What Should Baalei Teshuvah Do To Increase Their Chances of Acceptance?

Acceptance and Rejection are big concerns of Baalei Teshuva.

What should Baalei Teshuvah do to increase their chances of acceptance?

What should Baalei Teshuvah avoid doing to minimize the chances of rejection?

Is it even possible for Baalei Teshuvah to increase their chances of acceptance?

Submitted by Derech Emet

29 comments on “What Should Baalei Teshuvah Do To Increase Their Chances of Acceptance?

  1. I have a few suggestions regarding acceptance. First, don’t dress in a weird manner. Odd morrocan yarmulkes or rainbow talleism are two examples. Look around – how many men who have been frum their whole lives wear such things? I cringe at the clueless BT who dons such items. Likewise, some occasions require a suit – learn when a suit is “mandatory,” rather than merely optional.

    Another bit of advice – learn how to pronounce Hebrew correctly. Really, truly, while you might think the difference between an “h” sound and a “ch” sound is trivial, it is not. Also, there is a clueless BT in my town who refers to a guy names Yosef as “Yoh-see” rather than “Yuh-see.” Does he not hear how others pronounce the nickname – he’s only been frum for at least 10 years!

    Another suggestion. There is an institution in my town that caters to teaching BTs. It is a fine place, and maybe there is a similar place in your town. The idea, however, is to “graduate” from such a place. People who continue to go to such an institution, year after year after year, rightly are viewed as part of some “BT cult.” And by the way, becoming frum is a religious decision, not a psychological one. If you became frum for psychological reasons, you became frum for the wrong reason – and it will show.

    Now, admittedly, it is easy for the BT to say, “Isn’t this trivial?” And maybe it is trivial. However, people prefer to affiliate with those who are similar to them. You want to be accepted? Then be attuned to what other, mainstream Jews do – and do it.

  2. To Moish #27: I am a BT, my daughters and sons were all known as daughters and sons of a BT, yet my 4 girls and 2 of my 3 boys (the last one is not yet in the parsha) are all married.

    OK, so maybe your daughters will “have to” marry the sons of BT’s and Gerim. Is that so bad? I think not.

    My four girls actually married into oldtime frum families; I can think of only one “BT” parent out of the eight machetonim. Frankly, it seemed that family money (or the lack of it) was far more important than yichus in getting our girls married off; the jokes about “Poppa Has Dough” are not entirely jokes.

    As for boys, as opposed to girls, I believe that there is a statistical imbalance here (I can’t prove it with hard numbers, though) where there are more “great” girls out there than “great” boys who are available. Meaning that the son of a BT or Ger who is himself an outstanding young man should have nothing to worry about in the shidduchim area.

  3. The BT has less to do with worrying whether he or she is socially acceptable to the community and more to do with making a heshbon ha nefesh to Hashem at night. While I understand that a BT might not advance socially if he doffs a multicolored yarmulke hand embroidered in Zimbabwe or if his wife dresses like queen of the gypsies I still have the responsibility for befriending these individuals and showing them ahavas Yisrael. As much as I have made considerable effort to fit into my community the stark reality remains- my daughters were known as children of a BT when it came to making shidduchim.

  4. Sorry, Mr. Cohen, just noticed your question.

    What did I like about Memphis? The community in Memphis was so warm and accepting that I was frankly shocked when I encountered prejudice against gerim after moving to a larger community years later – I know it sounds naive, but it was such a non-issue in Memphis I couldn’t believe it the first few times I heard less than nice things come out of people’s mouths once having moved “north of the Mason Dixon line.” People there really live not just ahavas yisrael but also ahavas ha-ger. We had many many friends our age, and several older families treated us like another set of their kids. It wasn’t just a matter of never eating alone on yom tov (although that was the case as well), but true acceptance – being asked to participate fully in communal life and many of the small encounters which create friendships – from a shared trip to Costco, to a phone call just to say hi…

    I’m also a native southerner and so the culture is very familiar to me. The social graces, the pace of life, the respect for another’s privacy are all big pluses.

    For women’s learning, there was so much more there in terms of shiurim and enthusiasm than I find in my current city, even though the community where I live now is probably 4 times as large and far more yeshivish.

    Please don’t get the impression that I hate where I am now, because I don’t. I’m blessed with some lovely friends and neighbors. The opportunities for my children are greater here, and the level of torah education which they are receiving is very high. Nonetheless, there is something magic about Memphis. We spent 8 years in the community there and loved every second of it.

