I live in a fairly black hat community and it seems to me that many BTs make great efforts to hide the fact that they are BTs. There are people here who are BTs for 5-10 years, who learned for less than 2 years full time in Yeshiva, who don’t even consider themselves BTs anymore.
One person told me that many people hold that being a BT is a negative, although few will tell you that to your face or say it publicly. Being known as a BT effects how people view you, shidduchim, and jobs in certain community organizations, so he feels it makes sense to hide the fact that you are a BT, whenever possible.
My problem is that I think that living this type of charade will cause problems for me and my family in the future. It seems like we are denying a reality instead of dealing properly with it. I didn’t choose to be born into a non-observant family and I feel that the strides I’ve made are significant and I continue to work on my Yiddishkeit. So tell me again why we should hide or deny the fact that we’re BTs?
Originally Published July, 2007.
From the comments:
Iâ€™ve never felt that I had to hide my background, but Iâ€™ve chosen to do so on several occasions. Mostly for four reasons.
1) (especially when I had been religious for less than 2/3 years) Itâ€™s nice to â€œpass.â€ It takes a lot of effort to get to the point where you are knowledgeable enough and comfortable enough with Jewish life that those who grew up in religious homes canâ€™t tell that you didnâ€™t. I liked the feeling I got when some girl from seminary who Iâ€™d known for months would say, â€œOh, your family isnâ€™t religious? I didnâ€™t know!â€
2) I donâ€™t want to deal with stereotypes. I donâ€™t know if the people Iâ€™m meeting have BT stereotypes, or if they think of being a BT as a positive or negative thing. But either way, I donâ€™t want that one part of my history to influence their opinion of me. This is especially strong when I first meet people. In fact, now I have a pattern of telling people a bit of my story after Iâ€™ve known them for a little while, and then the full story comes out after a few months.
To be honest, sometimes itâ€™s more annoying when people are overly positive than slightly negative. I donâ€™t like being told â€œOh, BTs are so inspiring, you gave up so much, blah blah blahâ€ when Iâ€™m feeling like an uninspired slacker. Also, I donâ€™t feel like I gave up very much to get to where I am, because I wanted so badly to be here that all the other stuff didnâ€™t really matter. So I donâ€™t feel that I deserve the praise.
3) Iâ€™m afraid that people will take my opinions less seriously. As in â€œoh, youâ€™re a newcomer, what do you know,â€ etc. I have never once encountered this attitude, but my fear of it is still there. I think a lot of BTs who hide their identities do so mostly do to their own fears and not actually FFB attitudes.
4) Ultimately I donâ€™t think it matters very much. So many of my friends who were raised in religious households werenâ€™t really religious until they were in their late teens/early 20s. They might use terms like â€œraised religiousâ€ or â€œFFB,â€ but until a certain period in life they were just going with the flow (and then at some point fully accepted Hashem/Torah). Others were seriously introspective and spiritual even as kids, but had a period where their hashkafa grew apart from that of their parents. Weâ€™re all pretty much in the same place now. So I donâ€™t see how telling someone â€œIâ€™m a BTâ€ will give them useful knowledge. It will eventually come out in anecdotes/ when they meet my family/ etc if weâ€™re close, but I feel no need to mention it if the subject doesnâ€™t come up.
From the comments:
This is a wonderful post and Iâ€™m thankful to all who have commented thus far. Integration into a frum community is not an easy process. After all, weâ€™re not talking about our first day on campus at college here. For us, â€œOrientationâ€ is an ongoing process that for some continues for years or even decades,
depending on what stage in life we are when we become BTâ€™s.
My wife and I became BTâ€™s in our mid 30â€™s, so we did not have the opportunity to develop over
our younger years like most BTâ€™s that we know. No time studying in Ohr Someach or Aish, etc. during our college years, when most of our BT friends began their BT journeyâ€™s. No, for us it was a quicker decision both for ourselves and our children (6 and 3 at the time). We were in an â€œout-of-townâ€ community with a small shul that had maybe 3 Shomer Shabbos members and the rest of them either non-committed but enjoying the shul. We knew that we needed to move away, because the community presented conflicting values and observances that would confuse our children. For us personally, the â€œModernâ€ communities presented an outlook (both outward and otherwise) too similar to the secular lifestyle that we were trying to move away from. We wanted a frumkeit that was so clearly different than the secular life we left, that our children would grow up to feel â€œuncomfortableâ€ with an outlook that shared the fashion and open-door philosophy we found to proliferate in these communities. After consulting with our Rav and a few good friends, we chose a large and diverse frum community that is essentially black hat, (although their are all sorts of those, and streimlach-a-plenty). Yes, it was a bold move indeed.
We have been here for 7 years now, and as expected, we have found many, many other BTâ€™s here. BTâ€™s seem to gravitate to each other somehow. It has been a great comfort to us that this is the way of things. We can talk and share our experiences together and help each other along the way. We have all experienced the â€œcold shoulderâ€ from FFBâ€™s who have no clue about what it is like for us, and we donâ€™t blame them personally. They simply have lived such cloistered lives, that they donâ€™t know what to think of folks like us. But for the most part, we have had positive experiences here. I would have to say that even though our children have adapted well, I expect that they will some day likely marry into other BT families. I would be pleased if they married into FFB families as well, but I think that people generally will be attracted to others whose families are similar to their own. There are exceptions of course, but I think it will take more than one generation for our family to more completely meld into the community that weâ€™ve chosen. We do not hide our BT status, and do our best to show our brothers and sisters who are FFB, that we have come a long way to be here (a lot longer trip than driving from Flatbush). Some donâ€™t feel comfortable with that, and others are most welcoming and encouraging. Upwards and onwardsâ€¦