The Race

By Gregg Schwartz

After reading David Linn’s “The Monster”, I felt as though I also had a story and lessons to share. Many of you might remember me from the beyondbt.com shabbaton as the guy who was going to be running the New York marathon. Whenever I would tell a person that I’m training for a marathon, the question that inevitably follows is “how long have you been running for?”, to which I say, “about 5 weeks”, to which they just think I’m joking. But in truth, I went from running to catch the Q65A (Queens bus-about a block’s distance from my house) to 10 miles in about a month.

Last November, I had a few personal issues that had really gotten me down, and in turn, my yetzer ha’ra really got the best of me. Any food that I wanted to eat, I ate, kosher or not. I literally gained close to 20 lbs, and reversed all the growth I had built up yiddishkiet wise over the past six years. If I needed an escape, I would go out with my friends on a Friday night (not to shul). I was in a sad place and decided that I needed a way out, and a goal which would get me out of my muck. I was reading the paper and saw a section that said that you could enter the lottery for the NYC marathon. I decided that I would try it. I’ve never been known for my physical ability and decided that would be how I would get myself back on track. If G-d wanted ME to run this race, he would let my random number be picked in the lottery. Sure enough, I got in. At first, let me say, I wasn’t happy. Training for the marathon requires dedication and hard work. You have to run miles and miles almost each day, and change you diet.

I found out early in the summer that I had gotten in, and there began my training. Week 1, I was able to walk/jog up to 3 miles, Week 2 run/jog 3 mile……. Not only was I able to dedicate myself to the training, but I was able to get other areas of my life back in order, now that I was getting myself back on track. I no longer ate whatever I wanted, I ate healthy, and cut out the junk/fried food. I stopped eating out and, in the process, got back to eating kosher. I was fitting into pants that I had given up on! Additionally, I was getting into a schedule. Running Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, which included going to shul regularly on Friday and Saturday- something that I hadn’t done in close to a year.

To take the story back to the beyondbt.com shabbaton, I was gearing up for the half-marathon, 13 miles. Come Sunday, I woke up at 8AM, and ran the 13 miles in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Wow, what a feat! I went from nothing to 13 miles in 5 weeks. I was on top of the world. The nextmorning, I woke up and got out of bed…OUCH, my left foot (not the movie) was KILLING ME. After not being able to walk on it for two days, I went to the doctor. Turns out I had injured my foot. Even though my mind was ready for the 13 miles, my body wasn’t. I didn’t condition it properly to run such long distances. It turned out that, due to my injury, I was not able to run the marathon and had to postpone the race until next year. (don’t be sad, the lesson is about to follow)

In life, it’s not always about the end result, but the process that gets you there. While I wasn’t able to run the marathon this year, I have accomplished much in the process, by taking back control of MY life. I’m in great shape, feeling spiritual, and overall am feeling much better about myself. I also learned that growth isn’t something you can jump into, it’s a process. You can’t go from zero – 500 miles per hour (unless you’re a plane, but that doesn’t count). Growth must be taken on gradually, even though your mind may think it’s capable of going much faster. I wanted to run the marathon, but my body wasn’t ready for it. Having to wait another year to run the marathon offers a new oppoetunity. An opportunity to spend this coming year growing at a normal rate rather than exponentially.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Real

As we inch closer to Beyond BT’s blogaversary and I reflect on the year past, one of the preeminent aspects that sticks out in my mind is the friendships we have been able to take from the virtual world to the real world. Having had the opportunity to meet with fellow bloggers over the past year has been an unbelievable experience. Some of you, I have had the pleasure of meeting in a larger social gathering or function, others I have had the joy of sharing in your simchas and still others I have had the pleasure of dining with (thanks for the sushi, Ezzie).

Of course, the greatest opportunity for personal meetings was afforded by the BeyondBT Shabbaton where so many of us were able to spend an entire Shabbos together. Perhaps the primary goal of Beyond Teshuva is to build community. For many of us, that is done (and IMHO done well) here on the blog if only for the fact that many of us are separarated by continents. For those of us within driving distance however, the Internet will never be a substitute for a personal meeting.

