Kiruv for the Already Frum

Too often, after a BT has joined the ranks of the observant, he/she is left to work out major life challenges without an adequate support system. FFBs forget that a BT doesn’t come from a family background with frum values, and may need a surrogate family (maybe just one family, but more often in the form of a supportive community structure) for guidance and Chizuk.

Particular attention should be paid to those BTs who are, or may feel, marginalized: singles (especially older singles, and especially those with children); those who become BTs in mid-life or beyond; those who are married but whose spouses aren’t making the Teshuva journey with them. Older singles are particularly at risk for not finding the support they need and, as a result, giving up observance. That happened to me, and I still remember the pain. Thank G-d that after I remarried outside the frum community, we ended up in the orbit of the wonderful community where we are today, but not everyone is so fortunate.

Should a Single Observant Woman in Her 30s Consider a Non Observant Spouse?

Last week, Rachel, a columnist in the Jewish Press (Chronicles of Crises in Our Communities), published a letter from an older single in which she is considering marry a not yet observant spouse. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Recently I started dating someone who is considering becoming religious, to conduct a Torah household when he is married; however, not at this point in time. This is someone I truly like and can see myself with. He is kind, generous, smart, funny, honest, serious and mature. What do I do? He is not the type of person that comes around often. I am not oblivious to the consequences when children are in the picture; education and lifestyle need to be considered. I would like to raise them in a similar fashion to my upbringing, but I know that I will have to take a chance with their religious education.

I have finally met someone whom I can relate to and admire and can live with what more can I consider right now? I am aware that it is usually the more religious minded partner in a relationship who will end up changing, rather than the “left”-minded one. I just have to make a decision – knowing that there is the realistic probability that I may not have Shabbos Zemiros or Torah conversations at the table. Perhaps I will need to compromise more on the actual halachos than the Spirit of the law.

I am taking the risks quite seriously and the pros on my list do not outweigh the cons. This is something many of the women of my generation are considering and yes, it is sad in a way, that dating has come to this point. But what am I to do?

This week, Rachel published her response to the writer in which she seems to advise against marrying a non observant man.

Here is a relevant excerpt:

You claim to be G-d-fearing, religious and serious. Surely, then, you take your religion seriously. You feel that matchmakers are not as concerned with you (older singles) as with the younger generation. Do you mean to say that you have actually entertained the thought that your Maker, the Arbiter of all matchmakers, is less interested in you than in the younger generation? Believe purely and simply that nothing is beyond His capability; beseech Him purely and simply to guide you in the right direction; rely on Him whole- heartedly to lead you where you were meant to go and He will relieve you of the enormous burden of uncertainty.

If all your friend can offer is a “maybe one day I’ll think about becoming observant,” your projection as to how your future with him will play out may prove prophetic. Notwithstanding that the choice is yours to make, be forewarned that the consequences of that choice will be with you a lifetime − and the hands of the clock cannot ever be turned back.

If it is children you yearn for, consider the option of becoming a foster or adoptive parent to a child who has already been brought into the world but has been shortchanged and is in desperate need of a mother’s love and nurturing. The satisfaction and benefits of such an arrangement can be vastly fulfilling.

I was in a similar situation (although divorced and with kids) and I did marry a non-observant man. He is still not observant. We are an older couple so we have no children together. All our previous kids are now grown up.

Do you agree with Rachel? What would you do?

– Phyllis

What My Rabbi Told Me About Different Levels of Observance

(Disclaimer: This is what my Rabbi told me for my particular situation. It does not necessarily apply to others even in similar situations.)

When my husband and I got married, neither of us was observant. Since I was the one who grew in Judaism and he wasn’t, I changed but should not expect him to change, as long as he is not making me commit sins (which he is not, just he himself doesn’t want to participate).

Even though he remains non-observant, I should not look down on him. His frame of reference is not a Torah frame of reference, so he doesn’t know why it’s wrong to do certain things.

I can’t go to treif restaurants with him or break Shabbat for or with him, etc., but as long as he is treating me properly – which he does – then Shalom Bayit is paramount. I should focus on his good qualities and not compare him to others.

