What Lessons Did You Learn and What Blessings Did You Count After the Hurricane?

As this post points out:

There are two blessings to choose from upon witnessing extraordinary natural phenomena—including extremely strong winds.
Those two blessings (of which only one may be said on each occasion) are:

Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-hei-nu Melech haolam, osay ma’asei bereisheet.
Translation: Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Maker of the works of creation.

Baruch Atah Ado-noi Elo-hei-nu Melech haolam, shekocho ugevurato malei olam.
Translation: Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.

Hurricanes and other extraordinary natural phenomena make Hashem’s presence and control quite clear.

What lessons did you learn from hurricane Sandy?

What were you thankful for after the storm?

Were any hashkafic insights discovered?

When Integration Doesn’t Work

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

WHEN DEALING WITH QUESTIONS of education and kiruv, there is one rule that is always applicable. That rule is: There is no one rule that is always ap¬plicable when dealing with questions of education and kiruv. Each neshamah is unique. Each situation is different. So each question should usually be answered with, “It depends.”

With that disclaimer, I will share some insights based on 35 years of educating baalei teshuvah (both men and women) that can shed light on some of the important questions raised.

First, to the question of integration. Consumers who have “bought” a product can start a “user’s group.” Kiruv should not be about “selling Judaism,” and those who have “bought in” shouldn’t view it that way. Kiruv must be viewed as a process of transmitting our Divinely revealed Torah — both the knowledge and the practice — to Jews who don’t have it. Jews who are committing to a Torah life need to be integrated into communities with a mesorah rooted in the authentic transmission of that Torah. Baalei teshuvah overcome tremendous challenges on their path to Torah observance. But they lack the knowl¬edge and experience necessary to ensure that their commitment is stable, and can be transmitted properly to their children. Integration into appropriate communities should therefore be the goal.

Baalei teshuvah are raising frum-from-birth (FFB) children (unless they become baalei teshuvah after their children are grown). For those children to carry on the Torah life that their parents have adopted, they must be integrated into solid educational systems, the product of existing Torah communities. As decisions about communities are being made, both the mekarvim and the baalei teshuvah themselves must have a long-term perspective as commitment grows and guid-ance is received.

If integration doesn’t work, it is usually because the baal teshuvah was rushed in the kiruv process, or chose an inappropriate community. Not all frum communities can be termed “baal teshuvah– friendly.” Living in a community that only respects people who are involved in the full-time learning or teaching of Torah is challenging for many working FFBs. For most baalei teshuvah, it can lead to isolation, insecurity, and a weakening of their earlier commitment. With over 3,000 talmidim, most of whom are well integrated into existing communities throughout the English-speaking world, my experience is that Israel and America present very different challenges in many directions. Identifying and navigating them requires experience, sensitivity — and its own article.

There is rarely a good response to “buyer’s remorse,” something I view as tragic on a practical level (which too often results in ruined lives), as well as on a spiritual level (see Rambam, Ch. 3, Teshuvah Halachah 3, on the consequences of regretting a decision about doing a mitzvah). The real solution to buyer’s remorse is to make sure it doesn’t happen. This requires that the kiruv process be slow, “transparent,” and that each step is done with proper deliberation. Buyer’s remorse is frequently the result of the baal teshuvah charging forward without listening to advice from his mentors, or having mentors who are trying to “make the person frum,” as opposed to truly caring about the complete welfare of the individual.

Deciding what to retain from the pre-teshuvah days is probably the most complex and individualized problem. Was their past life dysfunctional and hedonistic? Was it refined and creative? Many secular people have lives that are very moral, fulfilling, and inspiring, and their path to Torah observance was paved with positive activities and social connections. We have had students who became clinically depressed because they were told they had to drop activities and interests that were at the core of their creative personalities. For some people, being told that Judaism demands that they drop their involvement in art, music, or sports, will lead to their decision to drop their involvement in Judaism. And if they stay in Judaism without having proper creative nourishment, they are vulnerable to many problems.

The correct decisions in this area require great sensitivity and balance, both to the demands of halachah and to the personality of the individual. All too often, a mekarev will try to transform a person into someone the mekarev would like him or her to be. Instead, one needs to identify the unique needs of the individual neshamah, and developmentally educate and guide the person on a path that will connect that neshamah to Torah in a stable and long-lasting way.

