You’re the Inspiration…

My oldest child recently turned 4 years old. I’ve been thinking about her growth in life, and my own growth in observance. And this refrain from a Chicago song kept repeating in my head:

You’re the meaning in my life
you’re the inspiration.
You bring feeling to my life
you’re the inspiration.
Wanna have you near me
I wanna have you hear me sayin':
No one needs you more than I need you.

Before we started having children, my wife and I had discussed how we would raise them. They would be raised keeping kosher, observing Shabbos, etc. At that time though, I was not observing a lot of those myself. It’s only after she was born that I was able to look at our family life using a different set of lenses. It certainly wasn’t an overnight process, but I started to see things that I realized would be sending her confusing messages. For example, on one trip to visit family, we stopped at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike. My wife pulled out a sandwich she made at home that morning. I went in and bought a beef hot dog. Even though she was only about a year or so old at the time, it struck me that we couldn’t keep doing it this way, we’d be sending a mixed message. Eventually I went completely kosher. (I have a few things to say about that… hopefully my next write up.)

I also used to use the computer and turn on the TV on Shabbos (usually putting in an “Einstein” kids’ DVD to keep her occupied for a little while). However, the same thing struck me, eventually she would learn that these types of activities are not supposed to occur on Shabbos, and question my doing so. I phased this out, and eventually became Shomer Shabbos myself. Soon after this (when she was two), she started attending a pre-school at our local Chabad. It suddenly felt like she was rocketing ahead of me. She wanted to start saying brachas (when she remembered), saying the Shema at bedtime (with me helping her remember the words), etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m racing to keep up with her. There are things we learn together. For example, I never got the hand washing prayer quite memorized, I used to have to check to make sure I got the words right. Then she wanted to say it and I had to learn and do it word by word with her so she would get it right (otherwise she would wind up saying Motzi when washing, oops!) I still get excited watching her learn more and more. Now at her pre-school (and camp) they bake challos on Fridays to bring home. When I do Motzi over the big challos, and distribute the pieces, she then wants to divide up her little challah, and share that with the family as well.

My growth isn’t entirely because of her, nor because of my second daughter (now 2), not even because of my wife (who worries occasionally that I do things only because I think I *have* to do them for her, or for the kids). Rather it is because I realize the beauty of what I am raising in my kids, and I want to be a part of it too! Thus my kids truly are my inspiration. And I hope that never ends “’til the end of time.”

Giving Up Treif Food with Unexpected Ease

By Larry Lennhoff

For years before I began my journey I was a non-observant bachelor living in Boston. One of my hobbies was eating out. I didn’t like to cook, and had no relatives or other people with whom to share meals, so I ate out a LOT. My definition of dining in (which I rarely did) was to get to-go food from some restaurant and bring it home.

20 years of this and you build up quite a repertoire of restaurants. There were literally dozens of restaurants where I could go and recognize and be recognized by the wait staff. If my friends wanted to know where to go for Mongolian-Thai fusion cooking, I was recognized as the authority. If you asked me for directions, you were likely to get a response in the form ‘Go down Cambridge street until a block past Colleen’s, then turn left at the Pu Pu Hot Pot and continue until you reach the light with the J.P. Lick’s on the corner….

This continued to a lessened extent even when after I met my wife. We soon started becoming more observant. One place she stayed well ahead of me was keeping kosher outside the home. I wasn’t sure I could ever give it up completely. Lose the ever growing, ever shifting panoply of exotic foreign foods for metro Boston’s meager selection of half a dozen kosher restaurants? With the majority those located 45 minutes away by car?

Finally a day came when I unexpected had to make the plunge. No last grand farewell tour, no lingering over a final selection of my favorite dishes, not even a chance to order my one-of-a-kind specialty sandwich from Flossie at the local Friendly’s. I was instantly going full kosher outside the house, if you will excuse the expression, cold turkey. 20 years plus of investing myself in the metro Boston restaurant scene, gone in an instant.

It was easy. I was stunned – since that day I have never eaten non-kosher food at a treife restaurant. I feel pangs of nostalgia, but I’ve never even been seriously tempted to go back and try one last kung pao chi ding.

Here is the takeaway lesson I learned. How many other flaws and habits that I think are a basic part of who I am could I break if I only went out and tried? We all know Hashem gave us free will, and we all know the strength of the Yetzer Harah, but I think we sometime forget that we have a Yetzer Hatov as well. If you are just are willing to trust it and take the plunge, you too may be surprised at just how easy it is.

Post Retirement Planning

Has anybody been involved with trying to convince non-observant relatives to do a Tahara? What was you approach and the relatives reaction?

To help us all become more informed in such matters, the Jewish Heritage Center presents:

A Series of Shiurim on The End of the Jewish Life Cycle

Presented by Rabbi Elchonon Zohn
Director-National Association of Chevros Kadisha

Despite great leaps forward in nutrition, hygiene and medical technology increasing our longevity, the mortality rate stands still at 100 per cent. Old age, quality of life, and death are issues that many of us now face and that all of us MUST deal with in the future. This fascinating series will deepen our understanding of Jewish end-of-life traditions and empower us to rise above the deep-seated anxiety, fears and the uncertainty that shroud the end of our lives.

All Classes Mondays @ 8:30 PM, Doors open at 8:15 PM

At the Jewish Heritage Center: 68-29 Main Street Flushing

**PLEASE NOTE THE SCHEDULING CHANGES OUTLINED BELOW**
July 30-How Death Gives Meaning to Life
Living meaningful lives, time-management, embracing our own mortality, providing compassionate elder care, understanding euthanasia, DNR orders, hospice care through the prism of the value of and sanctity of life.

