I Can’t Be An FFB – But Will I Always Be A BT

When I first saw the word Baal Teshuva in a book it had a comforting feeling about it. I felt like someone understood me, that I wasn’t alone, and that something special was possibly happening all over the world with people like me turning back to Judaism. I had begun studying on my own without the aid of a kiruv professional, outreach center or even a local sensitive rabbi to guide me. I read through a copy of the Bible in English, found some English translations of tractates of the Talmud, and started to adopt observances and attitudes that I found compelling. When I finally saw that I was not alone, it lifted my sights a bit.

Later, I found out that the term Baal Teshuva is somewhat of a misnomer. I was more technically in the category of a “tinok shenishbah” a child captured by non-Jews. I wasn’t really captured, just merely brought up in a non-observant household. But the Hebrew term applies nonetheless, and it has halachic ramifications. Now the truth is I don’t really want to go around being called a captured baby, even if that’s my halachic status, but Baal Teshuva (master of return) is a term designated for someone who was observant and went away from observance and then came back. So that doesn’t really apply to me.
Read more I Can’t Be An FFB – But Will I Always Be A BT

How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World

Here’s an article from a few years ago titled, How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World, by HaRav Yehuda Greenwald.

Here are some excerpts:

The truth is that every intelligent avreich who was ever closely acquainted with a baal teshuvah, someone not embarrassed by being a baal teshuvah and who does not try to copy others, will find to his surprise that the baal teshuvah is a gold mine of good qualities and possesses spectacular tools for avodas Hashem. The big surprise is that those baalei teshuvah who do not hide their lack of knowledge and their confusion, and dare to ask all the questions that bother them and even “demand” help from avreichim in their Torah studies, are immeasurably respected.

After building up this relationship, a new, mutual relationship begins, with each side contributing its part and strengthening the other.

You ask what baalei teshuvah can contribute to the chareidi world?
Read more How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World

Of Earrings and Kippas, The Sequel

Of Kippas and Earrings, The Sequel

Previously, I posted Of Earrings and Kippas. There is a postscript to the story that punctuates the power of sharing our experiences, a lot of what this blog is about.

My Father-In-Law was a member of an amud yomi chaburah (a group of people that jointly study one side of a talmud page per day). Each participant was asked to speak at a siyum (celebratory meal upon the completion of a section of Torah). My Father-In-Law was not looking forward to this. Even though he is fluent in English, it is his fourth language and he is, understandably, hesitant to engage in public speaking. That being the case, he fretted over what to say and how to say it. Finally, he decided to tell the “Of Kippahs and Earrings” story and somehow relate it to the gemorrah that the chaburah had finished.

The story went over well. Weeks later, someone unknown to him stopped my Father-In-Law and asked him if he was the one who told the story about how he started wearing his kippah at work. My Father-In-Law replied affirmatively. The gentleman profusely thanked him and said that the story inspired him to start wearing his kippah full time.

Being Proud of Your Past

I become orthodox in high school. I actually had the opportunity to go to a yeshiva high school after 8th grade before I was frum, but that would have meant a one-hour commute on the train in each direction. So, to my 8th grade rebbie’s chagrin, I opted instead for public high school. Given the caliber of students and the general atmosphere of the yeshiva I would have attended, I don’t know that I would have become frum had I gone there.

However, almost from the day I stepped into my public high school I started feeling my 8 years of yeshiva day school education trying to surface. That feeling combined with a two night a week learning program taught by one of my frum friend’s fathers, and my involvement with NCSY nurtured my teshuva process. I am, to this day, happy with my decision to go to public high school. I am proud of what I was able to accomplish there and appreciate the sensitivity I received from being exposed to, and yes even being friends with, a diversity of people.
Read more Being Proud of Your Past

Identity and Aircraft Carriers

From a recent comment by Yaakov Astor:

A wise man once told me identity is like being a jet on an aircraft carrier. You need the aircraft carrier to get you to a launching point but then need to be able to take off yourself. Too many get on the aircraft carrier and never take off (never realize they are jets with the ability to take off). They remain limited/grounded. Others never get on the aircraft carrier to begin with and are left stranded, never getting to complete their mission.

Of course, for some people their true identity and the purpose they are here is to service the aircraft carrier; they were never meant to be jets or helicopters that take off; and they’re happy to be part of the ground crew, as it were. That’s fine. If that’s what one is. And one realizes it.

The quesiton is: what if that is not what one is? Or what if one doesn’t know what one is? Or what if life has tossed one about, broken one’s moorings and turned one into a refugee from their identity?

I don’t think there are easy answers. You’ve got to be real, but you may have to concede and conform a bit in order to realize a perhaps higher form of self.