My rabbi said that I can consider all of the above to be his Halachic decisions on the way I should conduct my life and my marriage from now on.

So … it seems that now I have been given a new charge by the Al-mighty, one which focuses on mending my own attitudes. I am posting this rather intimate, personal article to ask for help in dealing with these challenges and tasks, and to ask for Chizuk, support, anything anyone can tell me to strengthen me. I am in deep pain right now and looking for comfort and healing.

A Role Model to Emulate

I work at a Jewish newspaper, the Texas Jewish Post, and although it has articles and ads from every stream of Jewish life, it runs a weekly column by the dean of DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association), the “black-hat” Kollel that brought me back to Yiddishkeit again. Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is a model for me to emulate, because he repeatedly emphasizes that observant Jews should not look down on those who are less observant. I know that I myself forget that a lot of times and start to get on my high horse.

DATA, and also Congregation Ohev Shalom in Dallas, to which I belong, are indeed bright signs of change in the Jewish community. Of course I am comparing them with the community in Brooklyn, New York, where I used to live, and New York is usually not noted for its warmth and closeness. Too, I was in a far different personal situation in Brooklyn than I am here. But ever since moving to the Dallas Metroplex over 10 years ago and coming into DATA’s orbit, I’ve felt accepted and embraced as a Jew. That has encouraged me to grow Jewishly and do Teshuva a second time.

I’m sure Rabbi Fried’s attitude of acceptance and humility is a large part of what enables him to spearhead the Jewish outreach that DATA is so successful at. If only I could have such Ahavat Yisrael. At least I have a goal to work toward. My Yetzer Hara tells me snidely that just because I am now observant, I’m “better” than those Jews who aren’t. But the minute I start to think that way, I’m worse, not better.

Since the 1970s, when I became a Baalat Teshuva the first time around, the Kiruv people I’ve come in contact with almost all had the same accepting attitude. I just didn’t see it for what it was back then; maybe I took it for granted, or maybe the few “bad apples” soured me on the whole concept. But now I’m looking at it with new eyes.

You can’t be a true Baal/at Teshuva without Ahavat Yisrael. Derech Eretz comes before Torah. If you’re going to look down on other Jews, you’re defeating the whole purpose of Torah and Judaism. Why am I saying this? Because as I put the words on paper, I’m talking to myself. The more I say this over and over to myself, the more I hope to internalize it until it is my second nature. And, hopefully, it will do some good for my fellow Jews as well.

Are More Jews Ceasing to Be Observant than Starting?

Let me state at the outset, I have not taken a survey. But lately there seem to be more and more books appearing on the shelves hinting at the enormity of the problem, sort of like the tip of the iceberg, to use an overworked cliché. The one that springs to mind is “Off the Derech,” by Faranak Margolese, but there are several others. Certainly, as the frum wife of a non-observant husband, I’ve noticed that there are many more books on the topic of going off the derech than there are for “mixed” Jewish couples like us.

As a former single mother, I’d venture a guess that one large slice of the off-the-derech population has got to be single women (who may or may not be moms) in my Baby Boomer age group who either cannot find a husband because of the unfavorable demographics, or don’t want to be married again because of bad experiences in a former marriage. (For just one example of a single woman who has been looking and looking, and who mentions the possibility of women in that situation going off the derech, see Season of Isolation.) With no “representation” in shul, a single woman is more likely to drop off the radar than any other segment of the population; I concentrate on this because I have been there, although I’m sure other segments have their issues (and I would like to hear from them in response to this article).

There is no doubt, observance is a hard road. I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be FFB and go off the derech, because I am a second-time BT. I went off the derech once, then came back. So I can only speak for BTs who have gone off. If they are still off, then they probably don’t have the benefit of a supportive community like the one I have; and/or, they don’t have the benefits of being married, however atypical that is in my own case.

There is a norm in Judaism. It is the traditional family – husband, wife, and children. To the extent that an individual’s life differs from that norm, I believe that is the potential weak link in their connection to Jewish life. To differ from that norm, I believe, has as much potential for isolating the person as a physical handicap. Although B”H I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is to be physically handicapped, I can offer a snapshot anecdote: As a single mother, I was once asked if I wanted to be introduced to a man with one foot. Evidently the “handicaps” in each of us were deemed equivalent.

