R’ Dovid Winiarz – An Inspiration to Us All

By now, most of us have heard of the tragic loss of R’ Dovid Winiarz. You pretty much couldn’t be involved in the world of kiruv without having known Dovid. Most of our (Mark and David) interaction with Dovid was peripheral, online and through a phone call or two. But even on that level, you would quickly “get” who Dovid was: A proud but not prideful Jew, strong in his commitment but soft and caring in demeanor, a family man who loved Judaism and loved Jews. A man who saw the potential in every single person, Jew and non-Jew, and had a mission to better himself and help others reach their own potential. A man who not only gave out “Keep Smiling” cards to strangers but generously shared his own brilliant smile with everyone he met.

I (David) vividly remember seeing him at the Siyum Hashas dancing with so much joy that he stood out to me amongst the tens of thousands of attendees. He was in his glory: flanked by family members, young and old, surrounded by Jews of all types and rejoicing in the Torah.

R’ Dovid leaves behind a wife and 10 children. While we cannot take away the pain of this loss, we do have the opportunity to relieve some of the financial burden placed on their shoulders. Please click here to donate. Tizku l’mitzvos.

The Future of Beyond BT

We founded Beyond BT in December 2005, with the goal of helping second stage Baalei Teshuva, those who’ve already made a commitment to a Torah centered life. With the help of our contributors and commentors over the years, we’ve published over 1,800 posts and 29,000 comments on issues of integration and spiritual growth.

Although we’ll still publish occasional articles on understanding the intricacies of the observant community, we’ll be concentrating more on issues of continual Jewish Spiritual Growth, because we think that’s the essence of what being a Jew is all about.

Successful integration into the observant community can only take you so far, and although it’s an admirable goal, it isn’t what Torah Judaism is all about. Judaism is about building a deeper relationship with G-d, your relatives, friends, community and ultimately the entire world. It’s a lifelong, often difficult, unending task, but G-d centered spirituality is the only focus that can unify all Jews and can allow each of us to reach our ultimate purpose and potential.

We’re confident that our existing readership will continue their journey with us, and we’re hopeful that those who were born into Torah Observant families and those who are not Torah Observant will join us to continue to strengthen their spiritual dimension.

The Special Challenges of the Baal Teshuvah Marriage

The Orthodox Union has just released the findings of their Aleinu Marriage Satisfaction Survey conducted online from January 15-March 31, 2009. The full report can be read here and Ezzie has posted the video here.

Amongst the various findings is a section entitled Challenges to Baalei Teshuva. It states: “The survey made clear that baalei teshuva, with their new found religious fervor, face challenges in their marriages. Their stress factors, Dr. Schnall explained, include at-risk children; conflicts regarding education; lack of communication and intimacy; religious differences; finances; and lack of social network. He emphasized that ‘in large samples, even small differences can be statistically significant — in other words, while these findings likely did not occur by chance, the absolute differences between baalei teshuva and others regarding these stressors were not huge. The bottom line is that as rabbis and mental health professionals, or even simply as caring neighbors and friends, we need to show heightened sensitivity to these issues that might especially impact on baalei teshuva.’”

Does anyone find this surprising, enlightening, obvious, off-base, something else?

A Kesiva v’Chasima Tova Thought

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

Rabbi Yosef Albo in the Sefer Ha’Ikarim categorizes the Rambam’s 13 principles of Jewish belief into three:
(1) Hashem created the world
(2) Hashem gave us the Torah
(3) Hashem scrutinizes, punishes and rewards us for our deeds in this world and the next

The Sefer Ha’Ikarim says that on Rosh Hashanah, we strengthen our belief in these three tenets with:
(1) Malchiyos and its proclamation that Hashem is the King and Creator of the world
(2) Zichronos which says that Hashem knows all of our deeds and rewards or punishes accordingly
(3) Shofros and its affirmation of our belief in the Giving of the Torah

However, the primary theme of Rosh Hashanah is Malchiyos, and the focus on Hashem as creator, who created us for a purpose and gives us the tools and circumstances to accomplish our mission. Perhaps it’s a good time to commit ourselves to working on internalizing our intellectual awareness of Hashem through the learning of Mussar or Chassidus. This transformation of intellectual to heartfelt knowledge will help us keep focused on our purpose throughout the days of the year, and specifically when we’re involved in Torah, Tefillah and performing Mitzvos.

