Can BTs Influence a More Positive Frum Culture?

A BT in the discovery phase is full of excitement, growth-orientation and optimism. However in the integration and Beyond BT phases the energy and continual improvement start to fade.

Perhaps the initial enthusiasm was unwarranted.
Or perhaps the community causes BTs to gravitate towards the norm of a status quo Judaism.

1) How have you been able to reignite the enthusiasm and optimism?

2) How can BTs bring a lasting positive influence to the Frum community?

13 comments on “Can BTs Influence a More Positive Frum Culture?

  1. It’s a lot to ask just to get “becoming” frum “right.” Changing the whole frum world — even a little bit — is not a realistic goal. I think most of the comments in this thread reflect both of these points.

  2. I think that BT’s for the most part accepted yiddishkeit as a personal and intellectual commitment, and not because of a need to conform to familial and cultural expectations (in fact, we often do it at great cost to our relationships with family and friends). An FFB friend said that in order to grow as a yid, we all need to analyze our motivations and drives in serving Hashem, and consistently re-analyzing them as we go through the years so that you are motivated by your inner convictions and not because you worry about what the neighbors will say.

  3. WADR, I wonder which Baalei Teshuvah are deemed to be “successful” and which are not.

    If a Baalas-Teshuvah winds up divorced (not through her own fault) and with a special-needs child, facing poverty because she can’t work due to caregiving, is she unsuccessful?

    Or are we sort of taking a “mountain climbing” approach here (apologies to Malky Feig for borrowing her term) and showing how baalei-teshuva get past life’s big and little obstacles?

    Sort of sounds like Pirkei Avos. Showcase stories of BTs who are rich (satisfied with their lot), strong (overcame their natures), and wise (foresaw consequences).

  4. The term that is used by Rav Woble zt’l is “Bnai Aliyah”. When I first heard it, it thought it somewhat elitist, but it makes sense. We want to be person that grows upward.

  5. I’m coming around to the view that “frum” is not the best descriptor of whate we aspire to be, but I don’t have a handy substitute yet. Whatever it is, inwardness has to be a big part of it.

  6. I didn’t read the article, Steve, but this is a topic that has seen much traffic on beyondbt (for good reason).

    I think we need to separate influencing the community and being invovled in the community.

    I think by involvement and building friendships, the result, by default, is potential influence.
    Some people, who claim that the community doesn’t accept them are those, who often, are not involved with the community beyond their own gravitational pull.

    If I become frum and stay within that circle, then I will never feel accepted outside of that circle.

  7. I think that R Y Feigenbaum’s article in the most recent issue of Khal is must reading on this issue. Look at it this way-every BT has to make very significant decisions in his or her life with respect to becoming a Shomer Torah Umitzvos. Once a BT makes those decisions, many of the everyday acts of life in a Torah observant community with respect to child rearing, education, etc, are all too close to spoon feeding a way of life in which the daily challenge is not to lose one’s enthusiasm, while appearing “normal” in a community, regardless of the hashkafic label, where all too often, many FFBs gone to the same pre school, elementary and high schools, yeshivas/seminaries and day and sleepaway camps. One can best achieve integration by finding mentors and friends, as well as being part of a community that is tolerant of BTs as an asset thereto.

  8. Neil Harris’s suggestions re communal involvement are excellent. One need only look at the OU Board of Directors to see how many NCSY alumni are officers and members.

  9. Two particularly effective means of keeping the enthusiasm are reading about other BTs and their struggles and success stories, and being willing to consider alternate hashkafic approaches besides the one that appeals to you the most.

  10. Let me suggest that BTs should consider the following in dealing with the above difficult questions:

    1) The old adage of “different strokes for different folks”, or realizing that within the Mesorah there are varied and equally legitimate hashkafic approaches is of critical importance enhancing one’s Avodas HaShem. I think that the notion of Hashkafic rigidity that suggests a one size fits all type of catechism is particularly inappropriate for BTs.

    2)BTs should have the self confidence that just being themselves and inspiring the FFB world that there are Jewish men and women who have found their homes within the Torah world , they are helping the FFB world to understand and comprehend the inner dynamics of Teshuvah which aims at enabling a person to transform their past, as opposed to viewing Teshuvah as a nice topic for drashos and stories. That being said, I would hope that integration is not understood in the context of BTs as meaning that a BT should blindly and uncritically ape the mannerisms of the FFB world which sometimes are confused with being a Ben or Bas Torah.

  11. Great post and the second question has been on my mind for a while.

    1) How have you been able to reignite the enthusiasm and optimism?

    As each of us are different, there isn’t one exact way that works for everyone. I wax and wane, just as most people (even if they don’t admit it) and try to bridge the gap between rote observance and inspiration. Now, putting on my “former full-time kiruv person” and also my “been observant since age 16 in 1987” hats…the trick, well it’s more of a lifeline, is to find something in Yiddishkeit that you love. For me, it was always the sensitivity to peole, the ethic, and Mussar. That’s where I find my growth and chizuk. For others, it’s a blatt of gemara, doing chessed for others, or the nuances of Halacha. There as to be something that initially pulled you torwards observance. Reach back, remember, and find it.

    2) How can BTs bring a lasting positive influence to the Frum community?

    A Rav I am close with recently said that the feeling of being alone and detached from Hashem is the biggest threat facing our generation. The lack of connection is something that we see in the popular use of social media (of which I indulge in) and connection via the web (which anyone who is reading this is also doing). If you want to have a “positive influence in the Frum community” then you simply have to get involved. Volunteer with a chessed organization or ask your shul president how you can assist the shul. If you have kids, try to get on a committee or offer to help the school in any way.

    The, now famous, Pelcovitz-Kahn BT study sited that one of the issues of children raised in BT homes is that they feel a lack of connection with the greater community. As a person who moved to Chicago 6 years ago, even though I have davened in pretty much the same address for most of that time, it is only in the past 9 months that I have felt comfortable enough (aside from volunteering for a chessed org) to really approach my shul and our day school to attempt to get more involved. It was wrong that I waited so long, because once I offered, people were very appreciative.

    As I tell my kids, if you don’t make arrangements for play dates, they the odds are that you’ll be haning out with your parents on Shabbos. We each have to step out and get invovled with people in our communities…by having a presence and making friends with others we can attempt to deal with the question above.

    I might have shared the link to this discusion before, but what Moishe Bane has to say in the mp3 is very relevant.

  12. It’s tricky to become recognized as an insider while retaining the fresh perspective of an outsider. Some communities are more open to new members and ideas than others.

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