It’s very natural to try to insulate yourself with those who are as similar to you as possible. As a BT, we often form bonds with those who have gone through the same experiences as us – those who have also changed the direction of their lives to include Torah. This is a comfortable enclave; there are similar stories to share, others can appreciate the world we came from and can empathize with the current struggles to balance between non-religious familial obligations and our new lives.
The problem is, insulating ourselves with those who have gone through the same experiences as we have leaves out a lot of people – and many who we can learn an enormous amount from. And it also splinters a world that is broken in enough pieces as it is – just in the Orthodox world, there are divisions between Hareidi and Modern, between Chasidish and Litvish. Not to mention the huge divide that occurs between “frum” and “non-frum” Jews, a gap that many often believe to be unbridgeable.
But if we look for the commonalities rather than the differences between all Jews, we can find a world where bonds can be bridged over these formidable canyons, a Kiddush Hashem can be made, and achdus between all kinds of Jews can be formed. When I was first becoming religious, I had a very hard time relating to my non-religious family, friends and co-workers, often judging them harshly because of the decisions they had decided not to make. But I gradually came to appreciate the fact that many of them did value their Judaism very much, but connected to it in different ways than I did.
I also had a hard time connecting with those who grew up frum, in insular settings, and whose experiences included very little interaction with non-Jews, in contrast to my formative years in which I had virtually no Jewish friends. They just didn’t seem capable of understanding where I came from, and the background that made me who I had become.
Eventually, though, I realized that you have to look at each person individually, because people are people, and Jews and Jews, and that is enough to find many connecting points. And because of this realization today, I am fortunate to have as friends people from all types of backgrounds – BT and FFB, frum and non-frum, Jewish and non-Jewish. I believe that this gives me a greater appreciation for the color that life can hold, for the fact that you can learn something from each person, and that you never know who you will form the strongest bonds with, despite their background and external trappings.
If we look beyond the background, beyond the clothing and hairstyles, we can find bonds to be made between all types. We can truly begin to build Klal Yisrael. And instead of individual broken links, we can build a strong chain of unity and achdus together.