Which leads to the final point that I would like to make.
The allocation of resources between the initial stages of kiruv, compared to those devoted to nurturing and supporting longer term growth and development is seriously out of balance. In allocating dol¬lars for kiruv, much of the money spent on the initial stages of kiruv is directed toward awakening interest of Jews who are not initially interested. When a kiruv professional succeeds in awakening an interest in Torah, that interest must be nurtured over a significant period of time. If in the pursuit of getting more and more new people interested in Judaism, a professional — or an organization — can’t continue to educate and nurture the ones who were inspired, those Jews can end up with a more negative attitude towards Judaism than they had before the kiruv process began.

My formula is that for every dollar devoted to getting someone inter¬ested in Torah, ten dollars should be devoted to nurturing and developing that interest, educating and supporting the individual towards the goal of becoming a well-adjusted, knowledgeable Torah Jew.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky was born in Los Angeles, learned in Kerem B’Yavneh and Yeshivas Mir Jerusalem, and has a master’s degree in educational psychology from Temple University. Through the incisive way he penetrates and clarifies issues, questioning students and challenging them to question themselves, he has facilitated the Torah growth of over 3,000 men and women. He is a founder and rosh yeshivah of Shapell’s/ Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya in Jerusalem.

Mishpacha Magazine – BT Symposium Questions

From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012
We posted Jonathon’s Rosenblum’s response here.
Over the next weeks, with the generous permission of the Mishpacha editors, we will post many of the other repsonses.
Here are the questions that were posed to the participants.

In the last 50 years, tens of thousands of Jews from every walk of life have reclaimed their religious heritage and made their way to a Torah way of life. Their presence in frum communities around the globe has added immeasurably to the success and vitality of observant Jewish communities in too many ways to count. Yet all is not necessarily idyllic in the lives of these baalei teshuvah themselves. They often face a host of unexpected challenges in their newly chosen lives: grappling with the “ghosts” of their past, achieving full acceptance in the frum communities they now call home, uncertainty about the practical aspects of frum living and ongoing religious doubts, and alien¬ation due to lack of an indigenous support network. How can these difficult issues be resolved, and how can the frum community help?

SHOULD FULL INTEGRATION be the universally desirable goal for a baal teshuvah, or is there something to be said for such individuals and families seeking to form or join self-standing communities and institutions?

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES to the baal teshuvah — both internal and external — along the road to full integration? When full integration fails, is that primarily due to the individual, the community, or some combination thereof?

HOW MUCH, if any, of a baal teshuvah’s past life — e.g., relationships, cultural interests, pastimes — should he retain after becoming frum?

WHICH SEGMENT of the frum community presents the best chance for the baal teshuvah to integrate and take his place as a full member? Do the frum communities in the United States or in Eretz Yisrael present different issues regarding integration?

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND to a baal teshuvah who speaks of “buyer’s remorse” some years after his return to Torah, due to the sheer difficulty and expense of the frum lifestyle? Due to disenchantment with the frum world? Due to loss of faith or still-unanswered questions?

WHAT ARE THE PARTICULAR challenges the baal teshuvah faces in marriage, in raising a family, and in dealing with the lack of a support system?

ARE KIRUV PROFESSIONALS and their funders focusing on the initial stages of the process and less on the later stages, leaving the newly frum without sufficient resources after they’ve made the leap?

WHAT ARE FRUM communities doing wrong — and right — in relation to their newly observant members?

Edited by: Eytan Kobre

Is a “Good Enough” Secular Education Really Good Enough?

When talking to people about the secular education our children are receiving in their schools, many people think that it’s “good enough”. But is that true? Is the average student doing well on standard tests like the SAT? Can they write well? How are they doing in Math, Science and Technology?

Do you feel your children’s secular education is really good enough?


Why not?

What can be done given the low budgets our schools are dealing with?

It Was a Very Good Year

Mishpacha magazine has caught up with BeyondBT. I found the Baal Teshuva Symposium interesting.

I have my own little point that I have made before in comments here, but never as a self-standing post. And if I had been asked to participate, this is what I would have written in response to the question, “How should we respond to a baal teshuvah who speaks of ‘buyer’s remorse’ some years after his return to Torah, due to the sheer difficulty and expense of the frum lifestyle? Due to disenchantment with the frum world? Due to loss of faith or still unanswered questions?”:

It would be wise to recall that many of the roadblocks, much less bumps in the road, that we face as BT’s are merely specialized versions of the rough-and-tumble experience of growing into adulthood… parenthood… middle age… and beyond.

