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. A Baal Teshuva that ends up learning in the Mir or Chaim Berlin after getting their skills developed in one of the BT yeshivas, should be able to feel as part of the crowd at Vishnitz in Monsey or Shomer Shabbos in Brooklyn. Not that you want to be there but just that you should feel comfortable there (at least from the davening part).

Also, many of these boys and gals will and could then marry a FFB. You might ask what good is that? Well , frum family is a good start. On top of that, I think you would then feel like: “ I’ve made it”. I think that getting that self esteem booster will do wonders for your morale. Also, if one of you is FFB then you will have a stabilizing factor when dealing with your children and religious issues as opposed to getting deep anxious thoughts when your kid wants to watch TV at grandma’s and you have visions of him going off the derech because of the latest sponge bob episode.

What are you supposed to do if you aren’t married to an FFB? Learn like one. That really is the key. I have met many Baal Teshuvas that learn up a storm and they fit in much better (at least in my opinion).

It isn’t that simple. We’ve all been there. It is like any good salesperson. If you walk into your next client like you are Hashems gift to sales, you will probably walk out of there with a new sale. If you walk in like a nebech, you’ll walk out of there with pity. I don’t mean to say that we should forget our pasts and just conform. I mean we shouldn’t stick out like sore thumbs and we should give and contribute to our new “extended family” all the good that we have to offer.

Rabbi Alter Klein
Yeshivas Ohr Avraham – Bet Shemesh

13 comments on “What does Brown vs. Board of Ed. Have to Do with Us?

  1. As an FFB, it seems like an important point on this topic (for FFBs and Baalei Teshuva) is as follows:

    Conformity and acceptance into a community are very important as a support structure. It is very hard to be frum if everyone in shul is wearing black and white, and you’re in jeans.

    However, another point is that a lot of things in the frum community are the way they are for a reason, and if you can do for that deeper reason, you’ll reap a tremendous spiritual reward (in Olam hazeh and olam haba).

    For example, for people who wear black hats, you can do it for one of two reasons (or a combination of the two): either because everyone else wears one and you want to fit in, or because you feel there’s more kavod hatefilla with a hat. Although the first reason is important, if you can do it for the second reason as well, it will make a huge difference to your davening, as doing a token act for kavod hatefilla will reinforce the emotion of kavod hatefilla immensely.


  2. Hi Rabbi Klein:

    So I had to go on this wonderful new site to find you across the world. Hope all is well. Thanks so much for your words of wisdom, always something to think about. A good goal is to feel comfortable and be able to fit in to many settings with many people. I have always thought we do that best when we feel confident of who we are and what we have to offer in any circumstance and of course to be respectful of others and their differences. Best regards to all.

  3. I am glad that I stimulated some interesting responses to my article. I just wanted to make sure that nobody misunderstood my remark about Monsey or Boro Park. I happen to think Eretz Yisrael is the place to be. However, Monsey is a great community. Boro Park also has its good. I just meant that if people are feeling that FFB communities are often too stale of spirituality, then atleast you should feel comfortable davening there( from a self esteem standpoint) , even if you don’t want to be part of such an environment. I in no way meant to speak Loshon Hora about Monsey and Brooklyn.
    Kol Tuv.

  4. As part of the ongoing topic of conformity vs.non-conformity Rabbi Klein urges us towards stronger learning skills as the vehicle for conforming to Torah Societal norms and writes:”I don’t mean to say that we should forget our pasts and just conform. I mean we shouldn’t stick out like sore thumbs.”

    I think this really begs the question : Nonconform from what and conform to what? Additionally the issues of conformity and what/how much of our pasts to drop rather than to integrate are not unrelated. One of the great pioneer post-war Rosh Yeshivas who pushed many of his students towards wearing long “levush” (kapotes or bekishes)famously commented “The day some Parisan fashion designers makes Kapotes all the rage is the day I go back to wearing sport jackets”

  5. IMO, the ability to learn on ones own should always be a goal. At that same time, it often unrealistic to expect the average BT who comes to Torah later in life to be able to “hold his own” with most FFBs. The qtrick is to build your self-esteem based upon your desire and hishtadlus in reaching that goal as opposed to actually reaching it. I think its also important to build your self-esteem based upon the personal hurdles you have overcome and your growth in areas other than learning especially middos refinement.

  6. Shalom, Rabbi Klein. I’d love to see the statistics of BT-FFB marriages. And, are these FFBs Grade A Prime shidduch material?
    Best to all!

  7. BS”D

    Tee hee. I’m in a BT-FFB marriage, and as I said in my own post, Wearing the Label, my wedding felt to me like a BT graduation ceremony. But why shouldn’t we want to be in Monsey or Boro Park? Perhaps you should add the word “necessarily” to that sentence, because some of us indeed do like Monsey and Boro Park.

  8. Michoel – Thank you for participating and we hope we’ll see you continuing in this ongoing conversation.

  9. If a person can’t understand a page of gemarra with Rashi, without peeking in Artscroll, it makes it difficult to feel like one of the chevra. When an entire community goes to a Shabbos hagadol drashsa, and he doesn’t get much of the terminology used, it can be a big source of frustration. Also, when one’s children want help with their homework and he can’t help them, it can damage the kavod that the child has for his father, and lead to other problems. It is well worth it for everyone to learn intensively to aquire the skills necessary, because that can only be done thorugh “intensive” learning. I agree that full time learning is definitely not right for everyone, and can actually be very damaging. I am using the term “intensive learing” to mean learning that is done consistently with exerting great effort and as an obligation. Not learning that is done because one desires mental or spiritual inspiration.

    I think we agree more or less. Thanks for starting this blog. It is a very good idea.

  10. I think consistent lifelong learning is a more on-target message then intensive learning ala Mir or Chaim Berlin.

    Full time intensive learning is not an option for so many people. But it probably makes sense that everybody (BT & FFB) have some real “knock your head against the wall” learning as part of their Torah diet.

  11. And, yes, intensive learning is a change that they all should make. Although I don’t think that full time learning is the right path for everyone. It is very difficult to feel like a citizen in country where you don’t speak the language. In the frum world, Torah is the language.

  12. Hello Rabbi Klein,
    Great article. I think (and I’m sure you agree) that these issues are very strongly dependent on the individual involved. What is critical is that the desire to integrate, should not be energized by (sometimes unconcious) self-deprecation. When baalei tshuvah come to the frum world with a strong sense of self, they can more easily and successfully chose their path. When there are personal issues (and there often are), the rule should be to minimize all changes that are not truly integral to the Yiddishkeit. First they should build themselves up “ba’asher hu sham” and then concern themselves with questions of approach.

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