August 6 August 13 -Paying Last Respects Respectfully
Tzava’ah (wills), pre-need planning for ourselves and for others, last rites and confession, cremation / above ground burial / in ground burial, purchasing a burial plot in Israel or at home, monumentation.

August 13 August 20 -Profound Beliefs and Meaningful Practices
Takhrikhim (shrouds), Tahara (post-mortem ablutions), Shmira (guarding the remains), Hespedim (eulogies), Shiva–shloshim–shanah, the Torah way in mourning, Gilgulim (reincarnation), Tekhias haMesim (resurrection).

Free with RSVP or $5 at the door
To RSVP please call 1-888-4JUDAISM (458-3247)
or email: series@theJHC.org

Keep the Enthusiasm, Beware the Naiveté’

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

As people become religious, or rather as they encounter Torah and a religious lifestyle, and people with a connection with Hashem, the soul awakens, it bursts into flame through the grunge and piles of dirt of life. An enthusiasm, a thirst is born. And it’s a joy to have, and a joy to see. Even to the point, for some who have grown up within the religious world, it’s almost scary. Such a yearning and thirst for Hashem and Torah, it’s weird, seems unbalanced. It’s not, it’s just a soul coming alive.

And, thank G-d, the Torah world has many people who devote themselves to helping make this happen, and helping people take their first steps towards a Torah life. And as those people arrive with their enthusiasm, they flock to these wonderful ‘outreach’ people as a source of the light, emissaries for Hashem. Doesn’t matter whether the outreach people are from Chabad, or Aish, or Lakewood, or any of the many wonderful organizations. With their beard and hat, their kind words and teaching, their warm wishes to help and thoughts of Torah, relationships are developed and people are guided.

Yet, sometimes these people stumble. They are faced with many challenges, pressures of money, competing people in need, organizational expectations, etc.

My dear brothers and sisters, BT’s and BT’s to be, a tremendous amount of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, and the Talmud, are devoted to the laws of relations, and money. Every .. single .. person .. has a yetzer hara, an evil inclination. The yetzer hara doesn’t come to the rabbi (or rebbetzin) and say, each treif (non-kosher). He says, “it’s just a moment, it’s ok to be alone with the person, what you are doing is important.” It’s not ok, it’s never ok, it leads to problems. He says, “just borrow the money, it’s for the community, it’s ok if you really don’t know if you will be able to pay it back, Hashem will help”. It’s not ok, it’s never ok, someone is going to get hurt and burned.

Please my friends, these wonderful people are, B”H, wonderful people. They have indeed devoted their life to helping people, to helping you. But they are also human, just like everyone else. This wonderful and incredibly challenging mix of a spark of G-dliness in a mundane physical body, an animal that has desires and wants to be fed. Because they give so much, it’s common to put them on a pedestal. Yet the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t say, don’t be alone with the opposite gender except if its the rabbi or rebetzen. It doesn’t say, give them a loan with no contract or signed and cosigned and agreed repayment schedule up front.

Help them stay on the pedestal. If he/she wants to do something that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t help them do the wrong thing for the right reason. Keep in mind, everyone, everyone gets challenged, and it’s often tricky and it’s often in the weak spot. The beard and yalmulkah, or shaitel and long skirt, doesn’t make one exempt.

May Hashem help us all to overcome our yetzer hara, and may we all help each other!

Adventures In Hachnasas Orchim

We travel back to the mid 1980s. A very important ingredient in my metamorphosis from assimilated to BT were the people from my chosen community, who ALWAYS invited me to one of their homes for every single Shabbos and Yom Tov meal. These meals were rich and very rewarding experiences, and as I transitioned to frumkeit, I was of the impression that this was how all frum communities worked all the time. If you are a Jew in shul, the community finds out if you are set up for meals, and if not, they do whatever is necessary to fill that void. I found out later with my wider experiences that I was sadly mistaken about this, but that is not the subject matter for this piece.

There came a point where I began feeling awkward about constantly receiving from the community without ever giving back. After I learned the ropes of what it meant to keep a kosher home — this didn’t happen overnight — I made a radical change in my modus operandi to rectify this situation. Every Shabbos I would prepare one meal at home and invite guests. That is, I would go to a community home for one meal, and I would stay in my own home one meal and invite guests.

Typically, I would invite one or two married couples along with a number of single people. I would also seek guests who were attending services but had no scheduled place for themselves for a Shabbos meal. Typically I would have 8-10 guests, with 15 being the highest on record.

The number of guests never really mattered to me. If people were available one way or another I would find a way to make it work. I was never short of food, so that wouldn’t be a problem. I always prepared plenty and then I lived on the leftovers for the rest of the week. I was single at the time and I never got tired of Shabbos leftovers. I still never tire of Shabbos leftovers, and I highly recommend the practice of overdoing your Shabbos food preparations. You carry Shabbos with you into the week with your cuisine, and you have that much less to prepare on a daily basis.

Back on subject however, I didn’t title this writing, “Adventures in Hachnasas Orchim” for nothing, so here are a few of the many adventures that live in my memory .. learning experiences one and all.

My entire community functioned pretty much the same way during Shabbos meals. The rabbi spoke both Friday night and Saturday and we would try to recall at our tables what the rabbi had spoken about, trying to remember all of his points as best we could. Some community members seemed to have total recall, and would literally repeat every single word. For those who could do so, this was especially nice for the wives who didn’t come to shul. We would add divrei Torah of our own — I myself would also be prepared with something — and then there would always be zemiros (songs).

