Accepting Who You Are

By Elisheva Rabinowitz

Eight years ago, *Sara, a 30 year old woman, became a Baal Teshuvah (BT). She came into my office because she was still struggling with issues of feeling “less than” her neighbors. Her neighbor, Rivki, always looked put-together, with the latest shaitel and clothes from NY. Even though she had 12 children, her house was spotless, and her neat and clean children were (seemed) always well-behaved. Sara pined to look, act and be like Rivki. She asked, “How can she do always be put together, but at my house there are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink and everything doesn’t look “perfect”.

Sara is not alone in her struggles to fit in and be accepted by her peers. Many BTs desire to “fit-in” and be liked by others which can make the transition from a secular Jew to a BT a challenging one. How can Sara fit in, or does she need to? How can Sara learn to accept herself? How can Sara learn that it’s not emotionally healthy to compare herself to Rivki or anyone else? These questions are important to address, and as a licensed counselor, I try to help my clients find a place for themselves in the Frum world, and more importantly, a loving place within themselves.

The reason that it is important to learn ways to accept yourself is because HaShem wants you to focus on YOUR ROLE in Olam Hazeh (this world). When you focus on your role and yourself, then you will free yourself up to be closer to HaShem, have more time to fulfill your role and improve the rest of your life; instead of chasing the “Life would be easier if I was a FFB”; “If I could only be put together like____”; or “If we only knew all the mitzvot of shabbos automatically then life would be easier”.

I would like to make some simple suggestions on how to address this issue of accepting who you are (though you may need to address this issue on a deeper level):

1.Understanding Your Strengths-Who are you?
I want my clients to focus on and understand their strengths, so I ask them, “What makes you unique and special?”
If you are having some difficulty thinking of what makes you-you then here’s some suggestions
(Please use this list as a starting place, but not as a limitation):
Gentle,Prepared,Loving,Imaginative,Alert,A good listener

If the list above does not help you think of your positive attributes, then you might want to ask yourself, “If a friend was describing me, she would say I am _________.”

After you have thought of 3-5 words that describe you, then I encourage you to repeat those words to yourself to reinforce your strengths and talents. Sometimes people tell me that they feel “stupid” saying, “I am a _____ (positive attribute) person” because they don’t see the benefit of the activity. One client asked, “How will saying these statements make me feel better?”. The bottom line is that you need to believe in your inner worth; therefore, when you tell yourself positive messages you boost yourself self-esteem. Also, it is important to always remember you are Tzelem Elokim, made in G-d’s image, He loves you and you have many fine qualities. This exercise is meant to develop your awareness of your strengths, not to cause haughtiness. Your goal is to strengthen your image of yourself, but you should be cautious not to inflate or deflate your positive qualities.

2. Be Patient and Loving with Yourself
Sometimes BTs (generally speaking) can be so busy and focused on everyone else that they forget that HaShem loves them. For example, I’ve heard people make the following statements:

1. *Avi learns ___ blatt of Gemara a day and I only learned____;
2. I can’t juggle 3 carpools, but Sara has 5 carpools; or
3. I don’t know how to “speak the lingo”

These types of statements may make you feel “less than”, embarrassed, or angry, but you have many successes, and you continue to learn more things. BTs need to be reminded that He sees how much they’ve changed and how many steps they’ve taken to grow closer to Him. He loves them and He wants them to love themselves. I want to clarify that the above statements don’t mean that they are finished growing and learning, but BTs need to focus on their true abilities, strengths and their path of Teshuvah.

Recently, I made a recommendation to my client-be patient and loving with yourself and focus on your accomplishments. Certainly, my statement is easier said then done, but each step we take toward this goal the more emotionally healthier we become. A Frum from birth woman recently told me, “I don’t know if I grew up in the secular world, I would decide to become frum-it seems so hard”. She could not understand how someone could decide to change so many aspects of his/her life.

If you stop and think about it, you have made so many changes, such as where you eat, how you eat, how you spend your time, how you carry on a conversation… and that’s just the beginning. Therefore, I recommend you making a list of all the things you have changed-improvements you’ve made in your life (even if it was 10 years ago). Then, “pat yourself on the back” for each step you have taken and the many more steps that you will take. It may feel strange to “pat yourself on the back”, but through recognition that we are trying to integrate into a life that FFB have been familiar with all their lives can be challenging and a test. Therefore, take a moment and review all the steps you’ve taken, thank HaShem for lifting you up and carrying you toward Him.

On a daily basis, BTs need to navigate a sea of issues that can be challenging and impair their sense of well-being. Below is a short list of items that you may have experienced and some reactions (in parenthesis) I’ve heard about :
1. Dating (You met him when and now you’re getting married. Don’t you think you should date for a couple of years to make sure “He’s Mr. Right”.)
2.Shalom bayis (I thought 2 people get married and hope not to get divorced);
3. Having children (What is a pidyon haben?; Do you plan on having more kids?);
4. Pesach cleaning (What is that? How long does that take?);
5. Tisha B’Av (When is that? What is that? “Oh, it’s in the summer when we were on vacation, so we never paid attention to that day”);
6. Make Bar/Bas Mitzvahs (How will we explain to our families the difference between Frum Bas Mitzvah and what I had);
7. Kosher (What do you mean you can’t eat my cooking anymore); and
8. Sending our children off for Seminary or Bais Medrash (Your family asks, “Your sending your kids where and they are going to do what?” and then they add, “Don’t plan on staying there.”).
Therefore, a BT will be more able to address challenges more easily with a positive and strong sense of him or herself.

