I don’t fit in? You’re 100% correct. Know what? Who cares?

  15. I know it now. It was just a discrepancy between a person, and another person, and a bris certificate. But it all came together, and I’ve got a name. (Mazel Tov)
    Thanks.

  16. You might want to talk to a Rav about determining your correct name, in case there is any need in the future for an exact name.

    I hope you have no need of it, though, since I can think of only two instances where the exact precise name is needed: when writing a Get and for a refuah for a choleh.

    You should be well and have good mazel until 120!

  17. It was hard for me when others started addressing me by my Hebrew name. Even though I was named after my grandfather, I still wasn’t clear what the name was (it depended on whom I asked), and being called to the Torah was a particular problem since I had a most difficult time finding out what my father’s name was. (He was given a Yiddish name, and I had to figure out the equivalent in Hebrew, but only after I finally learned how it was properly pronounced in Yiddish!)
    And so I told a Rabbi in my BT yeshiva that I wanted more time, and he said not to let anyone pressure me, so there. But I felt uncomfortable correcting everyone, and I suppose that’s how I got used to being called by Hebrew name, and looking back, I still have mixed feelings about how I handled it. Today I use both names depending on the situation, even within the Torah world.

  18. Fitting in would be easier for me if ther were less emphasis on constantly wearing a specific uniform: white-only shirt and all other clothes black-only + black-only kippah + black hat.

  19. Fitting in is a challenge for BTs, regardless of which hashkafic route one follows. The key is having friends and mentors ease the path, as opposed to either stubbornly reject or blindly accept many hanhagos that seem strange.

  20. I was so anxious back in the day to fit in that I neglected that part of myself that marched to a different drummer. I also proceeded to push the conformity script down my kids’ throat so the family would be presentable to the community as well. Well, lo and behold, some of the offspring sensed that there were some other values slipping through the frummie filter despite my best efforts to cover up.They managed to mess up my presentation, increasing my anxiety re not fitting in, resulting in some rebelling. (I don’t take full credit for the direction they took).

    Fast forward years later, with kids launched and making their own choices as young adults, and so am I. And conformity is no longer at the heart of it. Working on my relationship with HKB”H is.

  21. “Fitting in” is subjective and isn’t always a bad thing.

    In the fall of my senior year of high school, I went into NY for my YU interview. Prior to the interview I got a haircut (ie- I got rid of my 10 inches of bangs that hung in front of my face). I did this in order to “fit in” with the norm, thus distancing me from the “punk/alt” culture that I was a part of in my hometown. After the interview, I spent Shabbos with friends in Queens (Hollliswood) and my friends were shocked that I cut my hair.

    No big deal to me, since my desire to attend a Yeshiva for college was more important than my hairstyle.

    I think to be successful when it comes to fitting in, the best thing is not to think about it too much.

    I touched on this a while back with this submission to BeyondBT:
    https://beyondbt.com/2007/06/26/are-we-too-obsessed-with-integration/

  22. Rabbi Plony, for reasons I won’t discuss here, left a big established shul and founded his own tiny Bais Medrash. Several loyal families followed Rabbi Plony to his new little shul: us and a couple of other families, including the Nonames. Mr. Noname lived literally right next door to the big established shul, but he loved Rabbi Plony so much that he chose to walk many blocks out of his way to instead daven at Rabbi Plony’s little Bais Medrash. Mr. Noname would have jumped off a cliff for Rabbi Plony, and Rabbi Plony in turn always expressed his appreciation for Mr. Noname’s love and loyalty to the new shul.

    Mr. Noname was a BT known for his long flowing hair. It was a running joke in Rabbi Plony’s shul. Rabbi Plony would say, “Get a haircut,” and Mr. Noname would smile and shrug it off. Mr. Noname also dressed in an extremely casual fashion, even on Shabbos. Did he fit in? He was the most honored and respected person in the shul! Did he ever get a haircut or a black suit? No. Up until the time the Noname family made Aliyah to Israel (and we all miss them terribly and their contributions and hard work on behalf of the shul, especially Rabbi Plony) everyone told Mr. Noname to get a haircut (and he smiled and shrugged it off).

  23. Personally, I am a conformist in dress. My departure might be more of an internal nature that is, what I learn, how I process hashkofos etc.

    The main thing I have found is that we must never lose sight of what matters to us OR/AND what SHOULD matter to us.

    We all know that BT’s are admired for their idealism. Many of us have to come in for a landing along the way, but we maintain the idealism that helped us dive into Torah in the 1st place.

    We must never lose the spirituality and introspection that helped us initially. It has been a challenge for me to stay in touch with that part of me and I feel I am all the better for trying to gain that ability again.

  24. There is a wide range of community attitudes regarding individuality vs. conformity in things like dress. Sometimes a person matches up well with a community and sometimes not. How much should someone concede in order to fit in?

  25. A BT generally makes a choice not to go along with his background/lifestyle, and takes an individualistic road to pursue Torah. Once in the frum community, there’s a huge emphasis to move away from individuality, and great social value placed on fitting in. This can be a difficult shift for BT’s.

  26. Being true to one’s past in ways that work well with one’s present is very important. For example, if a person generally wore jeans and t-shirts in college, but also feels comfortable in a light colored suit, let him find a place to daven where such suits are worn on Shabbos, so that he can avoid uprooting his past dress style entirely and still fit in where he is now. If one grew up with a very strong ethic of self-sufficiency, he should not toss out that value, which is a true Torah value and source of strength for him. In short, whatever is a valid Torah value, (neatness, hard work etc), that he has already in his personality from his youth, he should maximize. And from this, he will fit in, because he will not loose himself and be able to conduct himself with confidence and gain the respect of others. No-one likes a faker.

Comments are closed.