We had a very nice bentcher that the whole community used, which included around 70 zemiros arranged and numbered. Someone would call out a number and we would sing the zemer (song) to one niggun (tune) or another. One of the favorite jokes of the community was that we didn’t have to sing the zemiros anymore. All we had to do is call out the number and it would be as if we had actually sung the song.

If any of the female guests joined in the singing, nobody stopped her or said anything to her. In no way would we embarrass a newbie in the process of taking in a beautiful Shabbos experience.

That was the thing about hachnasis orchim in our community. New people flocked to us, probably because of our cordiality in reaching out to them. It certainly helped with yours truly. We wanted our orchim to take home with them nothing but positive experiences. Of course we also have seichal and would speak to individuals privately about various things when we deemed it appropriate, but that’s another story and not for this article.

Kol isha was one issue we were very sensitive about, and hand shaking was another. Many times, for example, my guests would want to shake my hand before departing, and that of course included the ladies. Technically speaking, this is an halachic predicament. A man is not supposed to take a woman’s hand, but then again, a man is definitely not supposed to embarrass her. I would have to choose between the two, take her hand, or say something she could conceivably find offensive or uncomfortable. My choice was to smile and shake her hand.

Speaking of offensive or uncomfortable … and I’ll throw in embarrassing … I’ll dedicate the rest of this piece to a few “sensitive” moments in my hachnasas orchim career that I will never forget. Call them golden orchim oldies.

I once had a guest who was an aspiring professional comedian. He was a Jew with zero experience at any observant Shabbos tables. As he was used to livening up parties with his humor, he kept trying to crack jokes and make people laugh. The problem was that in the world he knew and loved, his jokes were funny, but in our far more spiritual world, his jokes were embarrassing and highly inappropriate.

Nobody knew what to say to this man. All we could do was be polite and smile. Eventually he realized that he wasn’t connecting at our table in any way. I could tell he was anguishing over this, and he started sweating profusely. Finally it looked like he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He simply stood up and walked out. It was one of the more helpless moments I have ever experienced. A rare moment I might add, where I was at a total loss for words.

Another time there was a young woman at the table who asked if she could turn off a fan. I told her that on Shabbos we Jews don’t turn fans off or on. I did not realize she was seething over my answer. At the end of the meal, she chastized me harshly for my lack of concern for her comfort, telling me that any sensitive person would have permitted her to shut off that fan.

I missed my cues on that one. I didn’t have an inkling how troubled she was that I would allow a fan to bother her meal. It never occurred to me the fan was really that disturbing. After all, I had Shabbos meals with guests in my home every week and nobody ever complained about the fan before. Had I understood better, I think I would at least have offered to find her a different seat at the table, even my own. To this day I’m bothered that I wasn’t sensitive enough to see that something was going on that needed my attention. I’m sure I would have tried harder to find a way to salvage the Shabbos experience for her.

Then there’s the story of my beef stew. My beautiful beef stew. One Erev Shabbos, I was following a recipe, preparing the ingredients, cutting the meat, slicing the potatoes, carrots, onions, and dropping everything in. Then I would add the spices, which included one simple tiny little teaspoon of salt. I picked up my large round box of salt, held the spoon over the pot, and began to pour the salt slowly into the spoon. What happened next is one of the reasons I have always felt certain that Hashem, besides being perfect in everyway, also has an infinite sense of humor.

For no reason the bottom of the salt container just fell off, and the entire package of salt fell into my stew, except for the little teaspoon of salt still in my hand. I panicked of course. I didn’t have time to make a new dinner. I removed the salt from my stew as best I could. Then I emptied the pot and washed everything including washing every single piece of meat individually.

How do you think my Shabbos dinner came out that night?

I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you. Dinner that night was a disaster, and not edible. The salt had permeated everything, particularly the meat. Most of us could only look at the food. One of my guests however seemed totally oblivious to the pain of this meal, or of the discomfort felt by the others seated at the table. He actually seemed to be enjoying his dinner, AND HE REQUESTED SECONDS, which he also finished with relish.

Was he REALLY enjoying the meal, or was he merely the perfect guest capable of sugarcoating the salt if that is what it took to please his host? I don’t know the answer, but if it’s the latter … WOW!

By the way, that incident with the salt could never happen to me today. Way back when, I didn’t understand how kosher meat was prepared and salted. In fact, I would later learn that kosher meat was already the most salted meat on the face of the planet before you ever get it past the checker at the grocery, as a result of the kashering process.

Since I discovered this about Jewish meat, never ever do I add salt to ANY meat recipe. Even when I buy things like barbecue sauces, if I see salt in the ingredients, I don’t purchase it. I find some other brand or something else to buy instead. For the same reason, I don’t buy spices that are mixtures that include salt.

When God gave the Kohanim his “bris melach” (covenant of salt), BaMidbar 18:19, that was an indication that just as salt is a preservative, so would this relationship be eternally preserved. My stew didn’t need to be eternally preserved.

All Alone … Again

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).”

The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we prepare to sit on the ground this coming Tisha B’Av and commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,939 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. It was only one year ago that our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets raining down on them for over a month. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran repeatedly calls for the eradication (G-d forbid) of Israel, and publicly states that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930’s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How do we, who live in comfort and security in America, prepare to commemorate Tisha B’Av properly? What are the messages we ought to internalize, and what actions should we be taking?

I guess I would divide the “take-aways” into two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect them.

Adopt a family, community or school who have been hard-hit by last year’s rocket attacks or is still suffering from the effects of the disengagement. Two years ago, Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim. Many schools and shuls in North America have conducted similar programs. The need is great and the time for action is now.