As Sara focused on what made her special and all of her accomplishments, she was able to focus less on everyone else’s perfect home (which in reality is only in fairy tale books). She learned to think positive about herself and others, and see HaShem’s loving kindness in her daily life. We have no guarantees in life, so live life to the fullest today!
*Name and information changed for privacy

For some BTs, these issues may be easy to handle, but other issues may be more challenging, such as how to handle family issues that arise or pressures of being a BT women or how to resolve issues from “my past”. If speaking to someone who is sensitive to the needs of the BT would be helpful, please feel free to contact me, Elisheva Rabinowitz at 410-736-8118.

Elisheva Rabinowitz received her MA in Clinical Psychology, and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). In her private practice, she works with adults and children who experienced traumatic events in their life, such as a death of a parent or abuse. In addition, she is sensitive to the needs of the Baalei Teshuvah. She has spoken for Chana, Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women, on the topic of domestic violence. Also, she has spoken for N’Shei Agudath about wellness and stress and anger. Currently, she in the owner of “BalancedBodies4Women” and specializes in: Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (abuse, stress and anger management, grief and loss issues), stress and anger issues and eating issues, such as emotional overeating. She is a member of Nefesh: The International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals and American Counseling Association (ACA). She counsels clients pro bono for The Shofar Coalition.

In addition, Elisheva Rabinowitz holds several wellness certifications, such as Personal Trainer and Group Exercise (such as Pilates and Yoga). She helps her clients obtain a healthy and fit body, prevent serious illness, reduce stress levels, and increase their energy. In addition, she helps them overcome roadblocks and become accountable for their actions, making wellness part of their lifestyle, not just for a week, a month, or a year, but for a lifetime.

Elisheva Rabinowitz can be reached at 410-736-8118 or or

13 comments on “Accepting Who You Are

  1. To Mr. Cohen #7: Remember what the Gadol HaDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, said: “We should only love the biggest tzaddik as much as HKBH loves the worst sinner.”

    Of course G-d loves you. Didn’t He give you the marvelous gift 25 years ago of returning to frumkeit? We Baalei-Teshuva have tangible proof of G-d’s Love every single day of our newly frum lives!

    As far as answering prayers, I submit the wise words of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis: “G-d is not a waiter to whom we can deliver orders.”

    Rebbetzin Jungreis’ wonderful husband, the tzaddik gomur Rabbi Meshullem Jungreis, died a painful death from stomach cancer sixteen years ago. This is despite the hundreds of fervent prayers that were sent Heavenward for his recovery.

    G-d does answer prayers, but sometimes the answer is “No.”

    In the meantime, remember the words of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, zatzal, the Tzaddik of Jerusalem. A widow cried to him, “So what happened to all of the tears and prayers for my dear husband as he lay dying? Were they all for nothing?”

    Rabbi Levin replied gently, “You don’t know how many evil decrees against the Jewish people were torn up simply due to your sincere tears and prayers.”

    Mr. Cohen, maybe it is in YOUR MERIT (and YOUR MERIT ONLY), due to YOUR SINCERE AND HEARTFELT PRAYERS ONLY, that Ahmadinejad’s wicked plans to exterminate the nation of Israel have come to naught.

    You are a VERY IMPORTANT PERSON to G-d, and never forget that!

    After 120 years, G-d Himself will show you exactly how many evil plans against Jews were annulled just because of your prayers. Just in your merit of coming first to minyan.

    So please keep those prayers coming. We all desperately need you!

  2. I also didn’t make it onto that list, Mr. Cohen. I have the whole list if you want to contact me offline.

    Mr. Cohen, I think Scott’s formulation about “life altering” is accurate, but could be just as easily turned on its head: Your hashkofa kink is severely, and unjustifably, killing you spiritually, and God-forbid maybe worse. You describe yourself essentially as a prisoner of frumkeit. How this can happen is not hard to understand, but you need to get out of that hole. If you think I can help you by chatting offline — no, not for that “list” — I’d be happy to do so, but based on past comments I’m not sure I am the one.

    Someone should, however. With all due respect, your misunderstanding of Jewish sensibility is so far off that I think even an amateur such as myself could be helpful; surely a truly qualified person could, as Scott says, do you wonders.

  3. To Mr. Cohen #7: Take a look at the list of people whom Chazal tell us never committed a sin in their entire lives: Amram (father of Moses); Yishai (father of David); and Kilav (one of the sons of David).

