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

Those Five Magic Words

“I never would have known!”

What a thrill I feel every time I hear it. But as Rabbi Greenman so movingly describes, how healthy is it to want to “pass”?

Like all of you, I’ve explored so many stages of BT-hood; found the truth beyond those early idealized visions of the frum world. The amazement and longing that lured us to this world have matured into a grounding of understanding, regret, flashes of cynicism, and…moments of amazement and longing. Rather than suffer a damaged self-image (as warned by Rabbi Greenman) by not wearing my journey on my sleeve, I’m proud I’ve found a comfort zone: I’m proud that my instincts and impulses are frum ones.
Read more Those Five Magic Words

Plateauing & Leaving the Cave

There’s a story in the Gemara which I think describes the phenomenon of plateauing in two of our greatest spiritual giants.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar were forced to live in a cave for 12 years, hiding from the Roman authorities, who had an execution order out for them. After the decree was rescinded they came out of the cave, but whenever they encountered people they “burned them with their eyes” (euphemism for “ayin ra,” according to the commentaries). Their fire for emes prevented them from accepting people as limited human beings, not always filled with the same fire of Torah and avodas Hashem they possessed.
Read more Plateauing & Leaving the Cave

Kashrus and the BT

As I said in my post last week, as major as kashrus is, it was one of the last mitzvos I was able to embrace. The reason for that was that I couldn’t bear to hurt my mother. I was sure she would take my refusal to eat her food as a personal rejection.

My mother is not the only one who feels this way. I know a Stoliner family, all FFBs, whose daughter married a man from another Chassidus. The new husband was strict about eating meat from the hechsher of his Chassidus, so the mother had to buy the right meat if her daughter would be coming for Shabbos. The mother had no problem with this, but one of her friends asked in horror, “Aren’t you insulted?” If a frum woman, who ought to know that kashrus is simply a halachic issue and not an emotional one, still assumed her friend would feel insulted or rejected, how then would the average secular mother feel? After all, we mothers do put love into our cooking.
Read more Kashrus and the BT

You Used to Be So Much Fun – Part 1 – Audio Post

Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg, Menahel, Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu (LA) gave a number of lectures at the Life After Teshuva conference in Passaic in 2001. Today we are making available part 1 of “You Used to be So Much Fun – Relating to Non-Religious Family and Friends”.

You can click here to listen. (To download the audio file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As)

Here are some of the main points from part 1:

In his introduction, Rabbi Goldberg tells us that he’s not discussing halachic issues. And he is not going to talk about how to change our friends and relatives.

We have to look at what can we do to improve these relationships. What have we done to be part of the problem? We can’t talk our way out of problems that we might have behaved our way into.
Read more You Used to Be So Much Fun – Part 1 – Audio Post

Davening in Shul or Yeshiva

For the past several years I have been davening Shabbos mornings in one of the local yeshivos. It is comfortable, quiet and my chavrusa sits across from me. Immediately after davening, we learn and I don’t have to involve myself with the inevitable politics that occurs in some shuls. My family and I are also members of a well-known and prestigious shul. The Rav is an extraordinarily respected talmid chachom and posek. The people are chashuv and menschlich. It’s also quiet and there are no disparaging conversations. However, the needs of the yeshiva are few while the needs of the shul are many. After nearly two years of the Rav saying to me with a big smile, “Come around a once in a while, we miss you,” combined with my boys’ (ten and seven) desire to attend Shabbos groups and my wife’s thirst to develop and bond with others, I relented. Considering that I am not easily persuaded about most things, my wife was shocked at how efficiently and effortlessly I began davening at our shul. Of course when the Rav finally looked at me straight in my eyes and ominously stated, “You’re making a very big mistake, ” I had little choice.
Read more Davening in Shul or Yeshiva

Believing in Yourself

A baal tshuva – or any other Jew with aspirations – needs two primary spiritual resources: Belief in Hashem, and belief in oneself. Many sources speak about the former, but few discuss the importance of the latter.

Young BT’s are frequently misled by mistaken concepts of “anava”, or modesty. Hashem doesn’t expect you to walk around telling everyone that you’re “gornisht”; those who do so, even if they are sincerely trying to rid their lives of arrogance – end up believing that they really are nothing. That’s wrong. A soldier must know his capabilities in order to effectively utilize the weapons at his disposal. An F-15 pilot must be perfectly aware that the government has entrusted $50 million sophisticated airborne arsenal in his hands, including an array of ultra high-tech weaponry in order to get his job done. He can’t say, “I’m a weak nothing,” or else he’ll be endangering the security of his country, wasting potential, and losing the war.