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. At least on the surface, this does not seem to be very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the haftorah of Tisha B’Av, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

Ahavas Chinam and the Beyond BT Shabbaton

Before the Beyond BT Shabbaton, at least 2 people asked us about the appropriateness of holding it during Shabbos Chazon. We had asked a shaila and were told there was no halachic problem at all. After having held the Shabbaton I think that this was in fact the perfect time to have it, here’s why.

We know that the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam, senseless hatred, that is hating people for no good reason. An antitidote for Sinas Chinam is Ahavas Chinam, that is loving, supporting and caring about a person for no reason other than that they are a fellow Jew. Let’s look at all the ways people strove to achieve Ahavas Yisroel this Shabbos.

First we had our Passaic coordinators, Chana and Dina who did all the leg work to find the right place and caterer at the right price. Our goals were to make the event as nice and as affordable as possible.

Next were all the people from Passaic who opened their homes to those of us coming from outside Passaic. Included in this group were Dan and Edna Ritz who, in addition to hosting, opened their home for an Oneg on Friday night.

For the food preparations and serving we were blessed by the kindness of Chana’s son Benjamin who coordinated every aspect of the meals with fantastic results.

The next group who gave of themselves were Tzvi, Gary, Ron, Aaron and Reuven who each gave a wonderful ten minute inspirational talk. The quality of the speeches was truly amazing and one participant wondered how we were able to have such confidence in the speakers having never heard any of them speak previously.

Rabbi Yitz Greenman and his wife Leah shared their home and his words of experience on the topic of Integration into the Frum community for the Shabbos afternoon talk. But it wasn’t a lecture, Rabbi Greenman spoke for 15 minutes and then opened the floor for the next 45 as people shared their differing viewpoints on the issues and it’s various facets. It was like a lively comment thread with the same respect for a multiplicity of opinions that we value here.

Living up to their name was our host shul, Ahavas Israel who with their Morah D’Asra, Rabbi Eisenman and their administration and staff did everything they could to make our Shabbos as enjoyable as possible.

Finally there were the participants, a great mix of singles, couples and families who joined together to listen, learn and give chizuk to each other in the common quest for spiritual growth.

I’m sure this wasn’t the first Shabbaton that exhibited such an outpouring of Ahavas Chesed and it hopefully won’t be the last, but this is truly the stuff upon which the next Beis Hamikdash will be built – a foundation of giving, learning and growing. Thanks to the all the participants and thanks to the hundreds of people who come by every day to give and get chizuk in their quest for growth in Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim and collectively discussing the issues the Klal Yisroel faces.

Over the next few weeks, we will G-d willing, post excerpts from some of the topics discussed over Shabbos, so we can keep the discussion going here.

Mazal Tov to Chaya and Gili Houpt on the Birth of Twin Girls

Mazal Tov to Chaya and Gili Houpt on the birth of twin girls Yemima Bracha and Bara Avigayil Ness this week.

Chaya is a contributor and commentor on Beyond BT. Chaya and Gili attended last year’s Shabbaton, where Gili was our Ruach and music coordinator. They have recently moved to Passaic and were set to attend this year’s Shabbaton, but thank G-d their two bundles of joy will keep them busy this Shabbos.

Beyond BT Shabbaton in Passaic this Shabbos – Leave Early if Possible

We’ve emailed out the information packets for those registered and if you haven’t received it, please email us as soon as possible at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Here is the Eruv map for Passaic. Here’s the schedule for the Shabbaton

Friday night meal: at your home in Passaic or at the host family you are staying. If you are being hosted, please see the time that your host davens Mincha on the email you received.

Oneg Friday Night – 9:30 PM – (contact us for the address)

Shabbos Day: Davening and Meals at Ahavas Israel – 181 Van Houten Ave.

Shacharis – 8:30 AM

Kiddush – 11:30 AM

Shabbos Day Seudah – 12:30 PM

Special Shiur
Integrating into the Frum Community – 5:00 PM – Sharp
Rabbi Yitz Greenman – Executive Director of Aish NY and Producer of Inspired Films (contact us for the address)

Mincha – 6:15 PM OR 6:45 PM

Shalosh Seudos – 7:15 PM

Maariv – 9:18 PM OR 9:40 PM

We recommend that people leave as early as possible (by 3:00) as the traffic can be pretty bad. Please note that Google and Map Quest will probably take you through the city, which is not a good idea, but you can use them for the directions in Passaic. Here is one set of recommended directions (thanks Tzvi Noach) for those coming from Queens or Long Island.

Take the Triboro Bridge to the GW Bridge to NJ. Take I-80 West to Exit 61 – Elmwood Park, make a left at the light, go about 1/2 mile and make a left onto Route 46 West, then stay to the right and then to the left to get on Route 21 South to Passaic. You can take exit 11 or exit 10, depending where you’re going in Passaic.

G-d is Not a Vending Machine

A little while back, I picked up a book by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, called ‘Finding Light in the Darkness.’ Shaul was in the same school as my husband, albeit a couple of years’ above him; and when he started Aish HaTorah in the UK, he gave a few shiurim in our home.

But Shaul stopped giving shiurim after a month or two, and a couple of his colleagues from Aish took over. At the time, we didn’t know why. Today, we know that his wife, Elana, had been diagnosed with the cancer that was going to claim her life at a very young age.

Rabbi Rosenblatt is a Baal Teshuva. In his book, he’s very open and honest about how he came to be frum; how he came to be married to Elana, and how he struggled to cope with the terrible blow that was his wife’s death.

