The Challenge of Integration

For me the biggest challenge of being a Baalei Teshuva is that of integration:

– The integration of our non-observant friends and relatives with our observant nuclear family.
– The integration of our past life style with our current one.
– The integration of a life with a major focus on livelihood with a life focused on Torah, Prayer and Acts of Kindness.
– The integration of our appreciation of the contributions and wonders of the non-Jewish world with the oppositional attitudes sometimes present in the always-observant community.
– The integration of Torah, Science and Technology.
– The integration of the western world attitude of independence with the conformity often necessary to function in the observant community.
– The integration of our feelings of how far we’ve come, with our feelings of how far we have to go.

The fact that some of these integration challenges are shared by those in the always-observant community does not diminish the collective weight that they add to the Baalei Teshuva. But I think that these integration challenges are our raison d’etre, as the Chovos HaLevovos teaches us that our biggest challenges are the ones that we were primarily sent into this world to overcome.

5 comments on “The Challenge of Integration

  1. Right now, I’m identifying more with the problem of integrating with non-frum family members. My unabashedly treif-eating family doesn’t accept my dietary restrictions. Telling my family that I can’t eat in restaurants with them, or eat food that they have prepared in their kitchens doesn’t go over so well (“but you *used* to eat my food all the time!”).

    My “old” friends are actually the most accommodating and understanding. It’s a bit difficult when we go out, say, to a pub, and they want to order a plate of nachos and clams and keep insisting, “have some!” but at least they all accept that I can’t eat their home-cooked meals anymore.

  2. Sometimes I wonder if integration is necessarily a positive thing. Integration is not always simply the opposite of segregation, integration often, if not always, involves a certain level of conformity. Yeah, yeah, I know Yiddishkeit in and of itself requires a level (sometimes a high one) of conformity. What I mean is that there are BTs who have such tremendous talents and traits that they develope prior to becoming frum and even when these traits or talents are not “improper”, they are not as acceptable in the FFB world. So, at times, for the sake of “integration”, a BT will shed that skin thereby losing a part of what actually makes him who he is.

    It gies the other way as well. As BTs we often have the ability to make an impact on the frum world in a way that FFBs often don’t have. Due to our “having been there” pasts and our generally greater contact with the non-frum world, others are more likely to question us about yiddishkeit and confide in us about their interests, fears, misgivings, etc. inthat regard. This is a tremendous opportunity. But it comes with a tremendous risk on the “integration” side. That is, sometimes we are so concerned with “fitting in” or looking”cool” in the eyes of the frum world that we make poor decisions in that area. These decisions are generally made with good intentions i.e. “if they see that you can be frum and cool, they will be more open to growth in Yiddishkeit.” At other times they are made for peer pressure or egoistic reasons, i.e. not wanting to be the odd man out.

    These issues are not found in black and white areas. None of us are seriously considering eating the Pork Fried Rice at the office holiday party but some of us are struggling with the question of whether we should be going to the office holiday party.

    This particular integration issue is not limited to the office. It also crops up with “old” friends and non-frum family members that we are concerned might think we are strange.

    Point being: There is a positive and negative side to integration whether it be in to the broader frum community or in to the non-frum world. I guess the question is how to properly integrate while maintaining individuality and personal standards.

  3. I agree 100% that the challenge of integration is not a problem to be solved in its totality.

    I think it’s mostly an issue of attitudes which can be adjusted to make the challenges manageable and dare I say – enjoyable.

  4. I also find integration to be a key issue, and don’t expect to suddently come to a solutions. Part of the solution is just to live life – to a certain extent, the integration will just happen.

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