A Kesiva v’Chasima Tova to the entire Beyond BT community for making this the warm, supportive, growth oriented place that it is.

A Better Jew, A Better You

It’s a great mitzvah to help any Jew come closer to Hashem. Perhaps we need to focus a little on helping ourselves come closer. If we could consciously and mindfully make a collective effort to become better Jews, perhaps we can have a sizable impact on ourselves and the world around us.

If we take simple, achievable steps that do not require any additional time commitments, we can collectively improve our service and become the better Jews we all want to be.

Here are four simple, practical steps we propose to work on once a week:

1) Think about Hashem – internalize the fact that He created the world with the purpose of us getting closer to Him and committing yourself to that purpose.

2) Improve an Interpersonal Communication – when approaching a friend, relative or stranger, think about how you can learn from that person or how you can do something for, that person. The “doing” can consist of honestly asking how things are going, giving a compliment or offering some piece of helpful information or advice.

3) Do a Mitzvah With Kavanna – When doing a mitzvah (kiddush, Shabbos meal, tefillin, bentching, …), think about the fact that Hashem commanded this mitzvah and that you are fulfilling His command with the action you are performing.

4) Stand Before Hashem When Davening – When starting Shomoneh Esrai, focus on the fact that you are standing before Hashem and praying to Him.

Let’s do this as a group. Anybody can join.

Email us at beyondbt@gmail.com to join the group and receive a twice weekly reminder. We’ll take a look at how we’re doing in a few weeks.

If you like the idea and want to help, please link to this post. Thanks.

We Need You!

In the over 2 years since we’ve started Beyond BT we’ve had hundreds of great posts, thousands of great comments and hundreds of thousands of reads. We want to take this opportunity to thank everybody who visits these pages for helping making this project a success. One of the greatest successes is found in the sharing of our struggles with others in similar situations. It is a comforting feeling knowing that you’re not alone.

One of the issues we face is that many of our contributors only participate for a limited time period, which is fine with us. However, that means we are always looking for fresh voices. So, if you are willing to write something about once a month, please contact us. You can do it anonymously, if you prefer. We usually send out suggested topics every 2 weeks or so, but you can post on whatever topic you want. We also accept guest contributions, so when the spirit strikes, type it up and send it in.

We would also be interested in suggested topics that you would like to see and we’re always looking for a good question of the week. Thanks again and please consider taking your participation to the next level. Our email is beyondbt@gmail.com and we’re hoping to hear from you.

We Need to Be a Little Kinder

A paraphrased comment from out there in the blogosphere:

I’d love to see the perspective of someone like “Esther” at Beyond BT, but I personally would hate to see someone who is more of a moderate be vilified and maligned.

Based on some of the more vocal and vehemently opinionated comments I’ve read on the (otherwise enjoyable and interesting) BBT blog, that is what would likely happen.

Beyond BT Beyond Borders- Melava Malka in Eretz Yisrael

The Beyond BT Melava Malka in Eretz Yisroel is scheduled for THIS MOETZAE SHABBOS,May 26th from 9:00-11:30 in Beit Shemesh at the home of Beyond BT contributor Menachem Lipkin.(I believe his daughter will be there as well, so you can ask all of the questions you want about their letters ;) ) For location details and directions, please e-mail msl at lipkinfamily-dot-com.


Preparations for the Passaic Shabbaton are in full swing. We are trying to get an idea of numbers so if you are planning on joining us on July 20-21, please e-mail us at beyondbt@gmail.com

Good Shabbos.

JIB Awards

Well, the JIB Awards have wrapped up and we’re happy to say that Beyond Teshuva came in Second Place for Best Group Blog. We’d like to thank everyone who voted for us and extend our gratitude to all of you that contribute and comment here on a daily basis. This clearly is a group effort.