Why am I telling you all this? Because one of the themes that comes through again and again on Beyond BT (although I think it’s probably applicable to every single Jew on the planet) is that most of us can only accept G-d’s domination over our lives – to a point.

And usually, that point is well within our comfort zones. For some people, it stops well short of considering or attempting aliya. For others, it comes when they think about how their professional careers or businesses would suffer too much if they didn’t keep things ticking over by working on Shabbat or bending a few laws on monetary matters. For others, it takes the form of being unable to accept that as a woman, they won’t be treated exactly the same as a man in shul.

These are just a few examples of how belief in G-d can stretch us out of comfort zones; I’m sure that everyone can add their own.

Then there are the people who can’t accept that G-d is running the show because they have experienced some terrible heartbreak, upset or tragedy. Many of these people can’ t understand how a kind, loving G-d could send them so much apparent suffering, in whatever form it comes. They can’t accept that this is how G-d runs his world – and so, they reject Him.

If Hashem hadn’t tested them so much, they would probably still believe in him. Or at least, that’s what they say. But it begs the question: what sort of belief is it in the first place, if it’s conditional on everything always going their way? That sounds more like an insurance policy for ‘the good life’ than genuine faith; or perhaps even like a clumsy sort of spiritual blackmail – “treat me nice, Hashem, or I’m not going to do what you want / keep your commandments”.

(By the way, let me just make clear here that this post is NOT about judging other people. It’s about taking an honest look in the mirror.)

As Rabbi Rosenblatt makes clear in his book, any test we are sent, we can ultimately pass. And every test we are sent is ultimately for our good.

And his life experiences have given him the authority to say these things. He went through all of the ups and down any BT goes through when they become religious; he devoted himself to helping more jews get closer to Hashem; he married a woman who by all accounts was one of the nicest, kindest, most sincere and genuinely pious people you could wish to meet.

(I have a friend who was very close to Rabbi Rosenblatt’s wife, Elana, and even before her illness, I used to hear glowing reports of her kindness, and all the effort she used to put into becoming a better jew and helping other people.)

And how was he rewarded for all his devotion and hard work? He lost his wife to cancer at the age or 32, when the youngest of their four children was still a baby.

If he wanted to, Rabbi Rosenblatt has every ‘justification’ for going off the derech. Instead, he wrote a book about finding light in the darkness. About using suffering as a mechanism for coming closer to Hashem. About understanding that even if you are doing your best to follow his laws, to live according to his Torah and to pray for your wife to recover from a terminal illness, G-d is not a vending machine.

You don’t put prayer in, and get a solution to all your problems out. You do sometimes; often, even. But not always. Because G-d knows what we need better than we ourselves do. We are often too clouded by ego, appetites, or emotions to have an accurate picture of what we really need in this life – and it gets even more complicated when the needs of the afterlife are also factored in to the equation.

This is something that I’ve certainly struggled with, at times, over the past couple of years. But reading Rabbi Rosenblatt’s book helped me to understand that there is so much about G-d that we, as limited humans, simply can’t understand. And that everything he does, is ultimately for the good.

‘Submission’ is not a popular word in the West; it has connotations of being forced to do something against our will, of being humbled, or negating ourselves, and our sense of self-importance.

That’s why we don’t like it – it grates harshly on a Western mentality that is taught to believe in the supremacy of the individual from a very young age. We all like to think that we are important, that our opinions count (as I’m sure will be borne out by the comments on this post….)

Yet in some very important ways, Hashem wants us to submit. He wants us to get to a point where we can accept that we simply don’t understand, and that we don’t need to. G-d is running the show. We can rant or rail at him all we want – what does it change? Or we can try our best to accept that G-d knows what we need better than we do, and to do our best to be happy about it – even when it hurts.

It’s probably the single hardest thing for any or us to do – I’m certainly still struggling with it.

I can’t do justice to Rabbi Rosenblatt’s book – or the very profound ideas he writes very cogently about – in a short post. If anything in this post strikes a wrong chord, it’s probably my (mis)interpretation – please don’t have a go at him in the comments! Instead, go and read his book and get it from the horse’s mouth.

I want to leave you with a direct quote from the book:

“I ask you to ask yourself – and be brutally honest – what are you in this world for? To be comfortable? To avoid pain? To live out seventy or eighty years of life with the least challenge possible? If this is your aim, then many ‘bad’ things will happen along the way – because this is a world of pain, and pain is antithetical to all that you are living for.

“If however, you believe, as I do, that we are to lift ourselves into Godliness, to grow and to ultimately attain self-perfection, than all that happens to us is a golden opportunity – and the more challenging it is, the greater that opportunity.”

Being a BT and a Ger

When you meet someone who has become observant, they are usually either a Ba’al Teshuva or a Ger. I am both.

I grew up, like much of the current generation, in a relatively assimilated family. It is said that the majority of the Jewish community, outside of orthodoxy, are marrying non-Jews. Some of the non-Jewish spouses convert to Judaism, but since those conversions are generally not done under halachic auspices, the non-Jewish spouses continue not to be considered Jewish. So what has become of the children of these marriages. Obviously, the children of those couples, where the husband is Jewish, are not halachicly Jewish, yet many of them were raised as Jews and believe that they are Jewish.

