Why Haven’t You Given Up on Fixing the Last Mile?

As BT’s we’ve made some pretty amazing changes in our lives. And we all know it was very difficult.

But if you’ve been Shomer Shabbos for 10+ years, you know that teshuva becomes more difficult. The changes have to go beyond behavioral and deep into the character.

So what keeps you going?

What tools and techniques have you found useful?

Are you using a different tools, than you did we you first became frum?

BT in Difficult Times


Dear all brothers and sisters at ‘Beyond Teshuva’.

I am writing to you in response to Matys Weiser’s video on YouTube (another convert) – I was so touched and moved when he (as a Ger) spoke of his abject loneliness as a convert – the same applies to me as a BT. I’m sure this is true of so many of us – I don’t understand this – are Ger and BT esteemed more in Hashem’s eyes because of how we prevailed under everything blocking us???

I’m now 54 and was raised in a non-observant family in 60’s UK – my mother’s (grandmother, grt grandmother) lineage was Jewish (Greenberg/Greenbaum, via Poland and Ukraine) but my grandmother married a goyim and was expelled from the family. So, our Jewish heritage was forbidden to be spoken of.

Now, please understand that I “woke up” to my heritage whilst in China – 3 years of the most lonely struggle I could have never imagined, but there was, Baruch Hashem, Chabad and Breslov on the internet.

I thought, after returning to Canada it would be easy to become part of a Jewish community, especially after spending 3 months in Israel, mostly in Sussya and Tsfat (a wonderful Chabad community!!). I was wrong. The local synagogue doesn’t want to know me because they think I’m a Chabadnik (which I am unashamedly so…….my only “Rabbi” for 3 years was Chabad on the net!), any Rabbi I email in my two communities close to me don’t respond – I might as well have stayed in China!!

Desperately lonely Jew here………life was so much easier as an atheist…….but then, Avraham Avinu truly knew loneliness…..and HaKodesh Baruch Hu never promised us an easy road – just to keep walking. Honestly though, with the High Holidays approaching……….maybe I’m to move to another city……..another move, and another and another……

Be strong – for our only refuge is in Him.

Best always,

Julie (Rachel)

The Joy of Repentance

Do you know anyone who relates to the idea of repentance with joy and happiness? Looking forward to that sore tuchas from sitting so long in synagogue? Can there be trepidation for the Day of Judgment and awe for the Day of Atonement and also an uplifted positive spirit? You bet your sore tuchas.

It’s all a matter of focus. When you are doing teshuva, repentance before the High Holy Days, every effort you make is rewarded. You are placed in a win/win situation. If you are able to better yourself in anyway, you will reap infinite rewards in this world and the next. When a law student is up for the Bar Exam it is either pass or fail. There is no credit given for the years of law school or the late nights preparing. You are either confirmed a lawyer or not. One gentleman in Los Angeles worked as a law clerk for 24 years taking the exam twice a year and failing each time until finally he was able to pass. Of course, you have to admire his persistence. But in the physical world, there is no real reward for preparing for the Bar Exam. In the spiritual world it is the opposite. You can feel joy every time you make the smallest effort on behalf of your soul.

The word “repentance” brings up concepts of Heaven and Hell, reward and punishment, which makes many people uncomfortable. If you are one of these people, you need to change the words. Don’t think about repenting; think about spiritual growth. You can use any words you want – “I’m giving myself a mental floss.” Or “I’m getting a moral upgrade with more speed and more memory.” Does it really matter what words you use? The main thing is to do something, anything to effect a better person.

When you think about it, each one of us is like a sculpture. We are created as raw material and our job in this life is to mold, shape, sculpt a more perfect you. Hopefully, every new year you are a tiny bit wiser and have the ability to look over all of your values and principles. Make a list of your goals. Ask yourself if you want to have more or better friends. Ask yourself if any one of your close relationships could be better. Work on controlling anger. Work on being more forgiving. Work on being less materialistic. Whatever you want. This is the time period that is ripe for introspection and self-growth. Now is the time that the spiritual world opens up to aid you in your quest to be a better person.