We also won the Best Jewish Music Post for Live on the Radio: The Seeds of Teshuva of a Nascent Rock Star. If you haven’t already checked out that post, it’s worthwhile.

JIB Awards and Pirkei Avos

The JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blogger) Award nominations are open. The awards bring an awareness of some of the great Jewish blogs out there. If there are any particular posts you like, you can nominate them for the Best Jewish Religious Post and the Best Torah Post Nominations.

We’re not such big fans of the word Best. Best implies comparison and in general comparisons are not proper from a Torah perspective with some limited exceptions like Kinas Soferim. The job of each Jew is to take their unique heredity, environment and circumstances and get as close to Hashem as possible. Comparisons have no role there except for each of us becoming a better Jew today than we were tomorrow.

The structure of awards are such that comparisons are inherent. In this particular case striving for “Best” will hopefully bring about some good and Beyond BT contributor Akiva is one of the organizers of the Awards and the Awards provide a means for Jews to unite around a common project. So, we’re throwing our hat in the ring and when the time comes we’ll softly encourage you to NOMINATE AND VOTE FOR BEYOND BT, for the good of the Klal of course.

It’s week one for Pirkei Avos and you can download an English translation here (Translation by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld from his commentary at http://torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos). For those who don’t like to download PDFs, here is Chapter One:

Chapter 1
1. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it Joshua. Joshua transmitted it to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise many students, and make a protective fence for the Torah.”
2. “Shimon the Righteous was of the last survivors of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, the world is based upon three things: on Torah, on service [of G-d], and on acts of kindness.”
3. “Antignos of Socho received the transmission from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say, do not be as servants who serve the Master to receive reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the Master not to receive reward. And let the fear of heaven be upon you.”
4. “Yossi ben (son of) Yo’ezer of Ts’raidah and Yossi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the transmission from them. Yossi ben Yo’ezer used to say, let your house be a meeting place for the sages, cleave to the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words.”
5. “Yossi the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be open wide, and let the poor be members of your household, and do not talk excessively with women. This was said regarding one’s own wife, certainly with another’s wife. Based on this the Sages have said, one who talks excessively with women causes evil to himself, wastes time from Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom (Hell).”
6. “Yehoshua the son of Perachia and Nittai of Arbel received the transmission from them (the Rabbis mentioned in Mishna 4). Yehoshua the son of Perachia said, make for yourself a Rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge everyone favorably.”
7. “Nittai of Arbel said, distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not befriend a wicked person, and do not despair of punishment.”
8. “Yehuda the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shatach received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 6). Yehuda the son of Tabbai said, do not act as an adviser to judges. When the litigants are standing before you they should be in your eyes as guilty. When they are dismissed from before you they should be in your eyes as innocent, provided they have accepted the judgment.”
9. “Shimon the son of Shatach said, examine witnesses thoroughly, and be careful with your words, lest through them they learn to lie.”
10. “Shemaya and Avtalyon received the tradition from them (the scholars mentioned in mishna 8). Shemaya said, love work, despise high position, and do not become too close to the authorities.”
11. “Avtalyon said: ‘Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. The students who come after you will drink of these waters and die and God’s Name will be desecrated.’ “
12. “Hillel and Shammai received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 10). Hillel said, be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.”
13. “He (Hillel) used to say, one who seeks a name loses his name, one who does not increase decreases, one who does not learn deserves death, and one who makes use of the crown [of Torah] will pass away.”
14. “He (Hillel) used to say, if I am not for me who is for me, if I am for myself what am I, and if not now when.”
15. “Shammai said, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.”
16. “Rabban Gamliel said, make for yourself a Rabbi, remove yourself from doubt, and do not give extra tithes due to estimation.”
17. “Shimon his [Rabban Gamliel’s] son said, all my life I have been raised among the Sages, and I have not found anything better for oneself than silence. Study is not the main thing but action. All who talk excessively bring about sin.”
18. “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel said, on three things does the world endure – justice, truth and peace, as the verse says (Zechariah 8:16), ‘Truth and judgments of peace judge in your gates.’ ”

Pre-Pesach Links and Have A Chag Kosher V’Someach

We want to take this opportunity to wish all our readers, commentors and contributors a Chag Kosher V’Someach. May we all continue to grow together and through our efforts help bring about the final redemption.