  5. “I would urge any BT who is looking for a warm accepting community to strongly consider either KGH or Passaic.” (Steve #20)

    Um…(very embarrassed)…what’s KGH?

  6. Taking on a more observant way of life doesn’t have to be a “one stop” affair.

    Each neighborhood and community has certain parameters. Therefore, one should look for a range within one is comfortable. The combination of attire, synagogue and school that works for one neighbor or a few neighbors may not be right for you and your family.

    It’s OK to have SOMETHING in common with each of many neighbors. You don’t have to have EVERYTHING in common with one (or a small group) of neighbors. That can lead to over-reaching on your part to be exactly like them, and over-reaching on their part to include you in all aspects of their lives. I think that the former concept is more comfortable for everybody.

  7. I would add to the above that every community is going to have some warm accepting people, and part of our task as BTs is to seek those people out and foster relationships with them while not sweating the narrow-minded xenophobes. Having a couple of really good close friends can make all the difference.

    I also second the allure of small communities. The loveliest community I know is…Memphis!

  8. I would urge any BT who is looking for a warm accepting community to strongly consider either KGH or Passaic. Both communities welcome the talents and respect the paths that BTs have blazed, travelled and obstacles surmounted to live a life of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  9. I can tell you the perspective of our family having had very difficult yeshiva years with our older children: at this moment we have a child in a bais yaakov where she has the most wonderful morahs, year after year, whom she loves and eagerly learns kodesh from. For that alone, I would not voluntarily leave this community, nomatter what other variables exist. Nevertheless, we have met many very nice people here (and other types as well).

  10. gary, how precious it is that you asked that question on that day. a moment of divine grace. your story is a beautiful example of how people grow into an environment. sounds like you feel welcomed and appreciated in your neighborhood and that these people around you have the zechus to be included in the hug Hashem is giving you.

    have a good shabbos

  11. Correction from #16

    I chose my house because the real estate agent told me that there were more Jews in ITS NEIGHBORHOOD than in the area of another house I was considering.

  12. DY,

    This is not a quarrel! It’s a discussion, and I am glad to be participating in it.

    I chose my house because the real estate agent told me that there were more Jews in it than in the area of another house I was considering. Why I asked that question on that day is a matter of hashgachah pratit.

    I didn’t realize how frum the neighborhood was, but it did have a dramatic influence on my becoming observant. I just have become a different type of observant Jew than many of my neighbors, and it’s working out fine for all of us. That may not be the case for every BT in every neighborhood.

    You point out many good things for people to consider as they try to resolve these issues.

    Shabbat Shalom

  13. gary,

    the question posted above was what people could do to better their chances of feeling that they are being accepted. my comments were directed to answer this query. OF COURSE ‘we are all individuals and are not obligated to forfeit that completely for the sake of comformity’. your reply makes it sound like i am preaching conformity as a value in and of itself. i am not.i’m actually not that fond of it myself. but i understand it and view it as a neccessary evil to some degree. perhaps our quarrel is just to what degree.

    i was trying to point out that there are sometimes emotional issues at play here, and while it is easy in our frustration and even our pain to paint ffb society as unaccepting, sometimes we may hold back from allowing ourselves to slide right into that groove for our own reasons. and they are of course legitamate reasons, reasons that work for us. but the flip side of these things sometimes is that they also do other things – one consequence is that it isn’t as easy to be seen as fitting in.

  14. DY,

    How do you define an outward assertion of individuality? Jogging in shorts and wearing backpacks may not be what everybody does in some neighborhoods, but I would not construe them as in-your-face or deliberately controversial.

    I am a former dog owner, and a current cycling enthusiast in a neighborhood that has very few of either.

    When I owned dogs (they have since died) I walked them in my neighborhood, and never felt unaccepted. When I ride my bike down the street in cycling gear, I don’t feel unaccepted either. Of course, I pull something more appropriate over the cycling gear before stepping into a shul for tefillah. However, I don’t feel the need to “cover up” before going into a cafe for a fruit smoothee.

    I don’t take issue with having to look SIMILAR to everyone else when I go to shul; I would take big issue with the expectation that I will have a complete makeover of my life 365/24/7. However, during over 20 years in my neighborhood, nobody has ever suggested that I do so.