Yiddishkeit is also a war. Read more Believing in Yourself

Making Chanukah Cookies

Growing up, one of my family’s annual traditions was making Chanukah cookies. We would spend an entire day rolling out dough, cutting out shapes and decorating hundreds of cookies. After we were finished making them, we would save some for ourselves and then package up the rest in bundles to give to friends. My parents would often come to my school and do a presentation on Chanukah for my class (I was one of only a few Jewish students), and would hand out the cookies along with latkes.

Once I became religious, it made it hard to participate in our yearly ritual. I moved away from home because I wanted to be able to be part of a religious community (there were very few Orthodox Jews in Alabama, nothing that could be called a “community”) and didn’t get the opportunity to visit very often. Read more Making Chanukah Cookies

Chanukah, the Maccabi Games and the Pintele Yid in Each of Us

If you think about it, it’s very ironic. The Maccabees at the time of the miracle of Chanukah were willing to give up their lives to protect their Jewish values. Their adversaries were the Greeks. The Greeks’ worship of the human body was epitomized by the Olympic Games. Here is the irony: Israel has her own version of the Olympic Games. What are they called? The Maccabi Games!!

My Rabbis at Ohr Somayach would often share this insight around Chanukah time, highlighting the contrast between the Jewish values of the Maccabees and secular values of the Greeks.

Yet I would always remember my own experiences at the Maccabi Games. How two weeks ignited a spark inside me that changed my life and began a spiritual journey that led to me becoming a Rabbi.
Read more Chanukah, the Maccabi Games and the Pintele Yid in Each of Us

Some Links to End the Week

Thank G-d that we have been able to share so many ideas and experiences in such a short time. We’ve been told that we’re delivering too much of a good thing too fast. So next week we’ll slow down so we can all digest a little better and get some more interaction and ideas in the comments. We’ll be going with two posts a day on average, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (and sometimes one in the evening) . There will also be multiple current topics in a given week.

Here are some links for your Pre and Post Shabbos reading pleasure:

Mordechai Housman (Kressel’s husband) on Becoming Religious, and Your Family

Read more Some Links to End the Week

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Many of you might remember the classic Spencer Tracy – Katharine Hepburn film of that title in which liberal, social activist parents are shocked by their daughter’s choice of fiancé, a black man played by Sidney Portier. The point of the film is the parents’ hypocrisy, but I’ve often said that the true test of liberal Jewish tolerance would not be a daughter’s choice to marry a black man but her choice to marry a black-hatted one. Baruch Hashem, my parents passed the test.
Read more Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

My Non-Jewish Father and My Oh-So-Jewish Mother

When I first became frum, I wanted my parents to completely embrace my new lifestyle and take on the same things I was taking on but they were pretty much indifferent. I later moved away to a predominantly BT neighbourhood where people shared stories with me of parents who had disowned them or continuously fought with them about their frumkeit. I began to appreciate my parents’ indifference to my life. They didn’t have to be excited or angry or anything special about my new life. I was okay with that. I realized how great they both were in that they let me make my own choices and were happy if I was happy.

My mother’s biggest issue in the whole thing came very recently when she realized I didn’t have a TV. She actually cried over it and offered to buy me one. Read more My Non-Jewish Father and My Oh-So-Jewish Mother

Towards a Subtler Nonconformity

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
Jewish Heritage Center

The majority of the posts and comments on the conformity debate deal with standardization in dress and speech. The basic consensus is that swallowing hard and adopting a bleak conformity is just another of the many sacrifices that we make for integration into the Frum community. Unlike relinquishing, say, seafood this demanding sacrifice seems to reward those who make it with a lifetime of ambivalence. Here are some thoughts I hope will make us more comfortable within our own skins by recasting this never-ending and draining sacrifice as a labor of love.