I recall a long time ago reading a book by a former BT who had gone back to his non-observant life; the two catalysts for his giving up his observant lifestyle seemed to be his appetite for non-kosher foods, and his attachment to a former non-Jewish girlfriend. There is no doubt that each of us has his or her “pull” to the past. And when the going gets tough, sometimes the less-tough get going…off the derech.

When I was becoming observant the first time, I read Herman Wouk’s lovely book “This Is My G-d,” and one thought this gifted writer used has stuck in my mind – that with all the restrictions of an observant life, it is a wonder there are any Orthodox people left. Certainly, when I look at a book on Judaism published in 1914 that is in my small collection of old books, all indications seemed at that time to be that Orthodoxy would disappear. Yet, as a river flowing uphill, it has come back and flourished.

But in our own BT world, it is easy to overlook the people who are leaving Orthodoxy. Maybe not enough Orthodox people are involved with kiruv, or not involved enough; that is a topic for another article. Or maybe we just want to shut our eyes to the problem, or deny that it even is a problem at all. Some of us are so starry-eyed at our own return, that we cannot comprehend that anyone would want to leave.

So why are people leaving? Is it the lifestyle restrictions? Is it the temptations of the larger society, beckoning that the “good life” means eating and dressing and engaging in everyday activities just like the Gentiles do? Is it singleness and devastating demographics?

I think that for each person, it is a different reason. Each individual has his or her own personal struggles, and some do not succeed in overcoming them. Some leave and then come back, as I did. I have had several rabbis quote to me the Possuk, “The Tzaddik falls seven times and gets up.” At any given point, we have no way of knowing what the future of an off-the-derech person will be.

But we can reach out, we can make a difference in the life of just one Jew, and then perhaps we will smooth their way back to Judaism. Who knows who Hashem’s Shaliach will be in the life of any Jew? We can only try to do our part, individually and as part of the communities to which we belong.

Originally published here on January 30, 2008

Recharging our BT Batteries

Twice a year, I go to Israel to see my children and grandchildren who live there. This post was written in Israel. One thing about being a BT is that you never have to let yourself get jaded. You can always recall what brought you on the BT journey, and being in Israel can supercharge the BT batteries.

This is where our forefathers and foremothers lived, this is where the Torah came to life, this is the land Hashem promised to us. People my age remember when Jews could not pray at the Wall. (But many BTs my age, including me, had not yet developed their Jewish consciousness enough to realize how holy and miraculous it was when, in 1967, the Wall once again was in Jewish hands.)

I’m one of those people who gets stressed out by the hassles of traveling. But there’s something different about traveling to Israel. And being a BT, I think, enables a person to take to heart the Torah lessons one has learned and put them into practice. Before I set out on this trip, I did a search for the word “travel” on one of the well-known BT Web sites. I came up with the lesson about the Mishkan, how when the Jews traveled they were not really traveling in an ordinary way, but more like a baby secure in its mother’s arms. No matter where the mother travels, the baby doesn’t feel like it is traveling because it is with its mother – that is the baby’s “place” so to speak. This was an enormously calming thought for me to have, that I was secure with Hashem, and I would try to trust in Him throughout all the traveling. I can’t say it works for me 100% of the time, but this is an example of bringing Torah into one’s life, and I think that it’s easier for a BT to do that.

Being in Israel can be so moving. The beauty of the land is not just physical, but enormously spiritual. As a BT, I can feel the aura of holiness here. It’s just a matter of tuning in to one’s Jewish antenna and using the special sensitivity a BT has, the soul which sparked and came alive at the beginning of the BT journey.

Of course, celebrating a Simcha with family and seeing new grandchildren is beautiful anywhere in the world, but it is so utterly beautiful here in Israel.

I think that part of a BT’s special gift is that we don’t take things for granted. We’ve had to climb that mountain on our own, but we’ve strengthened our spiritual muscles by doing so. As such, we can deeply enjoy the wonders and the miracles Hashem does for us. We can do this wherever we are in the world, even if we don’t have a chance to be in Israel, because we are the baby secure in its mother’s arms wherever she is, and we are with Hashem always, basking in His radiance and His protection.