While doing “kiruv” work on college campuses, I developed several rules of thumb about how to tell whether a student was halachicly Jewish or not, through experience. One of them was by the student’s last name. If the student had a name like Goldberg or Rosenfeld, they were not Jewish. And if the student had a name like Diaz or O’Brian, they were probably Jewish. Intermarriage is so rampant out there that the likelihood is that almost every student has one non-Jewish parent. If they have a Jewish last name, then it is more likely that their father is the Jewish parent, and their mother is not Jewish. Whereas if the student had a non-Jewish last name, then in all likelihood the Jewish parent is probably their mother. Such are the ironies in a world of rampant assimilation.

Growing up, I was of the Goldberg/Rosenfeld variety. My father grew up in a reform Jewish household and my mother grew up belonging to the “Church of Christ” denomination. She married my father and converted to Judaism in their local reform temple. They brought me up Jewish in their reform temple. I was relatively involved in Jewish life as a reform Jew who was not halachicly Jewish. Later in life when I became interested in becoming observant, I learned that I was not considered Jewish according to the Orthodox standards I was learning about. I think that most other Jews, upon learning such news, would be turned off and reject that highly unpleasant message. However, my parents and community taught me to be open-minded towards others’ views, so I accepted that there were differing opinions about my Jewishness.

In addition to the normal hurdles faced by Ba’alei Teshuva, I also had to go through much of the same gauntlet that other Gerim go through because I had to go through a conversion to become Jewish, even though I had always considered myself Jewish until that point. There certainly were some interesting and amusing events that took place during that period when I was getting ready to be megayer, as I was living in all other ways as a frum teenager. One interesting fact, that I only found out about years later, was that there had been a meeting in NCSY’s national administration about whether to let this Shomer Shabbos/Negia/Kol Isha, tzitzis laiden kid who wasn’t Jewish on one of their trips to Israel.

Over the years, I have only met a handful of other Ba’alei Teshuva who had to go through Gerus because of the Jewish status of their mother. Most people are “regular” Ba’alei Teshuva who were always Jewish but became observant. It seems that it must be difficult for people in my situation to find their way back, which is a bit disappointing to me. If there are any of you out there, please comment! Hashem should help all of His children come back to him!

-Dixie Yid (http://dixieyid.blogspot.com)

Mazal Tov to Menachem and Randi Lipkin on the Birth of a Son

Mazal Tov to Beyond BT contributor Menachem Lipkin and his wife Randi on the birth of a boy this morning.

Here’s the message from Menachem:

We are thrilled to welcome the latest addition to the Lipkin family. Our son was born Monday afternoon at 3:15 in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Tzedek Hospital. He weighed in at 2.8 kg (6.17lbs), has beautiful red hair, and of course has the special distinction of being our Sabra.

We know that he will bring much love and joy to our family.

You can see a few pictures at www.lipkinfamily.com

Menachem (Michael) and Randi

What are the Issues Facing BTs?

What are the main issues facing BTs and what small steps can we can take to help alleviate the problems. These are some of the things we’ll be shmoozing about at the Beyond BT Shabbaton in Passaic this coming Shabbos. We’re just about out of space for accommodations, but if you live in Passaic we’d really love for you to join us. Email us at beyondbt@gmail.com for reservations or additional information.

Here is the Eruv map for Passaic and the Davening Schedule for Ahavas Israel. We’ll be davening at the 6:37 or 7:00 minyan on Friday (depending on your host), the 8:30 Shacharis minyan on Shabbos and the 6:45 Mincha minyan on Shabbos afternoon.

The first issue we have is not so universal, but a number of us from KGH want to know how long do you think it will take to get to Passaic from Kew Gardens Hills if we leave around 4:00-4:30? Also, what route would you take?

Here are some of the other issues we’ll start to look at:

– Understanding the details of lifecycle events like, Bris, Pinyon Haben, getting into Yeshiva Ketana, Bar & Bat Mitzvos, getting into Yeshiva Gedolah, dealing with teenagers, dealing with school administrations, finding a Shidduch for your children, making a Wedding, taking care of with ederely parents.

– Finding a good Rav for Hadracha (life guidance). This is one of the biggest issues BTs face.

– Filling the gaps in our Torah knowledge.

– Finding a chevra in your community and integrating into the large community.

What are some of the other issues that you feel are pressing.

Tears and Torah for Tisha B’Av

My soul shall weep in secrecy for you pride (Jeremiah 13:17).

This teaches that G-d has a concealed place called “Mistarem” (secrecy), where He weeps over the pride of Israel that was stripped from them and given to the nations of the World. Some say G-d weeps over the Divine glory which has been concealed from this world.

But how can we say G-d weeps, are we not told that strength and rejoicing are His Presence? (Chronicles I 16:27).

No, this is not a contradiction! On the inside (in secret) G-d weeps; in the outside, He appears to rejoice (Chagigiah 5b).

The Maharal explains that the location of G-d’s secret hideaway is within the soul of every Jew and that the fundamental soul of man cries constantly over the Destruction of the Temple. The average person is not in touch with his inner soul, with his real self, so he is oblivious to this weeping. The average person is aware only of his external facade where everything appears to be fine and growing better with – abundant strength and rejoicing. (From the Art Scroll Tisha B’Av Service.

Many of us have trouble with tears on Tisha B’Av. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz has provided us with an mp3 file, where he goes through many of the kinnos of Tisha B’Av in order to give us a deeper understanding and help us get closer to the tears needed for redemption.

The audio file can be listened to on Tisha B’Av since a person is allowed to learn explanations of the Kinnos, even though there is a general prohibition against learning Torah on this day. If one is able, it’s probably best to prepare before hand and listen to the audio this week.