    Now take a look at some of the people who DIDN’T make it onto that list: Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon Ha-Cohen, Dovid HaMelech, Shlomo Ha-Melech, all three Avos: Avrohom, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; and Yosef Ha-Tzaddik. In short, none of the Seven Ushpizin, none of the Neviim, none of the greatest people of the Jewish nation, made it onto the list of People Who Never Sinned in Their Lives.

    Do you understand what Chazal is trying to tell us? There is nobody who doesn’t sin. That’s why G-d created Teshuva and Yom Kippur. Worry about accomplishing something with your life. Teshuva (generally) erases the aveiros we’ve done; but what about the mitzvos we haven’t done?

    And last but not least, how about the story of King Hezekiah. He didn’t marry because of the prophecy that evil offspring would come from him. G-d rebuked him for that. It’s a positive mitzvah for every Jewish man to get married to a Jewish woman and raise Jewish children. Pru Urvu.

  4. “I have been a Baal Teshuvah for around 25 years, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that HaShem loves me.”

    Um…I’ll be straightforward, sir. You have a major kink in your haskafa which would be life-altering if you learn to understand the truth.

    The key to this is to listen to about 1000 Rav Miller tapes, one per day (and really think about them), and to think everyday of very specific things…even just one…of which you are very fortunate to currently have in your life (eg. you are able to afford the new shoes you just bought, or you drove around safely when getting your erands done), and understand that there are NO guarentees in life about anything. And then every Shaboos say the tefillah of “Nishmas” slowly with lots of kavana and even make a tune for it (I did).

    Do these things even if your not convinced, and over time, you will change, your life will change, you will find the truth, and see how much you were missing.

    And the divrei Torah you produce will also be enhanced.

  5. Mr. Cohen,

    At the very least, HaShem loves you because you’re a Jew. This is not altered by anyone else’s warped ideas.

  6. I do think Ms. Rabinowitz is correct in encouraging clients not to compare themselves to others. The client in the first paragraph who is concerned about looking “put together” is also worried about having dishes in the sink and toys on the floor. If these were religious prohibitions, 99% of us would have a lot more tshuva to do on Yom Kippur!

  7. I have been a Baal Teshuvah for around 25 years, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that HaShem loves me.

    The impression that I get from the Yeshivah world and the so-called “Frum Olam” is that HaShem only loves super-tzaddikim who have never committed a sin in their entire lives, not even on the thought level, and who also do every mitzvah perfectly all the time, with all the halachot, all the kavanot, all the hidurim and all the chumrot.

    Furthermore, even if G_d forgives our sins, the so-called “Frum Olam” never allows us to forget our secular upbringing and our non-religious parents.

    And despite the laws of Shmirat HaLashon and the very praiseworthy efforts of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, the Frum Rumor Network (pardon the oxymoron) does an amazing job of publicizing mistakes that Jews made decades ago, so our sins may be forgiven, but they are never forgotten.

    Last, but certainly not least, when I see my prayers not being answered even when I am the first person in shul for minyan (not merely one of the first ten), I find it extremely difficult to believe that HaShem loves me.

  8. Mark, I don’t know. Most people can manage to dress appropriately with a small effort, if dressing appropriately means being neat and covered up properly. While they may have been unfamiliar with religious rituals, most BTs managed to get dressed in the morning, and were able to consider their surroundings in doing so, before becoming frum. I think the double mention of yearning to look “put together” is odd and represents the desire to achieve a certain stylish look that many FFBs cultivate.

    An urge to be stylish is not wrong, in itself, but it shouldn’t be confused with the desire to serve God and to sincerely perform mitzvos.

  9. Appropriate dress varies a lot from community to community. The new BT should become aware of local mores as well as general Orthodox ones. This does not mean to try to imitate the wealthy when you’re not wealthy.

  10. Tesyaa, I think Elisheva would agree that looking stylish is hardly a religious imperative.

    Perhaps the term “put together” has different meanings depending on where you live, I took it as meaning appropriately dressed.

  11. “Life would be easier if I was a FFB”; “If I could only be put together like____”; or “If we only knew all the mitzvot of shabbos automatically then life would be easier”.

    I understand the desire for greater religious knowledge and spirituality, but I don’t know why being “put together” was mentioned twice near the beginning of the article. Certainly, it’s appropriate to wear clean, modest clothes that fit properly, but looking stylish (which is so often what people mean when they say “put together”) is hardly a religious imperative.

  12. I would say also to hold on being called your english name for a while as opposed to constantly use your ‘new’ hebrew name (even if it’s not new.) But in the case of Sara, it may not apply anyway.

    I also say you should imagine yourself in at a high school reunion. Think of your classmates, and what they might be doing now…chasing the ways of the secular world, as opposed to you who have discovered a more truthful way of life. If you really have an urge to compare yourself, think of them. And if any are Jewish, feel bad for them, and have a desire to want to share with them your ‘new found riches’, even if practically you can’t.

  13. Is there a list of practitioners who, like this one, are available to counsel BT’s? By now, there should be many such people. The BT should carefully evaluate the background and bona fides of any such practitioner ahead of time.

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