With that in mind, I extend a personal invitation to join us this Motzei Shabbos at BeyondBT’s Birthday Melava Malka. If you don’t want to come to meet me or if you’ve already met me and you’ve had your fill, come for the music –“Searching for Meaning – A BTs Spiritual Journey in Music and Monologue”, come for the pizza and ice cream and, most importantly, come to help us continue bringing Beyond Teshuva to the next level.

See you there?

The location is Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, 147-02 73rd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills at 8:00 PM. The cost is $5 per person and we’re serving pizza and Ice Cream. Some people are afraid of coming to Queens and getting lost, but this address is really easy: just take the Grand Central or the Van Wyck to Jewel Avenue eastbound to Main Street. Make a right on Main Street going south. (or take the LIE to Main Street southbound). Once you’re on Main Street, make a left on 73rd Avenue (going east), and go one long block to CAY. That’s just one turn off of Main Street!

Please RSVP either in the comments or by email at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Jewish Guilt

Nearly thirty days ago my mother passed away, quietly in her sleep after a protracted illness, and I wanted to share some of my feelings and experiences, as a baal teshuvah keeping the Halachos interacting with a non-observant family.

An incident occurred at my mother’s funeral that I thought would be appropriate to discuss on Beyond Teshuvah. On my way to the U.S. to attend the funeral, my wife called while I was still in the airport in Israel and offered to call my brother, who lives in a different state than my parents, and recommend he pack an old shirt, in case he wanted to tear kyriah. “Okay,” I said, “why not tell him about it? At least he’ll have the choice.”

At some point after I arrived and we took care of the burial permit and other arrangements at the cemetery, I told my father and my other brother about the Jewish custom of kryiah, and the reasons behind it. I explained that we tear a garment to show that we believe the body is only a garment for the soul. We express our pain in this tangible way, but in a way that comforts us that only the exterior garment is lost; the soul lives on forever.

“Very well, but we aren’t going to do that,” they said. The next day, my brothers and my father prepared black ribbons to wear on their coat sleeves, and put on their best dress shirts. I am not the one to be pushy about religion, especially with my family. I was relieved that at least there was going to be a Chevrah Kadisha involved in the funeral.

That was a big concession by my brothers. When my brother was informed of my mother’s death, he immediately called the mortuary located in the local cemetery where my parents bought a plot twenty years ago. They arranged to send their workers out immediately. Then he called me, in Israel, and I suggested finding a Chevrah Kadisha in L.A. (over an hour’s drive away, without traffic).

I phoned the local Chabad Rabbi, probably the only Shomer Shabbos Jew in town, who I knew from previous trips home, and he got involved. My brother agreed to phone him, but told him that my Mom wanted a Reform ceremony, not an Orthodox one. “This has nothing to do with Reform or Orthodox,” the Rabbi said (I heard later), “this involves the difference between a traditional Jewish way of doing things, with a 2000 year history, or nothing.” My brother took the number of the Chevrah Kadisha, but only reached their beeper service.

Meanwhile, the workers from the local mortuary arrived. In what is to me an amazing display of the pinteleh Yid (the Jewish spark), my brother sent them away and waited for the Chevrah Kadisha to get back to him. He was in my parent’s home where my mother passed away; she was in hospice at home. The nurse was gone, and he was alone with her body. At this point, he told me, he was only doing this for me. He didn’t know what my mother would have wanted, and he didn’t believe it made any difference. The Chevrah Kadisha came a couple of hours later and relieved him of his uncomfortable, uneasy post.

Readers of Beyond BT understand the importance of the meaningful and respectful traditions of Jewish burial—the taharah, purification in a pool of water, tachrichim, burial shrouds, shomer, who watches over the body 24/7, and burial in a plain wooden coffin in the ground. However, my family had no familiarity with these concepts at all.

