Giving Birth to Baalei Teshuva – Love Us, Just Don’t Leave Us.

Originally Published on The Baal Teshuva Journey blog.

I have a lot of older single baalei teshuva friends. Most went to seminary. Most loved it. Most moved out and moved on.

And what was left? Often times, a feeling of isolation. Many say “They brought me in but left me out”. Some seminaries are better at others at creating a net but most aren’t great at it. The baal teshuva doesn’t have frum family to turn to, and not everyone is able to build a close enough connection with their seminary Rebbetzins and Rabbis. What’s left is each other. Many baalei teshuva cling to each other for support when they feel ‘the system’ has let them down. It’s a beautiful support network, but it’s not enough.

Of course there’s the responsibility of the baalei teshuva learning how to fly on their own. But I dare you to consider that the love many feel in seminary, the incubator of dreams, is only the pregnancy. It’s the supply of nutrients, the inception of ideas, and the warmth needed to be born. But, once the baal teshuva is born they need just as much, if not more, care. They are still dependent. While their independence grows and they balance out everything they learned with everything they experience, that’s the time of the deepest questions and the most confusion. The baalei teshuva journey does not stop when we leave seminary or yeshiva. It only begins.

In birth the newborn moves from one carer to many. This is true of baalei teshuva. We go from the softened single-minded nest of the seminary to, hopefully, a welcoming community. I was so blessed to have this beautiful support network in Melbourne, but many struggle to find a real community to be part of, where they feel accepted and loved. From personal experience, true frum life is learned outside the seminary and inside the community. It is there that we learn to crawl, and then to walk.

It is this stage in the baalei teshuva journey that truly cultivates a frum Jew. It is not the time of chesed, but of gevurah, when the real challenges set in and the greatest outside support is needed, that one truly is able to grow and step into a life of emes.

As a society we need to stop thinking of ourselves as a kiruv factory. We can’t inspire and then spit out, manufacture and then sell. So many baalei teshuva rebel or leave all together after 7-10 years of becoming frum. So many feel rejected, abandoned. Stop and consider. Have you ever noticed that there’s so many kiruv organisations, from 2 day seminars and trips, to hosting Shabbat meals around the world. Where are the community organizations reaching out to those they brought in? It’s a lot easier to conceive and carry a baby then to raise a child. It’s a longer commitment and carries more responsibility. Isn’t there even a saying: “It takes a village to raise a child”?

The baal teshuva needs you from conception to adulthood. Once you start, please, don’t stop. Reach out and make baaltei teshuva a part of your homes, your shuls, and your communities. Maybe that’s what the Torah means about extra effort to look after orphans…even if they’re wealthy, even if they are only without one of the parents. Indeed, Hashem Himself is called ‘the Father of orphans’, and the Torah addresses society as a whole, warning not to make the orphan feel weakness in their predicament.

BT 2.0

One summer, 20 years ago, I became Torah Observant. The decision and commitment took place while on an NCSY summer tour right before my junior year of high school. My growth as a Jew after that point was fairly text book, I suppose. Strong participation in NCSY, several years learning in Eretz Yisrael, combined with both a L’mudai Kodesh and secular education for college.

As time went on I became friends with many BTs, like myself, as well as FFBs. Eventually I got married and started a family. As I look back at my ‘life’ as a Torah Jew, I see that something happened.

I stopped connecting on a certain level as a BT. I don’t mean that I denied or hid my own journey towards Teshuva. I simply functioned on a level where I focused more on my learning, growth, and Avodas Hashem and less on my past. About a year and half ago I experienced a massive paradigm shift. I stumbled upon a web project started by two guys from Queens.

I began reading several posts and then posting comments myself. Even after years of being involved in outreach work, I found an awakening in myself and a feeling of chizuk from people with whom I shared a common past.

While I had been a BT for many years, I realized that I could connect with others in totally different aspect. I entered a new phase as a Baal Teshuva. I refer to as BT 2.0. For me, it’s a realization that regardless of geographic location we are all, as clichéd as it sounds, connected.

I just wanted to thank all the participants here for their time and efforts. For even the BT of twenty years, like myself, is never Beyond Teshuva.