Any accomplishment in the physical world can only cause temporary joy. If you win a bowling trophy it only gives you joy to take it out and impress someone who hasn’t seen it yet. The experience of winning a game is momentary. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year. This year nobody really cares. It’s a new season; a new team. Now is the time to focus on spirituality. Ask yourself if by next year you want to be on a higher level of spirituality. Do you want to be less petty? Do you want to have more respect for yourself? Do you want to know how to love more?

In the time leading up to the holidays the joy is not only in the accomplishment of achieving growth in an area you want to grow in, the joy is in knowing that you have a spiritual benefit in just trying. Make a small effort, and be happy to be connected to spirituality and your Jewish roots.

Originally Published on Sept 7, 2007

What Are Your Favorite Imperfect Parenting Techniques?

When things are calm and going well, it’s easy to be a “perfect” parent, and much parenting advice seems to be directed towards that unreal realm.

Perhaps what would be even more valuable is imperfect parenting tips, when our unpolished side is on display. How do you react or recover when your irritable, angry, judgmental, non-empathetic or just say the wrong thing?

What are your most taxing imperfect parenting situations?

What are some of your imperfect parenting techniques?

StartupChutzpah – A Frum Bootcamp to Learn About Entrepreneurship

By Benyamin Clayman

How can I help change the frum world?

When Zev Wolfson zt’l passed away recently, it greatly inspired me to want to help Am Israel with whatever skills I have. Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, the Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak said to me that when he was a young man in Lakewood, one core component of the weltanshauung was very different. They felt idealistic, they were rebuilding and changing the world. They were willing to sacrifice to spread Torah and rekindle the soul of the Jewish people. They never felt entitlement or that others will do the job.

When my Lithuanian great-great-grandparents moved to America they came with nothing but a dream for a better life. The first American generation got into Harvard Law School, got elected to public office, and supported numerous Jewish causes. When my Moroccan grandparents came to America in 1974, they had very little. No English, little support, but also a dream. They worked hard, raised their children, and recently merited to see their first great-grandchild born in Jerusalem. Both sides succeed through a lot of Divine Providence and getting help from their fellow Jews. We as a people have always taken tzedakah very seriously, even the least connected still make sure there is not a single Ivy League university, major art museum, or health institution not having a Steinwitzmanberg Wing.

Rambam writes however, “the highest form of charity—above which there is no higher—is one who strengthens the hand of their poor fellow Jew and gives them a gift or loan or enters into a business partnership with the poor person. By this partnership the poor man is really being strengthened as the Torah commands in order to strengthen him till he is able to be independent and no longer dependent on the public purse. It is thus written, “Strengthen him [the poor person] so that he does not fall and become dependent on others” (VaYikra 25:35). Notice the order, the highest level of them all is entering a business partnership.

What is amazing, quite out of this world proof in the unique mission of the Jewish people to be a light unto the nations and contribute to all, is the fact that the greatest tech entreprenuers have mostly been Jews. Google, Paypal, Facebook, the list can go on and on. But where are the frum entrepreneurs that have a burning desire? A quick search will yield some promising results. The top seller in entrepreneurship book on Amazon now is a frum professor at Harvard Business School who lists his greatest accomplishment as finishing Shas in the 11th cycle of Daf Yomi. A professor of quantum physics at MIT founded a company that powers your Kindle and other e readers that sold for $215 million recently was featured on Artscroll’s new Talmud app. How can we expand this?

I was speaking to a group of recent Baalei Teshuva at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem about the power of social media and creating value from tech products. They were hooked and started to think of ways to help the Jewish people through new forms of communication. They also had some great ideas on how to make revenue from the ideas so instead of ever fundraising for kiruv or chinuch projects, they would be self sustainable. We were also discussing the lack of a college education as being a neutral consideration when working in tech startups. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both dropped out and most successful programmers and developers never step foot into a classroom to learn their skills. The passing of Zev Wolfson zt’l truly reinforces the point of the power of a visionary self-made entrepreneur who used his business acumen to help millions of Jews strength and find Torah.