Afterwards, they extolled the praises of the Chevrah Kadisha Mortuary, who acted with great sensitivity, efficiency, and respect. They really went the extra mile (or 75 miles, at 2:00 am), and made a big kiddush Hashem.

My mother was in hospice; I expected what was going to happen. But still, I was totally unprepared. No one wants to consider these things. But it would be a good idea to have a plan for kosher Jewish burial, some information, like phone numbers and the like, and if possible and appropriate, to discuss the matter beforehand with our family members.

At the funeral, the Reform Rabbi who led the ceremony at my mother’s request, called on the husband and the sons to step forward to tear kyriah, which he went on to explain. I was surprised, but before I knew what was going on, everyone recited “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” responsively after the Rabbi (I mean everyone, even my brothers’ non-Jewish coworkers and friends of the family), and we all tore our shirts.

A few days later, I asked them why they decided to tear kyriah in the end? After all, they wore expensive shirts, and they had the black ribbons anyway. They said: “Rabbi L. (the Chabad Rabbi, who also spoke at the funeral) took us aside and spoke to us about the significance of kyriah. Then he said, ‘Really, it’s a question of what’s more important in the final analysis, a $25 shirt or your mother’s soul?’”

“Yeah, you know,” added my sister-in-law, “Jewish guilt!”

They didn’t seem upset in the least, and when Rabbi L. arranged for minyanim in my father’s home, they put on the shirts with the kryiah.

I have always been apprehensive about “religious coercion,” especially with family members. But if I didn’t get Rabbi L. involved, would my mother have had the Chevrah Kadisha? Probably not. Would my family have torn kyriah or said kaddish during shivah? Definitely not.

What are your thoughts and feelings about using Jewish guilt?

What Direction Should Beyond BT Go in the Future

I’m not an established or frequent poster to Beyond BT (admin: ahem). But I’ve been reading the site since it started and a few things have struck me in recent months. In the top right hand corner, it says that: “Beyond Teshuva is focused on providing ideas, connection and support for Baalei Teshuva in their continuing quest of learning, growing, and giving.”

For the first few months, boy did the site live up to that promise! It was amazing to hear about other people’s family issues, difficulties finding a spiritual ‘home’ and efforts to get closer to Hashem.

Maybe it’s inevitable that the first blush of excited posting and sharing should evolve into something a bit less febrile and emotional. Something perhaps a bit more considered and ‘visionary’.

The question is, how do we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’? And it’s a hard one to answer, not least because it’s hard to ask difficult questions, and to really grow in pursuit of an answer.

Is Beyond BT a mechanism for validating our exciting lifestyle and choices, or is it a forum for really exploring why certain choices have been made – and dare I say it, even exploring the possibility that certain choices and assumptions are no longer correct or appropriate?

The former is certainly more comfortable. On a personal level, I found it extremely heartening to know that other people were having difficulties with family members; or struggling with what it really means to live a Torah lifestyle.

One of the earlier posts, from a parent whose children had become frum, was also the first time that I had really heard about how it impacted the ‘other side’ in the equation.

The shiur on how BTs should try to relate to their families – stop preaching, and come down from your high horse! – was also a lightening bolt. It made me realize that on many occasions, my attitude towards my in-laws had been less than helpful. I was so busy justifying my religiousness, I forgot to honestly question if I was really living up to the Torah ideals I claimed to represent.

That was a hard realization. But ultimately, a very useful one. It’s unlikely that my parents-in-law and we will ever be on the same page. But by sheer dint of being my husband’s parents, they still need to be respected. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of what they do and think.

But that post made me realize that agreeing with them – or getting them to agree with me – is not what the Torah wants. It wants me to treat them kindly, for me to swallow my pride (and all my defensiveness) and to make our time together as pleasant as I can by not responding to barbed comments or thoughtless remarks.

But you notice, this is not a validation of how I was already doing things – it was a headlong challenge to it.