Here is a special link to all of the Beyond BT Pesach Posts from this year as well as last year. It includes the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder, practical advice and divrei torah.

Aish has an audio post of traditional hagaddah tunes. If you have little ones around the house, Aish also has Haggadah Coloring Pages and Ten Plagues Coloring Pages that will keep them busy during Sunday and Monday’s Pre-Pesach crunch time.

Rabbi Noson Weisz has a great article which shows us how to free ourselves from the limitations of physical reality (emes) and tap in to the deeper reality of sprituality (emuna).

YU Torah has a great Pesach package called Pesach To Go which includes some great Dvrei Torah and some great seder nights games for the kinderlach. And here’s the Pesach to Go from 5766.

Check out the Absolut Haggadah, a refreshing blend of humor and commentary trying to uncover the pshat (basic meaning) of the Haggadah.

Pesach is Z’man Cheiruseinu, the time of our redemption. Unfortunately, several Israeli soldiers remain captive. The OU is sponsoring a worldwide learning initiative in their merit, you can find out more and sign up here.

How was your Relationship with Your Parents in the Beginning

A journalist is writing an article on relationships between fairly new observant individuals and their parents. The writer is looking to conduct fairly quick interviews with people who are going through, or have recently gone through, the initial phase of becoming observant. Please email us if you are willing to help with a short interview and we will pass your information on to the writer.

While we’re on the subject, how was your relationship with your parents when you first started becoming observant?
Was it strained because you made mistakes?
How understanding were your parents?
What would you definitely do differently?
Where do you think you did a good job of maintaining good relationships?

Share your experiences by dripping a note in the comments.

WordPress Is Good To BTs

Last week we upgraded to a new version of our WordPress software. Our hosting provider Dreamhost has this great feature called one click installs which enabled us to do the upgrade by pressing a button and waiting about a minute. It worked like a charm, B’ezras Hashem.

One of the major advantage of the new software is its new spam filter Akismet. It seems to be working incrediblt, bli ayin hara, catching over 1300 spam comments in five days (and that included a slow national holiday ). At the same time, it is letting through most of the real comments. We are still looking through what it flags as spam, but we might stop that at some point. So if your comment ever disappears into cyberspace and it’s not in moderation, please email us so we can try to de-spam it.
Wordpress is among the best blogging software products on the market and it’s free. It is part of a software trend called Open Source Software. We are thankful to WordPress, Akismet and their founding developer Matt Mullenweg for providing us with these great tools to help build our Beyond BT community.

Thanks to Matt, WordPress and DreamHost.

Why Do Comment Spammers Hate BTs

As the blog has grown in popularity over the past six months or so, the comment spammers have taken notice. For those of you that are unaware, comments spammers flood blog comment sections in the hopes that you’ll click on their link and improve their Google page ranking.

In order to keep the overwhelming majority of this spam from actually hitting the blog for public consumption, we employ a fairly strong filtering mechanism. On a given day, we filter and delete literally hundreds of spam comments.

Unfortunately, the filter will catch many, many non-spam comments as well. When this happens, the comment will most likely be placed in a moderation queue and will be approved and posted within the hour (yes, we have no lives).

Recently we had certain words cause a comment or two to disappear into the vast infinity of hyperspace, never to be heard from again and some of you emailed us. We’ve removed those triggers, so the worst that will happen to your comment is that it will go into moderation.

We are investigating other means of addressing the spam problem. In the meantime, if your comment does not appear immediately, please be assured that we are not moderating comments and we have not “banned” you from commenting. In life, striking the balance between keeping out the “bad” while letting in the “good” is no simple task. The same goes for filtering out the spam while allowing your comments to be freely posted. Bear with us and, please, keep on commenting!

Beyond BT Melava Malka

It was a very nice event. We had about 35 people mostly from Kew Gardens Hills, with Gil Student and Rabbi and Mrs Dovid Schwartz coming in from Brooklyn. Ezzie Goldish was there as well as Beyond BT contributors Steve Brizel, David Kirschner, Marty Fleisher and other Beyond BT readers and commentors whose anonymity we’ll respect.