So what to do with this information? There is a concept that is now all over the world of startup bootcamps that teach participants the gist of creating a create company in 3 days, or even over a weekend. StartupWeekend.org and 3DayStartup have launched recently but have already created companies that have made millions in revenue with hundreds of jobs.

Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, we decided to create StartupChutzpah. We brought together 10 Yeshiva bocherim during Bein HaZmanim to Nahariya from Mir, Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somyach, and even one straight from the former USSR (he took the train directly from the airport to the event) to learn about entrepreneurship and build a company in less than 54 hours. What we are looking for is ideas on how to make learning about entrepreneurship more accessible to our community and mentors to help young frum people take their concepts to full fledged companies. This can solve a lot of issues, create immense skills and opportunities for those searching for a parnassah, and most of all, be a Kiddush Hashem to create Torah infused companies created and managed by young frum people.

During our inaugural test to see if we could actually pull it off, they built Quanby.com, a pet supply subscription service similar to Diapers.com or DollarShaveClub. They designed the websites, the marketing packages, conducted polls of customers, spoke to suppliers, and wrote a business plan within the time limit. The bocherim also had speakers like a frum businessman who lives in Shanghai about how to manufacture in China and they got to see Rav David Abuchetzera, the famed mekubal and tzadik.

We hope to bring this program to cities throughout the world, develop special courses for girls or the Chassidishe community, and have a mentor network to take the concept to reality. Your comments, any help, advice, and words of encouragement are greatly appreciated, most importantly we are looking to bring this to different communities around the world. If you are interested in contacting us, please email benyamin@startupchutzpah.com

Location, Location, Location

In Highland Park, NJ where I live, if you’re catching the New Jersey transit train into Manhattan, you know you either need to get a ride to the train station, or leave enough time to park about a half-mile away and walk to the station. Only residential permit parking is available within the train station and vicinity unless you happened to inherit one of the coveted parking spots inside of the train station, which are renowned to be available only if your next of kin passes it on to you in his or her will.

This morning as I walked to the train station to head into Manhattan, I passed a familiar “For Sale” sign that has been posted outside of a house for sale that sits on a piece of land on the way to the station. “For sale” signs are ubiquitous since the housing market collapsed, but this stucco house is no ordinary house. By anyone’s standards, you would call it a mansion. It must be at least 5000 square feet with a large circular drive way and an ornate fountain that graces the center of that driveway. With a three-car garage (in a neighborhood where you are lucky not to have to park your car on the street), and enough driveway space to park a dozen cars for a party, this magnificent house invites curiosity. The “for sale” sign has been posted out front for the better part of a year, and it’s not a surprise.

This stunning house backs up to the train tracks, literally, a few feet away. For the buyer who wants a very short commute to the train, literally right outside their back door, or the one who grew up in the city and is comforted by the sound of commuter rails running through his living room, it could be a perfect shidduch. But still, the house sits, unsold. Where it sits matters much more than the house itself.

I used to always think of “coming from the right place” as meaning a good heart. But as I take stock of my failings, and set my sights on how to improve myself in the coming year, I face one of my greatest challenges: arrogance. It’s not the type of arrogance that often comes to mind with this word association – I’m not brash, full of pride (insecurity is more like it), or ever, the life of a party. I’m thinking of a much more slippery and I daresay evil kind of arrogance because it is disguised as well-intentioned advice.

As a wife and mother, I am often, absolutely sure, that I know better. Why does my husband not always follow my advice, when of course it is meant for his own good? Why do my three teenagers chart their own course, and sometimes, when mom makes a “suggestion” – read directive – they refuse, coming back with their own point of view? If “coming from the right place” always meant a good heart, I think that more often than I do, I would choose silence, or a hug, or a suggestion that is really meant as such – a suggestion, not a command.