It’s very difficult to continually challenge and question ourselves. With so many people seemingly willing to do just that for us, we can get sick of it. But challenging our own assumptions is the only way we continue to ‘grow’ both as Jews, and as people.

I would like to see more posts on Beyond BT that explore some of the really difficult questions – the ones that are lurking underneath the surface, but are rarely discussed out in the open.

There are many reasons for this, not least that it’s hard for posters to put themselves ‘out there’ when they know they may well be subjected to a whole bunch of criticism.

So, I would like Beyond BT to usher in a new era of considered debate, soul-searching – and soul-finding.

But this will only work if posters are able to express themselves truthfully. If we write about a lack in our own lives or observance, for example, that lack shouldn’t be seen as a general comment on a whole community. Beyond BT should not be about who is more ‘right’.

What I would like it to be is a place where we can challenge ourselves, and others, in a constructive way. Where we first ask how a difficult issue or challenge applies to us, before liberally applying it to everyone else. And where we aren’t afraid of going “beyond” what we know – or at least, thought we knew – about our religion, our personal observance and our own behavior. A place where we recognize that whatever our starting point or current position, there is always room for improvement.

BTs in the News

The Baltimore Jewish Times has a cover story titled A Change in which they deal with the changing relationships of Baalei Teshuva and their parents.

Mr. Shichtman, now 20, was taking his first step onto the path of teshuva. His move was not uncommon; thousands throughout the world have become part of the spiritual tidal wave known as the ba’al teshuva movement, or those who have returned to Torah. Much has been written about how the commitment and discipline of observance can drive a wedge between the ba’al teshuva and his or her loved ones. Peruse your local Jewish bookstore, and you will find a series of guidebooks for how to cope when your child becomes observant, mothers telling their sob stories about children who betrayed them, and children informing the world about their parents who “just don’t get it.”

About the potential for enhancement of friendships and family relationships � how sometimes it does work out when you stick it out � virtually nothing has been written. It is time that something was.

The Jewish Week has a story Call Of The Wildes about the Manhattan Jewish Experience a Modern Orthodox outreach organization founded by Rabbi Mark Wildes.

Over the years, MJE has grown from a one-room operation located in The Jewish Center on the Upper West Side to a franchise occupying an entire, renovated floor, along with the East Side location and now, Murray Hill. And a doctor who has been active in MJE events, Marc Arkovitz, donated MJE’s first Torah, which was dedicated in a lively ceremony on Nov. 12.

Rabbi Gili Houpt, who will be overseeing the downtown branch, said it was important to locate where a lot of younger people were moving right out of college, people not yet established in a community. MJE partnered with Congregation Adereth El, an Orthodox synagogue in Murray Hill, and held the first services and a Shabbat dinner earlier this month. More than anything, say its founders and participants, MJE seeks to meet people where they are.

“I’m a realist and I don’t believe every young Jew out there is searching to become more and more religious,” said Rabbi Wildes, who grew up in Queens and got involved in outreach as a project while he was in rabbinical school at Yeshiva University. He also pursued a law degree and a master’s in international affairs. “But I do believe that a lot of people want to belong to something greater, to belong to a Jewish community.”

“Some people view outreach as ‘I’m trying to change the other person, force them to live a certain way,’” said Rabbi Houpt. “Whereas this approach is really just trying to share something with the other person, show them the beauty of Judaism. There can be more to life than what they’ve been living.”

Rabbi Gili Houpt is the husband of Chaya who is a guest contributor and commentor to Beyond BT. He was the ruach leader at our Shabbaton. He’s pictured on the left in the photo below, strumming the red guitar. We wish him much Hatzlacha in all his efforts.

Great New Organization in Monsey for Married BTs

Chayei Olam – A new organization recently formed in Monsey NY to serve the needs of married Baal Teshuva couples, would like to inform Beyond BT readers of programs now available. For men there is an incredible Sunday Morning Learning Program that includes Halacha, Chumash/Rashi, Gemoroh & Hashkofoh. It begins with Shachris at 7:45 & ends with Mincha at 12:20. Participants are invited to attend all or any of the limudim. The focus is on skill building and yedios. Our goal is to enable our participants to get the skills and knowledge to be able to enjoy learning and hopefully be able to learn with their children successfully as well. We presently have 15 – 20 participants all professional men with young families.