Integration at its Finest at the Passaic Beyond BT Shabbaton

There have been many threads on integration here at Beyond BT. Next Shabbos, July 20-21 we’ll all pass the integration test as we join together for the first Passaic Shabbaton. If you live out of town, we’ll find you accomodations and if you live in the Passaic area, we’re hoping to see you there. For those of us who like to wait till the last minute, well the last minute has arrived, so please send in your reservations asap.

The Shabbaton is an excellent time to meet and create friendships with other Baalei Teshuva. We’ve avoided a lecture format so that all those attending can have time to talk to each other in a relaxed atmosphere. There will be plenty of D’vrei Torah, but primarily limited to 10 minute talks during the Friday Night Oneg , the Shabbos Day meal and Shalosh Seudos. If you’re planning on attending and would like to share your thoughts, experiences or words of Chizuk, please let us know.

The venue is Friday night meals at the host houses, an Oneg Shabbos on Friday night and catered meals together for Shabbos Lunch and Shalosh Seudos at Congregation Ahavas Israel -181 Van Houten Avenue, where we’ll also be davening.

The pricing per person is as follows:

$35 – Adults
$25 – 13-17
$20 – 6-12
$10 – 2-5
$0 – 0-1

Email us at beyondbt@gmail.com for reservations or more info.

Getting Mussar, Giving Mussar, Learning Mussar

There was a recent apppeal in Kew Gardens Hills to learn 10 minutes of Mussar every day for a number of weeks to help an ill person, so I suggested a daily 10 minute session to my son. He initial stated that nobody likes Mussar, but after learning for a few days he’s really enjoying it. What changed?

Few people like to get Mussar. Who wants to feel inadequate? It’s a basic human need to feel good about yourself. If we pick up the Mesillas Yesharim and hear it telling us how inadequate we are, any rational person would put it down. And if someone is ineffectively criticizing us, we’ll go to great lengths to eliminate or neutralize the source of pain.

Although we don’t like to get Mussar, we often seem to enjoy giving Mussar. Pointing out someone else’s inadequacies carries an implication that we’re better than that, so it makes us feel better. We overlook the discomfort and pain we’re causing the other person, and the usual lack of effectiveness, since after all we’re doing it for the sake of Heaven and for the person’s own good.

The best answer is to take a learning Mussar approach. The learning Mussar approach starts with the premise that we can always improve in every area. We take the long term view that we’re travelling on a long path and it’s a lifetime journey. Mussar is our guide, it shows us where we can reach, how we can get there, and the pitfalls along the way.

But most importantly the learning Mussar approach gives us an incredibly effective framework for growing with others. It’s no longer I’m right and you’re wrong, but rather let’s travel this long path of growth together. We both have a lifetime of work ahead of us so let’s help each other grow. By taking every life lesson learn to heart we transform our interactions from giving or getting Mussar, to working through every issue together.

Imagine how beautiful our community would look like if we switched from a giving/getting Mussar framework to a learning Mussar together ideal. What if our non observant friends and families really felt that we’re all traveling together on the path to becoming a better Jew. With a learning together attitude, the resolutions to conflicts, will present themselves. It’s really up to us, it’s in our hands to make this difference.

Shiur in KGH Area – This Shabbos: Kiruv Rechokim: The Key To Bringing Moshiach?

Shiur This Shabbos In Kew Gardens Hills Area: Kiruv Rechokim: The Key To Bringing Moshiach?

This Shabbas afternoon (7/14) Michael Gros will be delivering a shiur in his shul titled “Kiruv Rechokim: The Key To
Bringing Moshiach?” There are several hints in the Torah and Nach about the Kiruv revolution, and specifically that it will precede the coming of the Moshiach. We’ll explore some of these sources, along with some great stories of peoples’ teshuva journeys and practical ways for more people to get involved in kiruv.

Mincha is at 8:05 and is immediately followed by the shiur.

The shul is Ohr Moshe in Hillcrest, 170-16 73rd Avenue, (corner of 171st and 73rd).
It’s a 15 minute walk from Main Street.

Dealing With Children and Non-Observant Parents

By “Nancy”

I have been lurking around on beyond bt for a little while, and am amazed by the amount of information and support that is provided. I am having an issue right now, and would like some advice from someone who has been doing this longer than I.

My parents and sister came to visit us from out of town. Right now, my father, mother, sister and young children are sitting around the dining room table enjoying dinner. (it is the 17th of tammuz) I am sitting on the couch, starving and trying to find some meaning. This situation just feels so wrong. I cannot explain why. I am not angry at my family for eating, growing up I did not know this fast day even existed, why would I expect them to fast?

I feel angry trying to explain to my 5 year old why mommy and daddy are not eating and everyone else is. It is easy to tell him he is a child, so he can eat… It was even easy to explain that when mommy was really sick on other fast days, I ate. But how can I explain why 3 healthy adults are sitting around enjoying their dinner? Why will my kids chose to fast when they are old enough, when they see that people they love and respect do not? Should I have forbidden people to eat in my house? Am I freaking out over nothing? Any advice would be appreciated.

Looking for the Jew in Every Crowd

I often wonder what the catalyst was that sparked my return to Judaism. I mean the real catalyst. I can name you the month and the year when I took the first step to where I am right now — mitzvos observant, Shomer Shabbos, a baalas teshuvah just out of the nest. It was June 2001 to be exact, just four months before the defining moment of 9/11, when our whole world changed.

Oh, I know what crashed open the door for me. A Jewish forum like this one was my gateway to frumkeit, having conversations with people like my now-husband Eliahu about Judaism and what it really meant.