I am sometimes a beautiful house (my neshama) located in the wrong location (my yetzer hara running the show). During these days of Teshuva, I silently express my regret to Hashem, and to those closest to me. This school year I have a daughter in Israel and a son boarding in mesifta. My younger daughter who is home is in 11th grade and growing more independent by the day.

May Hashem help me to locate myself in the coming year more often in wisdom and love than ego and fear.

How Do You Approach “Craziness” in the Frum World?

In this week’s post about a BT’s Recipe for Raising Healthy Kids, the author wrote:

The frum world may be crazy, but it’s the best society we have – embrace it, but don’t buy into the craziness, maintain your independence. Better a frummer school and we parents are the open minded ones, than a less frum school and we parents are the closed minded ones.

Do you think the frum world is full of craziness or have you made efforts to understand why many things are not as crazy as they seem?

Are you making Bar Mitzvahs and Weddings below the community spending norms?

Will you be heavily involved in finding spouses for your children when the time comes?

Do you stretch your financial resources to try and pay as much tuition as possible?

Do you find that there are always significant differences between school norms and family norms?

Do you think the correct default choice is the frummer school over the less frum school?

What are some examples of craziness that you have found?

What are some examples of craziness that you have seen are not so crazy?

A BT’s Recipe For Raising Good Kids in an FFB World

I recently met the grown son (20-ish) of a very talented rabbi and educator. The father is an overt ba’al teshuva, and the son a regular bochur who attends a top mainstream Israeli yeshiva. To me the boy seemed to have inculcated the best of what the FFB-and BT-worlds have to offer.

As a BT raising my kids in a FFB yeshivish world, I could only wish for the same success with my own sons. I asked the father how he did it, and the following is what he shared with me as his “recipe.” I understand every home, parent, and child is different and parenting isn’t “one-size fits all” and that the issues below implicate thorny hashkafic issues. Nevertheless, having seen the product and judging the recipe on its own merits, I thought his ideas were worth sharing. Whatever our recipe, may Hashem help that we all merit to have wonderful children!

1. Relaxed atmosphere in the home. I want life to be light, not heavy, for them. But light because Hashem loves us and everything is OK, not light from kalus rosh. Light has nothing to do with circumstance. You can have a parent die, a divorce, monetary problems and life can still be light. (This, to me, is probably most important of all and it’s a tricky balance to find. As a wise man I know once said, anyone can be a great gardener in Hawaii – if you have the right atmosphere in the home, children will naturally flourish, even under difficult circumstances.)

2. No shouting, ever.

3. Mistakes are not terrible, they are part of life. I want my kids to feel it’s OK to be naughty – it doesn’t make them bad people. They just need to apologize if necessary, do teshuva and move on. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.

4. Apologize to my kids when necessary. I’m not perfect either.

5. Very little interest in grades at school – middos are all that matter to me on their reports. This is not just words, I believe it – and my kids know that.

6. No labeling – even good labeling. You did a good thing, not you are a good boy. (If you are a good boy because you did good, it implies you are not good intrinsically – there’s another reason, but I want to keep this short)

7. Similarly, praise the act, not the child.

8. No punishment, rather consequences to actions (tricky balance this one and it’s taken a while to get it right – I learned this as some of the other ideas from Adlerian family counselling)

9. Ask them difficult questions as soon as they are ready for them – how do you know God exists? How do you know he wrote the Torah? Obviously, give them answers also.

10. Encourage them to ask the difficult questions that are bothering them. Value and appreciate a question like, why should I keep Shabbos or how can the world be 6000 years old – it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a wonderful opportunity to muchanech.

11. You don’t have to be frum if you don’t want to – ultimately, the choice is yours. You would be crazy not to be, but you do have the choice, nothing is forced on you. You don’t do me a favor by being frum. Do it for yourself – because it makes sense.

12. I try to learn through an outline of all of nach and give an overview of targyag mitzvos with each of my kids separately. I give them cash incentives to memorize Taryag or Avos.