We also have a program for Women (a division of Neve Yerushalayim) that offers classes on Parenting, Sholom Bayis, and Practical Hilchos Shabbos.

For more information or to join any of our programs, please contact us at (845)425-3718 or email info@chayeiolam.com

Please RSVP for the Beyond BT Melava Malka

The Melava Malka is one week away on December 2nd at 8:00 PM and it would be great if all those planning to attend would RSVP to let us know you’re coming.

The location is Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, 147-03 73rd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills . The cost is $5 per person and we’re serving Pizza and Ice Cream. Some people are afraid of coming to Queens and getting lost, but this address is really easy: just take the Grand Central or the Van Wyck to Jewel Avenue eastbound to Main Street (or take the LIE to Main Street). Once you’re on Main Street go to 73rd Avenue and make a left, and go one long block to CAY. That’s just one turn off of Main Street!

The inspiration and entertainment will be a show entitled “Searching for Meaning – A BTs Spiritual Journey in Music and Monologue”, performed by a new friend whom Rabbi Lam introduced to us.

Please RSVP either in the comments or by email at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Here are two pictures from the Melava Malka after the Shabbaton:



Is Your Turkey a Holy Bird?

Although my wife Chava is working at the hospital Thursday night, she’s still making the turkey, stuffing, orange/cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie with marshmallow fluff, and pumpkin pie. America has its pros and cons, but Thanksgiving is definitely a good thing. Eat, and thank G-d.

Even atheists and agnostics seem to appreciate the spiritual nature of the day. The delicious food and drink remind us that the Almighty wants us to enjoy and experience pleasure. That’s what life is supposed to be about.

In the biblical Creation story, Mankind was originally placed in what is usually translated as the “Garden of Eden”. Did you know that “Eden” is Hebrew for pleasure? Mankind was originally placed in a Garden of Pleasure. The implication of the story of creation should be obvious, mankind was designed for pleasure.

Treat the body well.

But food is merely a pleasure for the body. Why should we celebrate the body, when the main focus of spirituality is the soul?
Read more Is Your Turkey a Holy Bird?

Frummer than Thou

As Mark so subtly pointed out in his last email, I haven’t posted here in a while. Part of the reason for that is that I haven’t been feeling especially enthused about the mitzvos lately. The Lebanon war really did propel me to a higher level, particularly in my davening, but then something happened over Sukkos that really got me down.

What happened essentially is this: Person A, whom I respect, said that Person B, who I also respect, has some incorrect hashkafos. The incident upset me on two counts. First, Person A probably would never have said that if not for my own poor choice of words in presenting Person B’s position. But even when I tried to amend my words, Person A cited an entire frum community to justify her statement. For me, that was the hardest part to take.

In my last post, I wrote about davening for strangers on the street as a means to healing the rift between Modern and Chareidi. I now think that’s the easy way out. Loving one’s fellow Yid is easy from that distance. Having a disagreement with someone makes ahavas Yisroel a lot more challenging. And when matters of hashkafa enter the picture, and the other person takes the “more frum” position, I feel an underlying personal criticism.
Read more Frummer than Thou

The BT “Problem” That Won’t Go Away

I sometimes hear back through the cracks the complaints, sometimes justified, sometimes not, of the disillusioned baalei teshuva and, sometimes, former baalei teshuva. Sometimes, it seems, they were promised rose gardens. Some were not, but believe they were. Others just changed their minds, or followed their passions, or had a mental hiccup of some kind. It’s a complicated world. I can’t say I’m on a point of spiritual development that’s on a smooth curve from where I was 21 years ago, or that I’d be all that proud of what that graph would look like if I had to draw it … though sooner or later, it will indeed be drawn.