    During several years of little or no observance, I was a frequent guest at people’s homes for Shabbat and Chagim. Those were great visits, with no exhortations to come back into the fold. Despite my drastic deviation from the norm, I was still considered a friend and neighbor.

    We are all individuals and are not obligated to forfeit that completely for the sake of conformity.

  15. in response to Shmuel in #11: i do not think it’s neccessarily that our frum communities place such emphasis on these other things as much as it is human nature to have the eye drawn towards things that stick out. it is neither right nor wrong – it just is reality.

    so if you want to be accaepted, plan on not making yourself stick out in ways that could be interpreted as in-your-face or deliberately contraversial.

  16. In some ways a small community can help because everyone is needed and therefore is unlikely to be overlooked. (though it comes with its own unique challenges)

  17. I have always felt that a BT (and probably everyone for that matter) needs to join a community where he feels he can maximize his Avodas hashem, and of course this will be a different place for every person.

    So I wish everyone the best in doing so no matter what type of community they have chosen, and certainly don’t think the way that works for me is the way that would work for everyone.

    But at the same time I personally wouldn’t choose a community that places so much emphasis on things that are outside of “halacha, minhag or chumra” as stated by DY because it strikes me as at best silly and at worst violating v’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha in favor of sociology or being part of the “club.” This has nothing to do with whether they would accept me personally as a BT –to me this is a serious negative trait in a community, say like a shul where people talk to one another the whole davening.

    I am not a person who stands out from the crowd much, so this is a matter of principle for me rather than trying to fit in.

  18. a secure person who really wants to transform himself into a well-adjusted member of the kehilla holds on to some things that make a difference to him, as long as they don’t interfere with his ultimate goal. he doesn’t need an outward assertion of his individuality…

  19. RE: Excerpt from DY’s comment # 8

    “if you are an insecure type, you may hold on to some things that, rightly or wrongly, tend to preclude you being thought of as one of the boys like everyone else.”

    I think that a SECURE type will hold on to SOME things that are important to him or her. If that makes you only 90 percent one of the boys or one of the girls, so be it.

  20. IMHO acceptance is always a work-in-progress on both sides. and like it or not, a lot of its success hangs on a bt’s comfort level with conformity.

    if you are clued in enough to notice the nuances of what people in the community do and don’t do (beyond the halacha, minhag or chumra – i mean the silly things like, no one in this neighborhood jogs in shorts, or no one else takes their kids to shul on shabbos wearing a backpack) and comfortable enough to basically go with the flow, i think it’s usually doable.

    BUT not everyone notices that there are all these little details that seem to matter even though they aren’t toras moshe. and many people take issue with having to look like everyone else…

    if you are an insecure type, you may hold on to some things that, rightly or wrongly, tend to preclude you being thought of as one of the boys like everyone else. and these issues are like flashing neon lights sometimes. in your mind, they may be telling people, i am an individual, not one of the sheep. and i’m okay. to the beholder, they may be saying, i don’t want to be like you. i want to bring my foreign ways onto your block and i’ll be darned if i’m going to change just because your kids are watching!…

    if there is a way to drop the issues on both sides so that acceptance can be a matter of religious appreciation, rather than a matter of whether or not we can see beyond each other’s issues, wow, i think we’d all be happier, no?

  21. I think tha Mark Frankel is right, but I would add that a person has to have a comfort level with themselves and the community in which they live, but also realize and always be proud that some of the personae who have had the most influence on Torah Judaism were BTs.Avraham Avinu, all of the Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu , R Akiva and Resh Lakish are only a few that come to mind.

  22. “I agree with Shmuel; why live in a community that doesn’t accept you for who you are? It’s like a shidduch. If it’s not a good fit, why would you want to live there?”

    I think one could extend the mashal both ways. If there are limited candidates available and the person is motivated enough, he will marry someone who is not a good fit. Likewise if I have a stable job in Blogsville, I admire the derech ha-avodah of the Blogsville Jews, and there are ample opportunities for growth, I might stick around even in less-than-ideal social circumstances. Community is (often?) a compromise like the rest of life; social acceptance is not the only factor.

  23. Try to get to know people in the target group, informally. Involvement in their charitable or service organizations is one way. Come properly attired to their shul/shtiebl services and see how they react or don’t react; their friendliness to Jewish strangers is a good sign.