Fabricating Focus and Pruning your Personality

By Jade Topaz

Teshuvah-medicating your soul and medicating your personality have got to be two of the most complicated concepts around today (other than the Lakewood internet ban :) ) They are, though, sort of related in the higher scheme of things.

The warnings, side effects ,issues, questions and annoyances that often accompany experimenting with the teshuvah process are right in sync with the side effects and or questions, that often arise when experimenting with stimulant and non-stimulant ADD medications ie: Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, Straterra etc. With four difficult steps you can be on your way to a whole new spiritual personality or growth and perhaps cultivate some roses and zinnias with the weeds .
Read more Fabricating Focus and Pruning your Personality

Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves

A few years ago Rabbi Ben Tzion Kokis, the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach of Monsey, and Rav of Congregation Zichron Mordechai wrote an article in the Jewish Observer titled Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves.

Here is an excerpt. Please read the whole article and let us know what your impressions are.

This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a baal teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.

Of Earrings and Kippahs

My father-in-law, he should live and be well, became a BT in his late fifties. That, in and of itself, is a whole story. Maybe some other time.

After becoming observant, he had started a new job. He just wasn’t able to bring himself to wear his kippah at work. He thought the obvious change would be too much for his co-workers to handle. In particular, there was one co-worker he was concerned about, an Israeli gentleman who had warned him “if you want to be my friend, don’t talk to me about religion!” Then there was the other co-worker whom he didn’t think would be kindly disposed, a gentleman with an earring in his left ear. So, he made the decision not to wear his kippah at work.

My father-in-law noticed that everytime the gentleman with the earring would go to see the boss, he would take his earring off only to replace it after leaving the boss’ presence. One day, the “Don’t talk to me about religion” guy said to him “Why do you take your earring out everytime you go to the boss? Just leave it in. You are who you are.” “You are who you are”, my father-in-law thought and the very next day he began wearing his kippah to work. Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

Finding Your Comfort Zone

I think one of the hardest parts of becoming a baal teshuvah is in finding a comfort zone. Being an Orthodox Jew is not a once-a-week thing, or even a once-a-day thing. It’s something that permeates and becomes your whole essence – your actions, your thoughts and yourself.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when facing so many changes. A simple thing to do in such a situation is to shut down your mind and blindly follow what others tell you to do. The problem in this is that, down the road, you often catch yourself in a place that isn’t really you.
Read more Finding Your Comfort Zone

Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

From a Torah viewpoint, contemporary secular society often adheres to immoral values and mores. Some common scenarios for today’s BT’s are the following:

A BT’s sibling gets engaged to a non-Jew. The entire family expects the BT to be happy for their sibling. The BT can either go along while their family members are rejoicing while keeping their disapproval silent, or run the risk of creating alienation and conflict with family members by stating their real feelings about intermarriage. Some of the non-observant relatives may accuse the BT of being intolerant or racist for being against intermarriage. They may even argue that the BT is standing in the way of their sibling’s happiness.
Read more Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

Fresh Bagel

I heard a story once of a group of scholars who had gathered together and all but one had an illustrious rabbi for a father. As they went around the table each one said over a dvar torah in the name of his father. When they finally got to the one without a rabbi for a father he said the following, “My father was a baker, and he taught me a very important lesson: Sometimes a fresh bagel is better than a stale challah.”

It can’t be overstated how important it is to know that nothing is an accident. This is a portion of belief in God. It is the first commandment. The Almighty runs the world and there’s a reason for everything. If He wanted you born into a traditional family He would have. Why did you grow up the way you did? What benefits of your upbringing can you share with the society you are now a part of?
Read more Fresh Bagel

Not Passing, and Proud of it

“Where do you study?” asked the shaddchun.
“Yeshivas Ohr Yaakov,” I answered, “and before that I learned at Ohr Somayach.”
“And before that?” she asked.
“University of California,” I said.
“And before that?” she persisted.

Before that? “Uh, high school.”
“Yes,” she said patiently. “Which high school?”
Was she kidding? “Harvard School, in North Hollywood, California.”
“Is that a Jewish school?”
This was too much. “Actually, it’s Episcopalian.”
Read more Not Passing, and Proud of it

Camp Nowhere (A True FFB Litmus Test)

Imagine this scenario:

You’re sitting with a bunch of your friends at a Shabbat dinner. Everything is going fine until across the table—

“Hey, Yosef, remember when we did that skit at Moshava for color war?”

“Yeah, and Jacob sang the theme from ‘Gilligan’s Island’”

“And us girls on the red team totally had more ruach, but the judges were biased and you guys won”

“And then Adam raided our cabin afterwards…”
Read more Camp Nowhere (A True FFB Litmus Test)

When the Bloom is off the Rose: Joining a Community

When the Bloom is Off the Rose

One of my students, a BT couple, has an adopted girl who was recently asked to leave the “frum” Jewish day school in town. The girl has issues with yiddishkeit, learning difficulties, and some behavioral problems. The father is very disillusioned with the “frum” community because of the way the whole situation was handled. I personally don’t agree with the way the school handled the issue, but that is not the main aspect of the entire event.