We need to ask ourselves: “Do I yearn for nonconformity or individuality?” At times, nonconformity implies a grouchy contrariness simply for the sake of being contrary. Read more Towards a Subtler Nonconformity

Dealing with Non Observant Parents

This issue is one in which I would be shocked if there were not a multitude of approaches and results. However, I think that the best advice that I could give be would be a set of caveats that may or not work for you:

1) Your parents will respect you when they see that you are dedicated and sincere and that Torah Judaism is your way of life, as opposed to a cult. If your parents become frum with you, that is fantastic. On the other hand, if they don’t reach that level, you have to work for their tolerance of the fact that you and your family will be living a different way of life than themselves and your siblings and still maintain a relationship with them, even if it appears that they barely tolerate your lifestyle and possibly overlook conduct by your siblings that a Torah Jew would not approve of in any manner. Read more Dealing with Non Observant Parents

HaGaon Rav Yitzchok Hutner Z”TL

Today, 20 Kislev marks the 25th Yahrzeit of one of the towering architects of post-war Jewry, The Chaim Berlin Rosh HaYeshiva and author of Pachad Yitzchok, Rav Yitzchok Hutner Z”TL.

Rav Hutner practiced kiruv and inclusivety before they were catchwords and slogans. He created an ambience in Chaim Berlin whereby one gets ahead by yearning and striving in Torah and Avodah (service) irrespective of yichus (pedigree) or background. Read more HaGaon Rav Yitzchok Hutner Z”TL

The Parent Trap

Why are we always placating, mediating, even apologizing?

Why do we have to feel like we’re the ones mucking up family tradition?

Why do we always have to explain how it’s really not so hard or different to do things our way?

Why must we look the other way or come up with rationalizations for our kids when our relatives dress inappropriately/kvetch about how the mechitza demeans women/run to the bathroom to answer a cellphone on Shabbos/mix up the milchigs and fleishigs in the kitchen/ask for the billionth time what could possibly be wrong with taking the kids to the movies/insist that their level of Judaism is the “normal” way to be.
Read more The Parent Trap

Parents and the Big Picture

The Big Picture always gives me fuel to energize my life. Drawing away from the detailed mundane facts of the situation, and looking at it in higher terms always helps me pull out of my cramped, subjective position, into one where I feel I can (at least somewhat) participate in the injunction “Let Us Make Man” (which according to Rabbi Twersky, is Hashem speaking to man himself about the dynamic, Divine partnership that we have together with Him in creating our lives).

So, a part of this picture is that Hashem has blessed us all with parents who have given us amazing gifts and strengths. Read more Parents and the Big Picture

Appreciating Parents as a Foundation for Growth

One of the meanings of Yisrael is that it is a contraction of the words yashar (straight) and G-d’s name, kEl. I once heard this explained in the name of Rabbi Rosenberg z”l, the founder of Machon Shlomo, that one can only truly draw close to G-d by traveling in a straight path. This can be accomplished only when one has a clear recognition and appreciation of where they are starting from. Kibud av v’eim (honoring parents) is a mitzvah of great importance and a foundation of the Torah. It is also a good way to minimize friction in one’s family life. But somewhat aside from that, when fulfilled properly, kibud av v’eim, is actually a great means to succeed in one’s internal journey toward Torah observance. When there is a lack of feeling of kavod (honor) for an individual’s parents, it is impossible that they will be able to proceed through emotional challenges of the t’shuvah process and develop a healthy sense of belonging in the Frum world. (I don’t mean a failure to uphold the halachos in the Shulchan Aruch, but rather a feeling of disdain for one’s upbringing or lack of gratitude to one’s parents.)
Read more Appreciating Parents as a Foundation for Growth

A Helpful Eitzah for BTs

It is now time to turn to some of the means that a BT may use in order to survive and, perhaps, benefit from the buffetings described in last week’s posting. Our path towards the Ribbono shel Olam is always fraught with challenges but it is never devoid of the corresponding tools to address them.

At the outset it must be said, and I know that this smacks of being a cliché, that everything we confront in life requires the spiritual fortification of Torah study and mitzvah practice. It is the supra-natural efficacy of Hashem’s Will which enables our study of a difficult blatt gemora, or a passionate davening to soothe our souls and give us the combination of clarity and strength that only the Divine tavlin can provide. Read more A Helpful Eitzah for BTs

On Internet Connections

One of our primary goals of this project is to provide connection, information, ideas and support for Baalei Teshuva. A number of people have suggested we also discuss issues effecting the entire Jewish community, perhaps providing some new perspectives.

One of the wonders of the Internet is the ease at which we can communicate and connect with people from around the world. From these connections we can see that although there are different paths and opinions, most of us share the goal of a better, peaceful, purposeful existence filled with meaningful relationships. We just want to take this opportunity to call out to some of the new friends we have made during the course of this endeavor:

Lazer Brody is known as Rabbi Rambo. Read more On Internet Connections