It all started with an argument. Don’t many beginnings? I was adamant I was just as much a Jew as any Torah observant Jew. I used the argument I’ve often heard from other Jews determined to defend their secular way of living. You know the one — “Hey! I’m just as much a Jew as you are. They would have made me wear a yellow star just like you.” As if Hitler was the arbiter of who is a Jew. Interesting that we do that — use fiendish Nazi policies to defend our Jewishness.

But I think my journey started long before those internet conversations that fascinated and ultimately ensnared me.

I graduated from my predominantly-Jewish public high school and forayed out into the world carrying a massive block of Jewish granite on my shoulder. Was it guilt? Was it fear? Was it defiance? Was it self-protection?

Virtually the first words out of my mouth at college were, “Hi! My name is Melanie and I’m Jewish, so there. If you don’t like me, I understand.”

I was expecting rejection, and made it easy for them.

I was always very worried I wouldn’t be accepted out in the real world, having gone to a Jewish but secular parochial school and then public schools that were 80-90 per cent Jewish. Pretty well all my pals growing up were Jewish, although I did have one good Catholic friend. The black rosary beads on her dresser and the crucifixes on her wall were repugnant and fearsome to me, yet we were great buddies.

This “I’m Jewish, so there” attitude was understandable. I grew up knowing about the horrors of the Holocaust and was fully indoctrinated into the “we Jews are different” worldview. I was well aware we were the object of much hatred and derision. And so I maintained this attitude, always fearful that I would be rejected because I’m Jewish.

This attitude underscored and permeated all of my friendships and my conversations. I’d stridently argue for Israel and rail against anti-Semitism. I ended friendships if they hinted at anything less than total support and empathy. I stopped talking for years to a friend when, during a conversation he said to me, “Oh you Jews and your Holocaust hobby horse. Why don’t you get over it already.”

I realize now that, as immersed as I was in the secular world, I never felt comfortable. I was always holding my breath, waiting to be found out.

I once had a summer job during college packing schoolbooks in a warehouse. I turned myself into a pretzel trying not to appear Jewish to this warehouse full of uneducated goyim. One day, I got busted. It was the year of my sister’s wedding and I was so excited. I was blathering on about her Sunday wedding and suddenly there was dead silence. “Sunday? She’s getting married on Sunday?” someone asked.

Stammering, I said, “Oh well, yeah, Saturday and Sunday. It’s a whole weekend thing.”

Not one person was convinced.

Sometime later that summer, the same lady piped up and said, “I always knew you were Jewish.”

“How?” I asked. “Your nose,” she said.

Over the years, I came to realize that everywhere I went, no matter what the situation, I always looked for the Jew in every crowd. And found them.

I had a GPS System for spotting them. I kept a mental roster, a who’s who of Jews in any particular situation. At my college. At my tennis club. At work. Everywhere I went.

And I think that is what really has kept the pilot light burning in me, waiting for the right trigger to turn me on. This cultural identification. The knowledge that out there are people like me with a connection dating back 3319 years to Har Sinai.

I first struck out on my own when I was 21. It was 1978 and I had taken a summer internship on a newspaper in the northern Ontario city of Sault Ste. Marie, just across the St. Mary’s River from Sault, Michigan.

There were less than 15 Jewish families in a population of 40,000, and it was all pretty well French, Italian and Indian. A most Catholic city.

Here I was, all alone for the first time, far from home. I was so green you could have planted me.

I had been given the name of a woman to call so she could show me around and have me over for a meal with her family. I was too shy to call, and so I went out hoping to find the one synagogue in the city.

I found it, with Hashem as always guiding the way. It happened that all of the Jewish women in the community were there that day preparing for their Hadassah bazaar. I was very homesick, and it was wonderful to run into these 10 or so Yiddische mamas. It gave me the boost I needed to settle into the job that would launch my career. Sitting in Helen’s kitchen, looking at Manischewitz matzoh meal in her cupboard, was just like sitting in my mother’s kitchen.

I puttered along for the summer, and one day, I stumbled on a plaque near a small church. The plaque said, “Ezekiel Solomons, the First Jewish Settler in Sault Ste. Marie-Among-the-Hurons.” I just about fell down in astonishment.

A Jewish fur trader? Here? Yep.

It just goes to show you how small and connected the Jewish world is. You can find us anywhere. In every crowd

The Shabbaton Is Coming!

If you see two guys on a street corner in Passaic with a sign proclaiming “The Shabbaton Is Coming”, you know who it is.

We’ve be getting some very good feedback recently on possible projects for Beyond BT. That’s extremely important to us because the only reason we’ve created Beyond BT is to provide chizuk, ideas, connection and support for those of us traveling along this path together.

The Shabbaton is an excellent time to share your thoughts and concerns face to face. We’ve avoided a lecture format so that all those attending can have time to talk to each other in a relaxed atmosphere. There will be plenty of D’vrei Torah, but primarily limited to 10 minute talks during the Friday Night Oneg , the Shabbos Day meal and Shalosh Seudos. If you’re planning on attending and would like to share your thoughts, experiences or words of Chizuk, please let us know.

The venue is Friday night meals at the host houses, an Oneg Shabbos on Friday night and catered meals together for Shabbos Lunch and Shalosh Seudos at Congregation Ahavas Israel -181 Van Houten Avenue, where we’ll also be davening.

The pricing per person is as follows:

$35 – Adults
$25 – 13-17
$20 – 6-12
$10 – 2-5
$0 – 0-1

We think it’s only appropriate at this point to pay tribute to that master Shabbaton publicist and kiruv maniac from NCSY – Reb Shmulky Gebrokts.
Read more The Shabbaton Is Coming!