A Privileged Trip

Because I have four children in Israel, I travel there often to see them, and I belong to a frequent-flyer club. As a result, when I purchased my ticket for the trip from which I am coming back as I write this, I was able to get a one-way upgrade to a premium class. I decided that I would get the upgrade on the flight back from Israel, my reasoning being that, firstly, it would alleviate some of the “blue” feelings I always have when I leave my children and leave Israel, and secondly, the westward trip is longer.

So here I am, sitting in the premium cabin on an international flight – something I have never experienced before – and as everyone sleeps while I am trying to stay awake and readjust my inner clock to Dallas time, this is a good time for reflection.

My family and friends laugh good-naturedly at my trait of always being early for everything. I had spent my last Shabbat of this trip at the home of my daughter, who lives in a remote village in Shomron, across the green line. Most taxi drivers don’t go there, but another daughter of mine, on her most recent trip, had found one who would, so I used his services also. My flight was scheduled to depart on Motzae Shabbat, and I asked the taxi driver to leave his home base right after the end of Shabbat to pick me up and take me to the airport. Hashem made everything go smoothly; I arrived at the terminal in plenty of time.

As a premium ticket holder, I was invited to while away the hours in an exclusive lounge with all sorts of amenities. Regular coach passengers have to be ready to board an hour or two ahead of time, but premium passengers can spend their time in the lounge and go to the gate only one-half hour prior to departure. I got so caught up in the various creature comforts in that lounge that, when my flight was called, I had to run to the gate! As I was sprinting there, I thought about the well-known metaphor we’ve probably all heard, about how life is like a cruise ship which makes an interim stop at a pleasant port. Some of the passengers get off the ship but hurry back in plenty of time. Some get so involved in the pleasures of the port that they almost don’t make it back to the ship; those are analogous to people who get so caught up in the pleasures of this world that they nearly forget about the World to Come. The lesson was just too obvious to ignore!

When I boarded the plane, I was ushered to a section of magnificent, roomy seats with many features you don’t find in coach. I had asked for an aisle seat; this section of the plane was set up in a 2-3-2 pattern, with my seat being at the end of one of the “3” parts. A woman sat next to me in the middle seat of the three; she started scolding one of the flight attendants, protesting that here she was in a premium class but she was in a middle seat “like a tourist.” The seats were arranged with plenty of room to get up and move around nevertheless, but my seatmate was not a happy passenger. As I write this, she is asleep. I hope she is comfortable; all of the seats in this section can recline like beds. To me, though, this experience is too exciting to sleep through – and I am usually one who sleeps on planes, even when I’m cramped in coach.

I once watched a movie where a woman, blind from birth, was given the opportunity to see for a period of a few hours before she would once again be blind. To me, flying in a premium class is like that. Why would I want to sleep through it when I can be awake and have all these new experiences? To be attended to and served and have my every whim catered to is not my everyday life.

There is an article on Aish HaTorah’s Web site by someone who was upgraded to first class, and he mused on how it was so easy to feel superior just because one is sitting in a premium class. I’m glad I read and reread the article, because it keeps me mindful of not falling into that trap. Flying is usually a very stressful experience for me. While in Israel, I bought a book about emunah, faith in Hashem, and I’ve been trying to internalize the lessons it teaches. It’s almost like Hashem has given me a special gift now, to let me enjoy this flight, because I have taken a first step toward strengthening my faith and trust in Him. So rather than feeling superior, I feel grateful to Hashem that He is showing me such overwhelming kindness. Of course, He shows me kindness every day and every moment, but I’m not always able to see it. I can see it and savor it now, at this moment, as I sit in this roomy seat. On a practical level, as well as thanking Hashem, I am trying to compliment and thank the flight attendants as much as I can for their help in making the flight pleasant for me. I want to spread my happiness around and make it easier for service people, whose lives are certainly not easy. And I’m sure that in a premium class, more is expected of them than in coach, as shown by my unhappy seatmate.