It is easy to assume that the road not taken would have been smooth, well lit and bedecked with clear, accurate signage.

But life really isn’t like that. Many, if not most, BT’s who look back on “before” and “after” are in an “after” that includes marriage, children, a mortgage, a career or two, tens of extra pounds around the middle, in-laws, ageing or dying parents, and general economic stress.

That, by the way, is pretty much, notwithstanding a few of us who have hit it big and seem to have it “easy,” the best-case scenario.

And “before”? My goodness! I will just speak for myself. I was 22; a recent Ivy League graduate en route to a top law school; I had all of my hair and all the color in it; I could not only touch my toes but I could palm the ground!

These seem like trivial things, but they contributed significantly to my emotional well-being. I had a lot to look forward to and every reason to believe it would be a great future, even if I had no credible concept of what that meant.

And it was an all-me future! I could go where I wanted to when I wanted to. No one needed to be driven anywhere or picked up. No one needed me to go shopping. No one else’s physical, emotional, financial or other needs were a daily concern. More: What I did and how I did it concerned and affected me alone.

It was easy to be idealistic, enthusiastic, flexible, relaxed, as well as self-centered, imprudent and rash. It was being 22, not 44 or the 50 I am now approaching.

Of course I feel the weight of life now. Disenchanted? It could happen even under the best of circumstances, or the worst; within the framework of a Torah way of life or the amorphous existence of being “secular.” On some level, for the vast majority of people, it does. We have to come to terms with that.

Ah, yes. When I was 22 and becoming frum, it was exciting! I thought I had found many things that eluded me for my previous life. I thought I could have both this and that. And be 22 forever.

The reality was, of course, different — as it is for everyone who remembers what he thought life would look like at 22 and is fortunate enough to live to be 50. That’s almost three decades of change. Life becomes complicated; or, if you like, life becomes richer. We experience joys we could not image as well as pain both predictable and otherwise. Yes, we learn to appreciate and treasure moments and achievements we had no concept of as overgrown adolescents. But it cannot be denied that the fantasies about the future many of us have surrender to the reality of life in this world. Gravity and time grind us down.

We are, one hopes, better for it — choose your metaphor. Let’s speak of coal that becomes a diamond. It’s still a crushing experience.

Disenchanted? Of course. Unanswered questions? More than ever.

I can say without a moment’s hesitation, however, that if I had made it to this point without having made the choice I did when I was 22, and suffered the same disappointments, struggles and changes — all of which I believe I would have experienced, and maybe even worse — if I had lived even this long but without ch’v Torah and mitzvos to give live meaning and direction… and, frankly, distraction from the pain and the stress, and to give structure to the process by which, as adults, we must become less self-centered …

I don’t even want to think about it.

Buyer’s remorse? When I think I might have that, I pull out the “receipt.” I may be indeed be regretting something, or ruing it — but not necessarily what I “bought” by becoming frum. It’s just growing old. And as my late father always used to say, it beats the alternative.

How Have You Navigated Orthodox Culture in Your Progress of Serving Hashem?

On Monday, Shmuel recently posted an astute comment on the Integrating the Ba’alei Teshuva post.

There is a lot of emphasis on sociology/culture in the orthodox community today. I have no idea whether this is good or bad, or whether it is even possible to change should someone think changing it would be a good idea. But it is important for a BT to be aware of this, since it can affect one’s development and self-esteem.

One may desire to fit in culturally in his chosen community, but the cultural fitting in is NOT what makes him religious. In always has to be secondary. Say a person wants to be oved Hashem and he thinks such and such community is the place he can do it best. Say that community demands or prefers cultural conformity (hat tilt angles and such), or he’ll feel more comfortable if he conforms, or some other reason that makes a positive difference in his life. So he’ll conform and his hat tipped correctly, etc. But it is important to keep in mind that that stuff is NOT avodas Hashem.

How have you navigated Orthodox Culture in your progress of Serving Hashem?

Do you feel too much time was spent?

Do you feel that you had to ever compromise your Avodas Hashem to conform?

What advice would you give new BTs in this area?

My Skirt is My Korban Todah

Today I’m wearing a new skirt. That isn’t really enough of a subject for a column except that this particular skirt is long, falling well below my knees, midcalf. Rather than slinky, it’s got substance, wide flaring pleats and in this age of impossibly flimsy ladies wear, a real honest to goodness lining.