In counseling the father, I tried to make a few points that I felt were most important. Firstly, his anger is a sign that he’s a good father. He should be upset that his daughter has been rejected. But lets put things in perspective. Secondly, we always need to judge others favorably. Even if the school administration handled things poorly, they mean well, they have everyone’s best interest in mind, and they have constant difficult decisions to make that affect numerous neshamos. Thirdly, as a fellow Jew, you have the right and probably the obligation to go to the person most responsible for the way the decision was carried out and speak to them one on one and say, “I’m angry with you for treating my daughter and us this way.”

The fourth point, though, is what I think is the most important.
Read more When the Bloom is off the Rose: Joining a Community

Rugby Judaism and the Weather

It is my philosophy that baalei teshuva should not abandon everything about their past when they become observant. Some life experiences from ‘pre-teshuva’ days are valuable when one is observant too. I use my experiences a rugby player to make this point in a somewhat lighthearted way. As winter settles in here in Chicago, I thought I would write about rugby and the weather.

Rugby is not a game for the timid. That is maybe why it is played in the winter. Which in South Africa is from about May until September. Now winters in South Africa are a lot, lot milder than here in Chicago. I used to swim in the ocean in the middle of winter, growing up in Port Elizabeth. However, it still gets cold, wet and windy. When you only have shorts and a rugby jersey to wear, it can be pretty miserable out there on the field.
Read more Rugby Judaism and the Weather

What does Brown vs. Board of Ed. Have to Do with Us?

If you thought I was going to write about racism and frum Jews, you were wrong. My topic is should we integrate and “melt” or should we stick with our own and “stew”. I am a firm believer in not walking around with a shirt saying “kick me, I am a Baal Teshuva”.

After being involved in kiruv for a good number of years now, and being a BT myself, I have seen both sides of the argument. Overall, the integrator does better in his/her adapting to their new lifestyle and their children do better. They feel like they fit in. I believe part of it is a self confidence issue which should disappear with learning. Read more What does Brown vs. Board of Ed. Have to Do with Us?

Integrating into the Frum Community

When my grandparents took the boat over from Turkey to the States in the early 1900s, they settled into a corner of New York that was flourishing with Sefardic Jews, where Ladino was the lingua franca, and the smell of borekas, garlic, pashtedas and raki hung in the air. While my father learned English as soon as he started school, developed an understanding of the “American way,” and was integrated into the American culture relatively quickly, the process was much more difficult for my grandparents. Eventually, by going out into the broader, English speaking community through work, contacts and friends made through their children, reading, and just living through the years as life happened, they became more “American.” But they always were different (Baruch Hashem!) They brought their Jewish, Mediteranean identity with them. They lived for years in their supportive Sefardic enclaves, venturing out more and more and ultimately becoming respected, productive Americans citizens.
Read more Integrating into the Frum Community

Painfully Cutting Ties to the Past

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.
Read more Painfully Cutting Ties to the Past

Can There Be Too Much Socializing?


I began the teshuva process slightly over ten years ago. B”H, I had the fortune to attend a wonderful yeshiva that emphasized, amongst other things, always being a kiddush H-shem. Now that I have been out of yeshiva for a number of years and have lived in frum kehilos around the world, I have had the chance to implement this teaching in practice. Frum kehilos are, I think, amazingly special places with incredible people and institutions. Nevertheless, there are always challenges (especially in chutz l’aretz) – not speaking in shul during davening, not speaking devarim betaylim in shul, keeping a learning seder kovayah, being involved in tsarchey tsibor, making a kesher with a rav, being socially involved, etc.
Read more Can There Be Too Much Socializing?

Wearing the Label


First let me say that I am thrilled to be here. I have been looking at everyone’s posts, and I’m excited about delving into these issues. May Hashem help us that this group blog is truly in His service.

My name is Kressel. I began my teshuva process about 16 years ago, and IY”H my husband and I will soon celebrate our tenth anniversary. Ours is a mixed marriage. He’s an FFB Stoliner chossid.

Marrying a chossid seemed like a radical step when we were first introduced. I delayed our first date for month to consider it. But when we met, we progressed with lightning speed. We became engaged after three dates a la the Chassidishe formula. I considered my chasunah as a sort of BT graduation ceremony, and walked to my chuppah to Shlomo Carlebach’s “Pischu Li.” By entering the Chassidishe velt, I was sure I was entering the Gates of Righteousness.
Read more Wearing the Label