Judaism is such a beautiful religion. Hashem doesn’t ask us to deny the pleasures He gives us in this world; He asks only that we keep a higher goal in mind and look toward the World to Come. We have to remember what the Chofetz Chaim said: We are only passing through. But meanwhile, as long as we remember Who is giving us the pleasures we have, we are free to enjoy the banquet He sets before us. When He gives us a free gift like this, He is like a loving parent who gives his child a prize. The child, if properly raised and not spoiled, just wants to hug and kiss the parent for showing such love to the child. I sing in my heart to Hashem, and thank Him for letting me enjoy this wonderful experience. And most of all, I thank Him for once again having let me visit His holy Land of Israel and my beloved children who live there.

A Fainthearted Salesperson

My mother, of blessed memory, sold cosmetics for over 50 years. She was the proverbial saleswoman who could sell anyone the Brooklyn Bridge. She could convince anyone to do just about anything. Our family still jokes about the household item she put up for sale, that wasn’t the kind of thing anyone would buy, and yet she sold it. At her funeral, my son expressed his hope that now that she was in Heaven, she would convince Hashem to send the Messiah quickly. (I guess that has been a harder job for her than selling cosmetics.)

Me? I’m the total opposite. I’m not good at convincing people to do things; I don’t recall ever being able to sell anyone anything. I’m just not aggressive enough, assertive enough, whatever the correct term is. But for some reason, I feel deep down that a BT is “supposed” to be able to convince other Jews that a Torah lifestyle is best.

A tragedy occurred recently in my extended family. It was not a death; that could happen to anyone. It was a terrible series of events that “should not” have happened in a religious family – but it did. Even now, as I write, I am still in pain, still stunned and numbed by the shock, trying to put my thoughts into coherent words.

Besides the pain and shock, though, there is another thought that keeps surfacing: How will the non-religious people that I know view a Torah lifestyle now? These people were Torah-observant, and yet this terrible thing happened. I have already gotten comments from one non-religious person, to the effect that if they had not followed the Torah’s command to do thus-and-so, then this tragedy would not have happened.

We know that human beings are fallible. Despite the Torah’s prescriptions, we are going to fail sometimes. Some failures will be trivial; some will be as serious as this tragedy. But how can a BT convey that to the non-religious world, while still maintaining that the Torah’s laws are ultimately beneficial? How can a BT even convey it to himself or herself?

We are reading about Avraham Avinu and his many tests. Each of us has tests; but I am not Avraham Avinu, although I am his descendant. My world and my family’s world has been shaken. How to sweep up the pieces?

One Torah benefit I can point to is the supportive communities, both for that part of my family and for myself. When someone has experienced a tragedy, Torah-observant people rally round the person and support them in countless ways. Besides the fact that we are a merciful people, the Torah commands this support.

But for the rest of it, the whys and the wherefores, it is a hard “sell” at this moment.

At the End of the Holidays

We are winding up z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. For me as a BT, being joyous at this time of the year can be a special challenge.

We’ve just gotten through with Yom Kippur and repenting for our sins – including bad character traits. My particular challenge is envy – not of material things, but of other people’s having observant close relatives of their own age (mainly spouses, but also brothers and sisters). Other people’s families come to visit them for the holidays, while I am essentially alone. My husband is not observant, and my only brother has not spoken to me in years though I have tried and tried to make up with him. I have no parents or parents-in-law – so I’m sort of an island. In this community, my friends are like family; but then, when their real families come to visit, I’m on the outside looking in. Well, it isn’t even fair to say that, because I’m invited for Shemini Atzeret to someone whose family is visiting, and I had plenty of other invitations. I guess it’s just a feeling of being on the outside looking in.

And as a woman, it’s not like I’m going to get to dance with the Torah. I can watch the guys doing that (everyone is there but my husband) but I have to say, I feel left out that way, too. It isn’t that I myself want to dance with the Torah; it’s that I want to see someone who belongs to me doing that.

My own children are all observant (thank G-d!) and all have their own households, but all of them live far away. I hesitate to go to them for the holidays; they are dutiful kids, but I feel like a fifth wheel, and there’s no place like home.