But there is one complaint about assimilation into the frum world that is so common that while I have yet to meet someone who used it as a rationale to stop doing God’s will as revealed in the Torah, well, it can’t be helping anyone.

It’s the Derech Eretz Problem.

On the one hand, derech eretz — the basic mode of behavior among people within a society — is laudable in the frum world. Let’s shave off the issue of corruption and crime; regrettably, we have our criminals, and they are all the more noticeable for their outer trappings of orthodoxy; but still we are not a particularly threatening group to each other or the rest of the world. Get past that and there are behaviors that are fairly common “out there” but relatively unheard of in the normative orthodox world and certainly in the yeshiva environment. Examples of bad social behavior rare in the frum world that spring to mind based on my own observation are disrespect of the elderly, physical confrontations, street crime and petty dishonesty, foul language, and, with limited exceptions, following the Boston Red Sox.

But when we gather around in little groups in our weaker moments, what we talk about is the Derech Eretz Problem.
Read more The BT “Problem” That Won’t Go Away

Beyond BT Anniversary Melava Malka on Dec 2nd

To celebrate the one year anniversary of Beyond BT, we’re excited to announce a Melava Malka on December 2nd at 8:00 PM at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Kew Gardens Hills. So far we’ve set the cost at $5 per person and are serving Pizza and Ice Cream.

The inspiration and entertainment will be a show entitled “Searching for Meaning – A BTs Spiritual Journey in Music and Monologue”, performed by a new friend whom Rabbi Lam introduced to us.

If we can pickup a wireless Internet connection at CAY, we might blog the event live, so those who can’t join us in person, can at least join us in the comment section. In any event it should be a great night and we hope that all who are able to, will join us.

Please RSVP either in the comments or by email at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Pre Shabbos Links and Stuff

A Lonely Man of Faith is a new documentary about the life and legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik.
This is a new documentary film on the life and legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the intellectual leader
of Modern Orthodox Judaism in 20th Century America. Throughout his life, in Europe, New York and Boston,
he struggled to forge a path between Jewish tradition and the modern age, an ordeal that frequently resulted
in loneliness. His impact was tremendous but his legacy was complicated.

Mazal Tov to Beyond BT commentor, Sephardi Lady, who blogs over at Orthonomics, on the birth of a baby girl. And a Mazal Tov to Mr. Sephardi Lady.

Mazal Tov to Mr. & Mrs. Menachem Lipkin on the birth of a grandson to their children Etana & Zev Hecht.

See the video or hear the audio of Rav Noach Weinberg’s address at the Tiferes Bnei Torah (TheShmuz.Com) Melava Malka on 11/11/06.

Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values

Before getting into my latest question/difficulty, I would like to give a quick follow-up on my last post, “Trying to Pray”. I wish I could say there was some dramatic change and my prayers are now impassioned and sincere. Unfortunately, were I to say that, I would be lying. What did change is my perspective, thanks to a wonderful story I read. I can’t remember where it was written, or who was involved (maybe someone who remembers these kinds of things will be able to help—I hate telling unattributed stories), but here goes:

A depressed Jew went to his Rebbe and explained his problem—he felt uninspired in his praying and learning, and in fact didn’t enjoy doing either. The Rebbe answered him by saying that he (the Rebbe) was jealous! He himself enjoyed praying and learning so much, that he felt that he wasn’t fully serving Hashem in either, because his own enjoyment meant that he was never praying or learning for Hashem’s sake alone. Meanwhile, the other man had the opportunity to pray and learn only for the sake of heaven, with no personal enjoyment acting as an ulterior motive.