The inspiration and entertainment was provided by Gedalia from Monsey who described his journey from a traditional Jewish upbringing through a period as a lyricist and musicial performer in clubs in Greenwich Village such as the Bottom Line. A trip to Poland and subsequently to Israel was the beginning of Gedalia’s awakening. He chose the path of immersion in Torah study and has been learning for approximately 10 years, currently in a Kollel in Monsey.

Gedalia interspersed his story with songs that he had chosen from the over 100 that he has written in his life. Gedalia explained that learning Torah now fills the place that songwriting previously occupied, but he enjoys very much performing and giving chizuk to his audiences. Toward the end of the show he answered questions from the audience. He pointed out that BTs and FFBs have the same obligation to learn and do mitzvos. The only difference being the starting point but every Jew, BTs and FFBs alike, have things that they have to work on.

The menu of pizza and ice cream sundaes seemed to satisfy and there was plenty of good conversation both before and after the show. Thanks to everybody who came out to celebrate Beyond BT’s one year anniversary.

Please RSVP for the Beyond BT Melava Malka

The Melava Malka is one week away on December 2nd at 8:00 PM and it would be great if all those planning to attend would RSVP to let us know you’re coming.

The location is Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, 147-03 73rd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills . The cost is $5 per person and we’re serving Pizza and Ice Cream. Some people are afraid of coming to Queens and getting lost, but this address is really easy: just take the Grand Central or the Van Wyck to Jewel Avenue eastbound to Main Street (or take the LIE to Main Street). Once you’re on Main Street go to 73rd Avenue and make a left, and go one long block to CAY. That’s just one turn off of Main Street!

The inspiration and entertainment will be a show entitled “Searching for Meaning – A BTs Spiritual Journey in Music and Monologue”, performed by a new friend whom Rabbi Lam introduced to us.

Please RSVP either in the comments or by email at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Here are two pictures from the Melava Malka after the Shabbaton:

A Cheshbon Hanefesh at Beyond BT

With Rosh Hoshana just around the corner, it behooves us to review our actions to determine which ones we are happy with and which ones we would like to improve upon. The same holds true for Beyond BT.

A few of the things we are happy with are:

1. With rare exception, the civil tone of the blog;
2. The variety of points of view being presented in both the posts and the comments;
3. The new friends and connections that have been made online and off;
4. The way the blog has been able to raise and present issues affecting BTs and the broader Jewish community;
5. That many people have told us that the blog has helped them with BT and growth related issues and has filled a void.

Some of the things, we would like to improve upon are:

1. Increasing the number of contributors to the blog; (If you are interested, please contact us at beyondbt@gmail.com)
2. Gaining more support and assistance for offline events like Melave Malkes and Shabbatons;
3. Increasing the awareness of the site to all who might benefit or be able to contribute;
4. Expanding the tent of Torah so more people will feel accepted and supported on their growth path;
5. Increasing the awareness that the site is not a monolithic, one size fits all approach;

We want to thank all those who read, comment and contribute to the site and we wish you all a Kesiva V’Chasima Tova.

Kiruv Training Seminar in Kew Gardens Hills on September 10 – 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Kiruv Training Seminar in Kew Gardens Hills

September 10, 2006 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Seminar in Outreach Techniques presented by experienced leaders of Aish HaTorah and the Orthodox Union.

Have you always wanted to share in the vital mitzvah of Kiruv? (…but thought it took too much time, or a different skill set)

Are you involved in Kiruv and would like to hone your skills?

Want to add a new aspect to your spirituality for the Yamim Ha-Noraim?

Looking for cutting edge tools to share with fellow Jews?

THEN… make sure to be at a Seminar in Outreach Techniques presented by experienced leaders of Aish HaTorah and the Orthodox Union. You will have the opportunity to form an ongoing group of caring outreach friends in your area.

Join us at Congregation Etz Chaim on Sunday 9/10/06 following 7:00 PM Mincha/Maariv.

For more information contact: Stewart Weinberg or Barry Gavarin