  24. Acceptance/rejected is not an all or nothing thing.

    You or your children can be accepted/rejected to a school
    You or your children can be accepted/rejected as a friend or close friend
    You or your children can be accepted/rejected as a close neighbor
    You or your children can be accepted/rejected as a chavrusa
    You or your children can be accepted/rejected for a shidduch
    … And the list goes on

    A frum community is composed of different people, so some members in the community will accept you in one of the above areas while others will reject you.

    When we talk about the acceptance/rejection of a community it seems like we’re talking about the sense we get of of a typical community member or institution in terms of acceptance/rejection.

    It seems that if we broadly categorize the spectrum from left to right as LWMO, RWMO, LWUO, RWUO – a BT is more likely to be rejected in many of the examples above as they move to the right of the spectrum.

    So why would people choose to live in a community where their chances of rejection increase?

    I think the major reason people choose these communities is because they like the standards, norms, schools, housing and/or people of the community. They’re willing to deal with the rejections and they’ll do what they can to reduce them wherever possible.

    I think the basic path to acceptance in the LW and RW Ultra Orthodox communities is to increase your Torah knowledge, your community involvement and your charitable giving to the extent possible.

  25. I agree with Shmuel; why live in a community that doesn’t accept you for who you are? It’s like a shidduch. If it’s not a good fit, why would you want to live there?

    Some BT’s are so ashamed of about their past, they go to great lengths to hide and/or not even acknowledge their life Before Teshuva. Your past is an important part of you b/c it’s your experiences that make you who you are today (a very important lesson for kids). I personally don’t like being treated like a leper OR a hero; I’d rather just be accepted for who I am NOW & where I’m going. HKBH judges according to one’s own effort & potential, not their neighbor’s. If someone can’t deal with that, I would not call them true yirei shamayim.

    Obviously, a BT should not go into detail of their past experiences if they conflict with Torah, especially around kids. That’s private. I see a lot of BT’s who still hang on to their previous mindset, i.e., not looking at life through a Torah lens. I think that’s what makes them stick out the most; they go through the motions but just don’t “get” the big picture.

    Wearing “the uniform” of your community makes you blend in more easily. Not to say you should give up your individuality, but you can’t be that far off unless you want to stick out.

    But, IMHO, I think the BEST way to be accepted is to use Torah & mitzvot to guide you in all aspects of your life. A person who lives with the idea that HKBH runs the world AND behaves accordingly would be accepted in most communities.

  26. I have a question–

    why would anyone want to be part of a community that doesn’t accept them? It reminds me of a guy I knew in college before I was frum who wanted to join a certain fraternity and they turned him down and hazed him etc but he kept trying to join.

    Obviously this is only an analogy and I don’t mean to compare any frum society to an organization based on drinking beer and womanizing.

    But the analogy holds for the BTs if not for the society– what would attract someone to want to be part of a society that doesn’t accept them?

    To look at this from a different angle, imagine that you were FFB and therefore YOU would be accepted in a certain community you were looking at moving to, but that you found out that despite all the good characteristics of the community, the community was accurately characterized as not accepting sincere Jews committed to a life of avodas hashem because of sociological differences. Would you want to move there? I wouldn’t unless there were no alternatives.

    Perhaps this is what Judy Resnick is getting at above, suggesting people choose the alternatives, but not all people take her advice.

    Can anyone explain from their own experience why they would (want to) join a community that doesn’t accept them?

  27. Having gelt helps. Having a lot of gelt helps even more. While money isn’t everything, a fat bank account works great wonders for one’s yichus.

    Due to the severe shortage of decent available men, a single male BT who is not afflicted with drinking-disease-drugging and who is a “mensch” will be considered for Shidduchim even with FFB women. Marrying an FFB is almost the ultimate in acceptance.

    Because of our negative cult image, being sensible and down-to-earth helps dispel the crazy or unstable or yippie-hippie stereotypes about BTs and Geirim.

    It also helps for BTs and Gairim to move to communities that are more accepting of us, such as Bayswater, Passaic or Manhattan.

    Having the right attitude toward acceptance and/or rejection is important too. Maintaining a sense of self-worth along with a sense of humor helps a BT or a Gair cope with what sometimes manifests itself as unfair FFB prejudice against us.

    Above all, trust in G-d. Have bitachon. Daven regularly. Pray from the heart. Remember that what is most important is being pleasing to G-d, not the crowd.

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