Since reading this story, I’ve been trying to approach my prayers with the attitude of “here is an opportunity to really serve Hashem.” I might find praying difficult, but that just makes my efforts to pray all the more important. In fact, I do feel that I grow more in twenty minutes of prayer (with a lot of effort to focus) than I do in several hours of preparing for Shabbat guests (a mitzva I love to do).
Read more Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values

Happy Upcoming First Birthday to Beyond BT – Looking Back on Where We’ve Been

By Charnie

Come November 28, it will be one year since this blog went live. Undoubtedly, the administrators will have plenty to say about what this experience has meant to them. But obviously it’s meaningful to many of us out here, both occasional visitors and those of us who’ve become the “regulars”. So many times I’ve had conversations with other BT friends, and they’ve brought up an issue, such as how to handle non-frum family simchas, that I know has been covered here. So I’ll direct them to the website, perhaps emailing them a link to an article they might find helpful.

There aren’t too many websites I visit on a regular basis, but somehow, this one seems to be an exception. There’s a curiosity to see “what’s happening”. Is there a discussion going on that grabs me? So I’ve been thinking why I’ve gotten so involved, for lack of a better escription.

It’s unusual to find a website that sort of speaks personally to ones self. Many of the frum websites either are too beginner oriented or just don’t seem to be put together in a way that yours truly finds riveted enough to make that frequent hit. If someone checks my surfing history, they’ll surely see that I’ve followed links from my weekly Aish and OU emails, kept up with the family, and pursued a fascination with genealogy. There’s trying to get a real picture of what’s going on news wise in Israel and some good ole R&R as well, mostly in the form of silly podcasts, because everyone needs to have fun now and then.

Yet, repeatedly I’ll visit Beyond BT. It almost feels like a family, with its unique members. I admit to having favorite posts. For starters, there are any of Shayna’s, and particularly the one Uninspired by Inspired, which is still one of the most commented on here. Among the many inspiring pieces, I personally related to Ora’s article about davening during the Hizbullah war this past summer. There were all those “arguments” about which type of kiruv is best, wherein you can find yours truly insisting that there is no one size fits all. A position I adamantly stand by. David Kirschner hit quite a few high notes, and this recent post created quite a lengthy discussion about “frum garb”, right or wrong. But the winner, not just in number of comments, but in my mind in terms of practicality, is still the one about financial realities of the frum world. This post also led me to Sephardi Lady’s Orthonomics blog(Mazal Tov on your recent baby), where some of the stories were outright heartbreaking. As might be expected, I do have an affinity for posts by other women, but there’s nothing surprising about that – after all, women speak to one another in very meaningful ways, although according to a recent newspaper article I read, we are a very small part of the blogosphere.

This blog made me think (always a worthy goal). It made me very aware of the big hole in my BT growth insofar as “formal” education goes. How fortunate those women who’ve had the opportunity to learn in Israel are! Then I got to thinking – why didn’t I head off to someplace like Neve myself back when I was first becoming frum? And I came to the realization that at the time when I was becoming frum, I was also living in a rent-controlled apartment in a community in which I was growing a lot. There was no way I could have afforded to have taken off for Israel and still paid the rent, and subletting was not an option. Once upon a time I think I suggested having a Beyond BT group flight to Israel. For one thing, we’d get to visit with our Beyond BT friends who live in Israel. And for another, having a group rate might make it more affordable for those of us who are caught in the tuition struggle. At this stage in life, going to Israel is my only desire, and my biggest goal. It’s the only thing that makes credit card debt on a mileage card a bit less depressing then it actually is.

The highlight of the year, for those of us who were fortunate to attend, was certainly the Shabbaton! There was tremendous ruach, and it was so much fun meeting the faces behind the posts and comments. It would be so much fun to have more events in other locations, in order to be more inclusive for our OOT members.

So, in closing let me just wish us all a “Happy Birthday Beyond Teshuva” and keep up
the great job!

Baalei Teshuva Resources on the Web

We’re trying to provide links to Baalei Teshuva resources on the Internet. Please list in the comments any BT resources that you have found helpful that are not included on this Wikipedia page..

While we’re looking at the Widipedia page, do you think it accurately captures the history and essence of Baalei Teshuva? What information is missing from it? Do you find any of the information to be inaccurate?