My fashionable self would call it retro, something that might have been worn on the Vassar campus in the fifties, but that isn’t why I bought it. I bought it because its tsniusdig, Glatt Kosher 100 per cent okay according to all Rabbinical opinions.

This skirt is my Korban Todah (thankfulness offering), my own way of saying thank you to the Ribono Shel Olom for certain favors He’s done for me. I’ve been told, that tsnius is the ultimate women’s mitzvah, the point of her ultimate testing. Frankly, it hasn’t been my strong point. Ever since I ditched my blue jeans back in the mid eighties, I’ve been at war with myself, over my image about how I want to look. Tsniusdig, yes, of course, but not overly so because that would be frumpy, frumak, Farchnyucked, Yachne.

For years, I walked on a tightrope between the two, until now buying clothes that were good enough, just barely kosher, not kosher lemehadrin. Why? I didn’t buy foods with dubious hechsherim. Why was I letting myself be so sloppy with this. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to let a few inches of fabric come between me and the Ribono Shel Olom.

Today I put the skirt on for the very first time, as is. There was no need for alterations because it was perfect as is and now I’m wearing it. It fits nicely. No reason why tsniusdig can’t mean pretty but so far nobody has noticed, not my husband until I pointed it out to him, not my next door neighbor who came by to borrow an electric pump, not my upstairs neighbor, and not the young mother of my son’s classmate whom I passed as she was pushing her baby carriage down the block. Not anyone I met at the grocery store either. Not at the vegetable bins, the canned goods section, the dairy case. As the matter stands, no one in my 100 per cent orthodox neighborhood has seen fit to compliment me on my brand new 100 per cent tsniusdig skirt.

And I desperately want somebody to say something nice. This is a major step in my life— as big as a beginning BT walking away from a Big Mac and I want it to be acknowledged. Not with fireworks, a parade, a hand coming down from heaven. All I need is a good word and a smile.

The silence makes me worry. Maybe my fashion sense was off. Maybe the skirt is really ugly. Maybe I should skip this frummy stuff and go back to my old way. This is the sitra achra, I tell myself, that undertow of negativity that bubbles up whenever we undertake some small improvement. I give myself a pep talk.

Yes, you are doing the right thing standing up for modesty in a world where Britany Spears and Beyonce rule. No you don’t need a 100 gun salute or a Congressional Medal of Honor or a Nobel Prize and besides you are getting one in shomayim.

But deep down, I still don’t believe it. I still want someone to notice me. Oh Hashem, please I beg, A compliment. A good word.

Toward evening I meet my friend Pearly. Pearly with her nose ring and tattoo, (hennaed and temporary, thank G-d, not the permanent assur kind). Pearly who spends her Shabboses walking her dogs in the park.

“New skirt,” she asks. “C’mon then. Give it a turn. Very nice,” and then she smiles.

Originally Posted Jun 25, 2008

Integrating the Ba’alei Teshuva

By Jonathan Rosenblum
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

The ba’al teshuva movement, which began to gather steam after the Six-Day War has profoundly changed the face of the Orthodox world in both Israel and the United States. Once one gets outside the New York metropolitan area, ba’alei teshuva and geirim constitute one-third to one-half of the community. The decision of tens of thousands of Jews raised in non-Orthodox homes to choose a life of Torah and mitzvos – some after reaching the top of the secular totem pole – has strengthened the emunah of many born into Orthodox homes.

Besides numbers, ba’alei teshuva have contributed talents – e.g., doctors, lawyers, writers. Ba’alei teshuva coming from sophisticated secular backgrounds were a natural audience for some of the deepest contemporary Torah thinkers, like Rabbi Moshe Shapira. That same secular training provided ba’alei teshuva like Rabbi Akiva Taitz and Rabbi Jeremy Kagan, both talmidim of Rabbi Shapira, with the ability to communicate some of the deepest Torah ideas to the non-religious world in a contemporary idiom. Not surprisingly, ba’alei teshuva play a major role in kiruv work across the globe. And finally, ba’alei teshuva hold the Torah world to its own highest standards – the ones that attracted them.

MY RESPONSE to virtually every one of the questions posed is: It depends; every ba’al teshuva is different. I write, for instance, from the vantage point of one specific ba’al teshuva framework – and likely not the most common — those who had the opportunity to learn for many years in Eretz Yisrael.

Just as our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents wanted their children to be Yankee-Doodle Dandies, ba’alei teshuva pray their children will not be instantly identifiable as the children of ba’alei teshuva. Exclusively ba’al teshuva communities are not a healthy option.