13. The frum world may be crazy, but it’s the best society we have – embrace it, but don’t buy into the craziness, maintain your independence. Better a frummer school and we parents are the open minded ones, than a less frum school and we parents are the closed minded ones.

14. Secular people are Jews as much as we are. Goyim are not to be looked down upon, they are created in God’s image. Secular education is important and valuable.

15. You have a responsibility to support your family. That’s the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.

If you wish to contact the author, you can direct any inquiries on Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, shaul@tikun.co.uk

Overlooking the Challenges of Marriage

By Bob Garber

As someone constantly learning with Baalei Tshuva and potential BTs, my relationship always seems to end with the marriage of my students. Up until the wedding, I frequently see my students at Shabbatonim, visiting our home for Shabbos, or attending an interesting lecture or program. The wedding is usually an exciting, joyous party with many mutual friends, current and former students attending. The Sheva Berachos are filled with inspiring divrei Torah and dancing, usually in an intimate setting with friends and family.

However, once the festivities end, connections seem to begin to diminish. Of course, we invite the newlyweds for Shabbos, and they come a few times, but even this contact gradually diminishes as the couple begins their new lives together and get involved in their careers and their community. My wife and I have attended numerous such weddings in the past five years, and in almost all cases we have gradually lost contact with former students, rarely seeing them except for chance meetings. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing, as couples develop their own relationship and build their home and family.

Nevertheless, the following pattern has also become increasingly common. I start hearing rumors or innuendos that someone is separated, but of course no one can really speak about it because its lashon hora. Then I hear rumors about a get, and then still later I meet the person (sometimes with a baby) and find out that the couple is in fact divorced. Sometimes the BT also appears to be dressing inappropriately, and later is no longer Shomer Shabbos.

I am very saddened by this pattern. Marriage, instead of being a significant stepping stone to personal and spiritual growth, seems in many cases to have become the culmination of spiritual growth, and is unable to survive the ongoing pressures and challenges that observant couples inevitably face.

Part of the problem is that I don’t think the couple, family, friends and even rabbis and other spiritual guides focus much on life after marriage. The reality is that it’s not easy changing the focus of one’s life when you get married, and the older the chassan and kallah are, the more difficult that transition becomes. Moreover, it’s also not easy to learn to prioritize another person’s needs over one’s own needs, especially when that person is so different than oneself. After the excitement wears off, and the couple becomes entrenched in their routines, sometimes communication and expectations between the parties get out of sync. I also think especially BTs, who do not have observant parents as role models, may become confused as to their spiritual direction both individually, and in relation to their spouses.

The worst part is that I believe the downhill slide is totally preventable. Many couples just don’t know that Judaism has much to contribute to the ongoing relationship, and that learning about marriage and relationships, e.g. Shalom Bayis, may be just as satisfying and important as learning about Shabbos and Kashrus. The Torah has much to say even about the personal relationship skills that each partner in a marriage need to practice and perfect. In addition, there is no reason that inspirational Shabbos and learning experiences should end after marriage. I believe that Kiruv and regular Jewish institutions need to devote more efforts to reaching out specifically to BT married couples and provide them both with the spiritual resources such as classes and learning opportunities, as well as practical and personal resources for handling the stresses of living as a couple and later with children.

In this regard, some of us have decided to do more than talk about this problem. This Shabbos (August 10-11), the Jewish Flame, my wife and myself are sponsoring at our home a Shabbos of learning, spirituality and growth for married couples. Entitled, “How to make a good marriage great and a great marriage even better,” we are sponsoring as guest speakers: Rabbi Mat and Dr. Brachie Hoffman, who are noted experts and speakers on marriage and family. Although space is limited, we have a few spots available. But even if you cannot attend this Shabbos, please feel free to contact us regarding possible future programs. For more information, email garbersny@earthlink.net or call 718-268-2448.