So am I right to say that I’ll be glad when the holidays are over and things get back to normal? Am I even allowed to say that? It’s hard not to think it.

I’ve heard many times that a Jew is obligated to serve G-d with joy. But I don’t know how to really get into that frame of mind at this time.

Paths to Torah: Truth or Self-Fulfillment?

There are 70 facets of the Torah, and probably as many paths for an individual to get there as a BT. In my life as a second-time BT, I have taken at least two of them.
Very brief background: I’m a Baby Boomer who grew up in a traditional (kosher but not Shomer Shabbat) household. The synagogue we DIDN’T attend, except when we walked there on the High Holidays, was Orthodox. I went away to college at age 16, dropped all semblance of observance, acquired a Gentile boyfriend; then, when he dumped me, I found a non-observant Jewish boyfriend, and when I was 18 and he 20, we got married.

So how did I come to Torah?

My first path to Torah was through the three children we had together. I looked ahead decades and decided I wanted them to have a Jewish identity, that it would bother me very much if they would intermarry. (It wouldn’t have bothered their father at all.) So, this path was basically one of self-fulfillment: I wanted to perpetuate my heritage through my children. G-d helped me, and I succeeded in giving them an authentic Jewish education and raising them as observant Jews. They have remained so, and have raised observant Jewish grandchildren for me.

In the process of their Jewish education, I learned, too. I saw the truth and beauty of Judaism as I learned. Thus, self-fulfillment led to truth and interacted with it.

But life has twists and turns, and my life included a subsequent marriage to another man, a BT, with whom I had three more children. Unfortunately, there was abuse and violence in that marriage, and I raised the children alone for many years, after which they were wrenched from me; more on that momentarily. Fortunately, thank G-d, they all turned out OK (and also observant), and they too have given me observant Jewish grandchildren.

Life as a single mother in an observant community is not the norm, and it affected me deeply. I did not deny the truth of Torah, but I was weak, and the self-fulfillment was now largely missing. Eventually, when I married my present husband (who is non-observant like the first one was, but not quite like that – he IS open to some limited observances), I lost custody of my three younger children, which is a whole story in itself. That really precipitated my “losing my religion”: I basically went off the derech. (Just for the record, yes, each time I was divorced, I did obtain a kosher Get.)

But, because I had that grounding in the truth of the Torah from my first BT experience, it never totally went away. Some of my sins were acts of rebellion, but most were acts of weakness; the Torah distinguishes among different types of sins in those ways.

I kept a “kosher corner” in my kitchen for when my children would come to visit. Gradually I accommodated them in other ways, such as turning the refrigerator light off before Shabbat. And don’t think that didn’t “draw fire” (pun intended) in the household! It’s one of those little things that was big at the time, but which my husband has long since accepted.

I remember, quite clearly, when my daughter – who was probably about 10 or 11 at the time – was davening and wanted me to daven with her. I picked up the Siddur and tried to, but I burst into tears and said I just couldn’t. Too many observant people had hurt me along the way.

It was only after we moved to the Dallas area that I really did start coming back. DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association), the local Kollel which offers all kinds of outreach connections, held classes which I began to attend. In a way, with my previous BT background, it was as if I had gone back to kindergarten; but I needed these refresher courses, and most of all, I needed to be accepted in the non-judgmental way DATA so excels at. The warmth and the love of these genuine Torah Jews in Dallas brought me back the second time – and so, here I am, a second-time BT.

That’s just one woman’s personal journey. Can I generalize from it? The Torah is the epitome of truth, and most of us can recognize the honest truth. I think that ability is in our souls. But, it’s also how that truth is presented. Are the people presenting it living in the way that it commands? For most of us, I think there does have to be a self-fulfillment factor. Ultimately we are supposed to follow Torah Lishmah, for its own sake; but meantime we have to utilize factors that are Lo Lishmah, not for its own sake. We need both the spiritual/intellectual satisfaction that comes with the truth of Torah, and the emotional satisfaction of feeling happy and fulfilled, in order for Torah to “stick”.

