First off, let me tell you my name. I’m Martin Fleischer, from Kew Gardens Hills, NY, and I’m 46 years old, married 24 years and have 2 daughters, ages 17 and 13. I do know that I feel more Frum than ever before, but I often wonder if I’m a “true” Ba’al Teshuva in the plain sense of the term. However, according to Rabbi Zev Leff in “Outlooks & Insights”, and another source I heard once but don’t remember, in a way, all Frum Jews are “Ba’alei Teshuvah”, each striving to do what Hashem really wants from us.
Here is my story:
I grew up in a “mixed marriage” household. Now, before you assume that it means what you might think it means, my Dad was Reform, and my Mom was Orthodox. However, my Dad almost never went to shul (a Conservative shul where my Zaide served as a Gabbai). Both my Mom & I attended shul pretty much only on the Jewish Holidays ….except when I was in Hebrew School (same shul as above), when attendance was pretty much mandatory, I believe.
At 13, of course, I got Bar Mitzvah (it was just getting called up to the Torah for an Aliyah on a weekday morning) at an Orthodox shul…a few weeks before, my Bubby passed away, and my Zaide made me promise that I would put on Tefillin (which he gave me) every day…..which I did….and continue to do. That’s why I wonder if I’m truly BT. all the way…because so many Jews who weren’t observant but are now didn’t even do that. However, there is a catch: I only said a portion of the morning service for years, even until I was married about 12 years! I only said the page that had the passage containing “thou shalt break its neck”, having to do with first born animals. It was not that much, but it was something!
All this time, though, with very few exceptions, I kept the Shabbos (meaning no work), and always took off the Jewish Holidays. But, I never left early for Shabbos or Yom Tov, all the way from the time I was in (public) high school until winter 1990.
As for going to shul (or not), I did start going a little bit on Shabbos (in addition to the holidays), but soon I stopped again. So, you might ask, what started me on the path back to what I had done in Hebrew School (or even more)? Well, give credit to my mother-in-law…that’s right! Here is what happened:
On Pesach 1989, my (then) 1-year old daughter was sick. She needed medicine, and my wife had suggested that after shul, I go to the pharmacy to get some. My mother-in-law, who happened to be there at that time, must have seen me make a face that indicated that since it was Pesach, I didn’t want to go (I mean, my wife could have gone..but, if your daughter is sick, it takes precedence over all else). She made a comment that I would say “jump-started” my path back. She said, “you don’t even go to shul on Shabbos”, which was true. Well, it really got to me, so, to paraphrase the old Nike ad, I “just did it”. (BTW, I don’t think I went to the pharmacy after all!) Except for when I was sick,(or my wife was in the hospital for the birth of our 2nd daughter), I have not missed going to shul on Shabbos since then. (BTW, it took 1 year for me to start going to daven Friday nights and leave early for Shabbos, 7 years more for me to go to Mincha/Maariv on Shabbos, and 11 years to start going every day to shul)
It has taken 17 years, but, as they say in Pirkei Avos, one mitzvah leads to another, and in my case, it’s certainly true, though I would not say I’m totally perfect (I wonder who is), but I know I’m still trying to be, and that in itself is what Hashem wants.
Presently, in addition to going to shul every day, I read Parsha books to my girls on Shabbos & Yom-Tov, sometimes read the Chumash to them, get items off of Aish & other sites to read with them, enrolled my youngest daughter in a Yeshiva HS for next year (both girls are in PS at this time..my oldest is off to college next fall), go to Shiurs almost every day of the week, daven 3 times a day, have a timer & Shabbos lamps and keep lights on and turn lights off for Shabbos/Yom-Tov…these are recent occurences), read read read books to myself & to my kids NOT about the Parsha, but having to do with being a better Jew, try to read a Blatt of Gemara a day, read Tehillim every day…well, you get the idea.
One last thing….I made sure that my girls had a Jewish education of some sort, enrolling them for Hebrew school, and then (in my oldest daughter’s case), tutors for 4 years, leading up to their Bas Mitzvahs.
Well, there you have it..I hope my ramblings aren’t too confusing and all over the place, but I tend to write what is on my mind as it comes to me.
I’d love to hear from any and all of you on what I had to say. The question remains…am I a Ba’al Teshuva? I think so!