The Permanent Preciousness of the “Secular” Jew

Regular contributor and commentor, Menachem Lipkin emailed us this thought provoking article by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo of the The David Cardozo Academy. Rabbi Lopes Cardozo was kind enough to allow us to post the article on Beyond Teshuva. You can find the original here.

Originally Posted Apr 5, 2006
We are living in an age of flaunting irreverence. Debunking has become the norm and wherever we turn we experience a need to reveal the clay feet of even the greatest. Human dignity, while often referred to, has become a farce in real life. Instead of deliberately looking for opportunities to love our fellow men as required by our holy Torah, many have rewritten this golden rule to read: “Distrust your fellow men as you distrust thyself”. Disbelief in themselves has overflown into their relationships with their fellowmen. Fear for their own deeds and mediocrity has led them to believe that the spiritual mighty have left us and that we are a generation of spiritual orphans.
Read more The Permanent Preciousness of the “Secular” Jew

“MetLife” Stadium- K’shmo Kein Hu

The Hashgocho Protis in the naming of an American football stadium
By: D. Trenk

On August 1, 2012, the largest celebration of Jewish learning in perhaps more than two thousand years was held in of all places… a football field.

Of course, not just in any ordinary sports arena, but in a marvel of a complex built with the incredible ingenuity and sophistication of our modern age.

Completed in 2010, and at a construction cost of 1.6 billion, MetLife Stadium is the most expensive and largest stadium ever built in the history of American football. 116-foot-wide high definition video screens, thousands of plasma sets positioned throughout, and the highest quality sound system are but some examples of the impressive technology utilized in the stadium.

We must ask however, if there is some irony in rejoicing over our ancient spiritual treasure, the handbook of how to live upright lives humbly with G-d, in an arena that so loudly boasts of its own grandiosity.

As every schoolchild learns, Har Sinai was chosen just for its modest size. Yet, here we find ourselves at Kabalas HaTorah 2012 embracing the very biggest and best, with all its clamoring bells and whistles, that America has to offer! How do we make sense of this?

Interestingly, the situation could have been worse.

For we find a curious and odd back-story behind the naming rights to the new stadium before it settled on “MetLife” just last summer in August 2011.

To quote from its entry on Wikipedia:
Allianz, a financial services company based in Germany, expressed interest in purchasing naming rights to the stadium. The proposal was for a period of up to 30 years, and was estimated to be valued at somewhere between $20 million and $30 million USD. However, it sparked protests from New York’s Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League, which opposed the move due to close ties in the past between Allianz and the government of Nazi Germany during World War II. No agreement was reached and talks between Allianz and the teams ended on September 12, 2008.
If this were successful, could anyone have thought to host the Siyum HaShas in a stadium carrying the name of a company closely associated with Nazi Germany?
As if things couldn’t get any more disturbing:
On June 10, 2010, it was reported that an internet dating site marketed primarily to married people seeking adulterous affairs made a 25 million dollar offer to name the stadium after its own website.
A stadium named after an internet site proudly facilitating one of the three cardinal sins! Can you imagine the utter contradiction in having the Siyum Hashas hosted there?

On June 27, 2011, it was reported that insurance company MetLife entered discussions to purchase naming rights to the stadium. The new name, “MetLife Stadium,” became official when all parties signed a 25-year deal on August 23.

So yes, the stadium is big and bombastic. But at least it’s not named after Nazi sympathizers or brazen adulterers. This just to catch a glimpse into the behind the scenes guiding hand of Heaven and what possibly could have been.
Read more “MetLife” Stadium- K’shmo Kein Hu

BBT Links for the Week of August 2, 2012

Sometimes group events, like the Siyum HaShas, work out very nicely. However it’s important to remember that Efforts Are Necessary – But There Are No Guarantees.

The astute and critical eye of Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Shul on the Beach in Venice CA, gave the Siyum HaShas a big thumbs up.

The Economist, an influential periodical, declares that Judaism is Alive and Well.

Not only are BTs responsible for Kosher Sushi, but the Queen of Kosher, Jamie Geller, is a BT.