Pre Shabbos Links and Stuff

Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner z”tl on Why Harold Kushner Is Wrong.
We are required, writes Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in The Way of God, to both “believe and know” that there is a God. This statement is hard to understand. If I know that there is a God, then belief is extraneous. The explanation is that knowing does not refer to empirical knowledge. Rather “knowing” refers to a process of relating our faith in God to everything we do. Knowing that there is a God means that our faith in Him must become inseparable from who we are and how we view the world.

Attaining this level is the work of a lifetime. Most of us are far from reaching it. We walk through life as if in a fog. Our faith remains theoretical at best. When we think about God, we forget the world. And when we think about the world, we forget God. No integration of God into our world takes place.

Occasionally, however, events intrude with such force that we are compelled to deal with our faith in the context of what is taking place in our lives. Suffering is one such event. It challenges us to confront the ultimate questions of who we are and what is the significance of our lives. Suffering is a painful invitation to deepen our faith and make it a real part of our lives.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, will be speaking at the Tiferes Bnei Torah (aka The Shmuz.Com) Melave Malka, this Motza’ei Shabbos, November 11 at 7:30 at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Kew Gardens Hills.

Don’t forget to learn some Mishnah Berurah today in honor of the 100th anniversary of it’s completion.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on The Rules of Halacha. Highly recommended.

A Big Anniversary

Yasher koach to the researcher of the recent post The Chofetz Chaim’s Obituary in the NY Times (1933) and the administrators for putting it up. Here’s another important anniversary to mark, which I saw mentioned on a YahooGroups email list in Hillcrest, NY:

This Friday November 10th, is the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Mishnah Berurah, one of the seminal sources of Jewish law. If you look closely at the last page of the Mishnah Berurah, the Chofetz Chaim, in an unusual move, wrote down the exact date he finished writing his essential sefer:

“I have finished with the grace of Hashem on the 19th day of MarCheshvan 5667″
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Do You Exist? – Please Take the Time to Vote on Election Day

“If we don’t vote, we don’t exist.” Those words, spoken with passion and conviction by my dear chaver Rabbi Yechiel Kalish, stopped me in my tracks during an enjoyable dinner that we were sharing recently.

Rabbi Kalish ought to know. He serves as Coordinator for Agudath Israel of America’s Commission on Government Affairs and as their Midwest Director. He is charming, engaging, and extraordinarily knowledgeable in the ‘ways and means’ of how government operates.

Rabbi Kalish and many other dedicated officers in Jewish communal organizations represent you in governmental matters that are important to your life. Securing financial support for mosdos Hatorah. Getting government grants for chesed organizations. Lowering your taxes. Protecting your rights in the workplace. Equally important are the initiatives that the leadership of Agudath Israel and other Jewish organizations are working tirelessly to actualize. School vouchers. Tax credits for yeshiva tuition payments. Financial aid for parents of learning disabled or handicapped children.
Read more Do You Exist? – Please Take the Time to Vote on Election Day

The Sweetness of Struggle and Success

My first Sabbath taught me an important lesson about training the palate to enjoy the sweet flavor of success.

I had been traveling through Israel on my way from Crete to Kenya, and I was looking to while away a few months volunteering on kibbutz, not attending yeshiva. But it was November, when agricultural work is scarce and kibbutzim don’t need volunteers. So when I happened upon an institution offering room and board, together with a degree of intellectual stimulation, it seemed a remarkable stroke of good fortune, one that would provide a cheap and pleasant distraction for a month or two or three. I miscalculated — by nine years.

It didn’t take me long to recognize the wisdom that permeated the walls of the study hall and to appreciate ancient traditions that guided the Torah community. Committing myself to a foreign way of life, however, was an entirely different matter. I had arrived not knowing aleph-beis, never having heard of Shavuos or Sukkos or Tisha B’av, never having seen a lulav or heard a shofar. Talmudic study was intriguing, the philosophy insightful, but I hadn’t come looking to upend my life or rethink my worldview, and I gave no serious consideration to doing either.
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