Still most ba’alei teshuva, even those who are fully integrated into the Orthodox world, tend to gravitate to others who have travelled the same path – often together – as marital partners and friends. Nearly every ba’al teshuva will have at least one good friend with whom he can share cultural references from his past that his FFB friends would either not pick up or perhaps disdain.
I have never denied being a ba’al teshuva – obvious, in any event, at Agudah conventions whenever Yiddish is spoken – nor broadcast the fact. A good friend recently told me that the tilt of my hat and the disarray of my tzitzis gives me away. Had I ever tried to pass as an FFB I would have been devastated. Instead I just smiled. My children can add many more telltale signs, like laughing too loud at jokes.

BECOMING A BA’AL TESHUVA is a long process, even after becoming shomer mitzvos. For most of us it never quite ends – and perhaps shouldn’t. There is a danger of resting on the laurels of having once upon a time made a brave decision. As a chavrusah once remarked to me when I put my head down in first seder, “It’s amazing how much some people give up for Torah, and how little they do once they’ve made that decision.”

Every human being is shaped, and continues to be shaped, by past experiences. To attempt to sever one’s past entirely will usually involve an aspect of self-annihilation. Most old friendships will wither of their own accord as the core of one’s life changes radically. Not so familial relationships. Rabbi Simcha Wasserman’s advice remains the best I have heard: Demonstrate to your parents that becoming a Torah Jew strengthens the bond between you and them. That is hard to do, however, when non-religious parents are asked to financially support children who have chosen lifestyles based on values far different than their own.

Every ba’al teshuva needs a rav to whom he has ready access. That rav must know him well, and be able to respond with sensitivity to his special circumstances. That will rarely be the person most influential in his first becoming religious. Successful front-line kiruv professionals will, over the years, start hundreds on the path, and cannot keep up with all of them.

Nevertheless nothing is more demoralizing for a ba’al teshuva than feeling that he was just another notch in a kiruv professional’s gun. Becoming shomer Shabbos is the type of metric beloved of funders, but it does not necessarily signify stable integration into a religious life.
Unfortunately, many frontline kiruv professionals find their funding dependent on bringing in new bodies rather than taking care of those already under their tutelage.

Besides a rav, ba’alei teshuva need FFB friends and role models who can keep them “normal.” One of the biggest challenges ba’alei teshuva face is setting realistic goals for themselves and their children. I will never forget my rosh yeshiva’s look of astonishment when I complained that my then eight-year-old bechor did not want to review mishnayos over chol hamoed. Even after we have learned ten years in kollel, our sons still remind us that we never learned in cheder or yeshiva ketana and cannot fully grasp their situation. And they are right.

At the same time, it is crucial that ba’alei teshuva not lose the confidence to think for themselves, and that they not become completely dependent on guides to make every decision for them. Not every thought or feeling they ever had is of necessity illegitimate because they were not yet frum, and, in many cases, they have a rich new perspective to add to their new communities.
THE “BUYERS REGRET” that concerns me most is that of ba’alei teshuva when they discover that the reality of the new world they are entering is far from perfect, and that to some extent they were sold an ideal. That “sale” is based on the reality of one’s past life juxtaposed to the ideal of the new one beckoning. Moreover, one is usually exposed at the beginning to the very best that the Torah world has to offer, and to see Torah at its most noble and purest.

Had we known everything we now know at the beginning, we might not have become frum. And that would have been a huge tragedy. Nevertheless, some degree of early introduction to reality is necessary as a vaccination against the inevitable letdown later, when one discovers that no society is perfect.

Perhaps I should be grateful for the Shabbos in the summer of 1979, just after my wife and I arrived in Israel on our honeymoon, spent listening to teenage zealots stoning cars on the Ramot Road. At least we could never say afterwards that we thought we were entering a perfect world.

But we also had Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zt”l, to explain why their actions were a total falsification of Torah. Not everyone is so blessed.


Why Do Observant Jews Generally Vote Republican?

Dear Beyond BT

I have a question that I was wondering if you could post. I am not looking for a debate, only some answers. I, and probably a lot of other BTs, grew up in a staunchly democratic home. I do not think I even knew any republicans. What is up with frum Jews voting republican? My mother always tells people that she is totally fine with me being frum, but she will absolutely never accept the fact that I have voted republican. Honestly, I do it because people I respect suggest it. What is the real reason?


Reposted from Feb 12, 2008