BT Wife, Non-Observant Husband

When I sat down to write this – my first article for Beyond BT – I wanted to phrase it in the plural, as “we,” writing for other women as well as myself. But I don’t know any other women in my situation. Perhaps, as a result of this article, some will come forward.

There are some inspirational stories in Jewish literature about religious women whose husbands are not on as high a spiritual level, though such women are, seemingly, nowhere to be found in our present-day world. There’s a classic story from Beresheet Rabbah (17:7) about a pious man and woman who divorced because they were childless; each married a wicked mate. The pious man’s new wife made him wicked, while the pious woman made her new husband righteous. The moral of this story is that “everything depends on the woman.”

Or, there is the story of Devorah, the Judge of Israel. Her husband, according to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 9), was not learned. So Devorah would make wicks and send her husband to deliver them to the Temple, so he would be exposed to the holy surroundings and perhaps, by osmosis or by interacting with those present, be influenced. She is given the credit for assuring that her husband would thereby have a share in the World to Come.

Through a series of events which would be off-topic to detail, I married my husband 15 years ago. We are an older couple, so some things that would be serious issues for (hypothetical) younger observant/non-observant couples are not relevant to us. But there are still challenges aplenty.

Our kitchen is unique. My husband loves to cook and putter around in the kitchen; I’m probably one of the few women who wishes her husband would leave the kitchen entirely to her. But he has his area of the kitchen (non-kosher), and I have mine (kosher). I don’t know what I’d do without aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and the two self-cleaning ovens I’m fortunate enough to have. My husband likes to joke to people that “we have three sets of dishes: meat, milk, and mine,” or that with our three microwave ovens, anyone with a pacemaker would get zapped if they walked in. Seriously, though, we can’t have any of our observant friends over to eat because I would not want to put them in an awkward position of having to refuse due to doubts. We have been their guests many, many times, but we can’t reciprocate.

Shabbat is unique. I make a point of preparing an elaborate Friday night dinner for just the two of us, and my husband puts on a yarmulke and eats with me at the candlelit Shabbat table – but on his own dishes and with his own placemat. Lately he has even been washing for bread (my homemade challah). I guess for him that’s a giant step; I can’t realistically expect that he will ever sing Zemirot or even Eishet Chayil.

Our house is full of timers. Thank G-d for technology! But, he goes his merry way and puts on lights (and TV and computer and so on) for himself as he wishes. Saturday is his favorite shopping day – did I mention that he likes to shop as well as cook? Meanwhile, every Shabbat morning I am in shul, davening to Hashem. Many of the prayers have extra meaning for me: “Return us to You…” and so on.

It is because of my husband’s love for me that I even have a chance to be in shul at all. For many years, we lived far away from the Jewish community. As I came back to Yiddishkeit, I longed to be near an Orthodox shul. Finally, he moved us to the wonderful community where we now live – even though that meant he would be commuting to and from work a total of 100 miles a day. We are around the corner from my shul of choice, one of five Orthodox shuls within walking distance. To me, that is as great a miracle as Yetziat Mitzrayim, and I often think of my own personal Exodus during that part of the prayers.

But it is only rarely that my husband comes to shul. Most of the time, there is a “black hole” for me as I peer through the Mechitzah and see that he is not there. The husband of one of my dearest friends says a Mi Sheberach for my family whenever he gets an Aliyah; it is usually the only way I will have that blessing. As each of my friends sees her husband get an Aliyah, I embrace her and wish that she will have as much joy from her husband’s Aliyah as I would if it were my husband.

When my husband does come to shul, my prayers really come alive. The words seem like they are leaping off the page in flames of spirituality.

The community has welcomed us with open arms. My husband enjoys the company of many of the men when we are someone’s guests. But, so far, he has not adopted their lifestyle.

He is wonderful to me, thoughtful, considerate, loving and funny. He’s everything a woman would want, but he’s not observant. In fact, one of the “problems” I’ve had was how to stop him from buying me flowers on Shabbat!

Most of the stories on the standard Jewish Web sites have happy endings of how this or that person became a BT. We never hear about the ones who don’t. I constantly hope and pray that my husband will become observant – after all, doesn’t it all depend upon the woman? – but, only Hashem knows, and I have to have faith that this is all for the best.