How Are You Preparing For The Shidduchim Search?

Helping our children find good spouses is one of the biggest issues BTs face.

The main obstacles are that we don’t have the networks that our FFB co-religionists have, and we don’t understand the system that well. Of course the problem is much more difficult for girls than for boys due to the current demographics.

Are you preparing for your upcoming shidduchim challenges?

What steps are you taking?

If you’ve already succeeded in this parsha, what advice would you give to your fellow BTs?

Sirens, Sandy and the Light of the Menorah

On her semi-annual trip to America, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller spoke in Kew Gardens Hills last night on the topic of “Sirens, Sandy and the Light of the Menorah”.

You can download the mp3 here.

Rebbetzin Heller has just released a new book called “The Balancing Act – How to bring the power and passion of Torah into our homes, our children – and ourselves”. There’s a 20% online discount on Artscroll’s site.

The book is in question and answer format. Here’s a small excerpt:

Q. When we were dating, my husband said he wanted to live in an established frum community in order to have access to the Torah learning readily available there. Although I had reservations, I ultimately told him I could live whereever he wanted and we’d make the most of our opportunities. Now that’s it coming down to it, I’m afraid I’m not going to be happy in an established area. I realize there’s plenty of community service to do even in a frum city, but it’s not the same as living in a less religiously developed area, where I can be a part of actually shaping it.

A. It’s up to you to be happy. Simchah is a middah and not a response to external circumstances. You can choose to develop your inner joy by believing that wherever Hashem put you, that’s where your potential can be maximized. If you agreed to your husband’s choice, you meant it and saw it as possible. You can be very happy in a frum community. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking otherwise.

You don’t have to be in Charan in order to make souls. I would suggest you get involved in Project Inspire, Partners in Torah, or any other suitable program. This way you can still be involved in creating a community by introducing people from the outside.

We are naturally affected by our role models. Don’t devalue the advantage of being in a frum environment. Your husband wants exposure to seri¬ous Torah learning and to people who are real ovdei Hashem. Seek out those people in your from community who live bigger-than-life lives. Let them be your inspiration.

There is no reason for you to feel spiritually frustrated. There is plenty to do no matter where you live. In addition to kiruv, there are kids off the derech, women in distress, and families that need help coping. Be honest and ask yourself if your imagination is taking you to a place that you’ve fallen in love with, instead of falling in love with Hashem’s.

Keep that promise to your husband. Make the most of your opportunities, and be happy wherever Hashem ultimately leads you

Postcards to My Younger Self

Dear 11 year old Shoshanna,

Hashem made a strange and wonderful miracle! It’s hard to believe it but I am writing to you from your future. I want to let you know that you’re not abnormal to be searching for meaning in life. I know you feel different. I assure you that you’re not alone. One day you’ll meet people who’ll know exactly what you are looking for. I could tell you what you’re missing but it wouldn’t be good for you to find out before you’re ready. You may not be able to grasp this yet but you actually come from a very long line of truth seekers. Do not despair!

Kind Regards,
Future Shoshanna

Dear Future Shoshanna,

I don’t believe in miracles. This is like some science fiction story only it’s really happening, right?

It sure is a relief to hear I’m not the only one who asks these kinds of questions. I have no one to share my inner thoughts with. I sit up at night and think about how mommy died when I was only five years old. I wonder what happens to a person after they die, but there’s no one to talk to about this. Whenever I bring up the subject they say they don’t want to talk about it and tell me not to be so gloomy. Everyone tells me that I should concentrate on the things that girls my age should care about like clothes, parties, and passing my exams. I do care about those things too, but isn’t there something more to life? No one seems to know. Mommy comes to me in my dreams. Sometimes I feel like I may be going crazy because it is as if she is really in the room with me while I’m wide awake. It’s scary yet comforting at the same time. Why do people die young?

11 year old Shoshanna

Dear 14 year old Shoshanna,

This year you’re not going to complete the eighth grade of Temple Beth El’s religious school, nor will you go through with the confirmation ceremony. You’re going to quit before the end of the term. I’m giving you a warning that our stepmother and daddy will not be happy about this. They’re going to give you a very hard time. Then they’ll try to entice you to go ahead with it by promising you a new dress and a confirmation party. Nevertheless, you’ll stubbornly refuse to give in. You’ll stand on principle, displaying a trait that will persist into your adulthood. The entire family will protest but, in the end, you’re going to get your way. My advice to you is to be glad they’re going to give in to you so don’t rub their noses in it and just live and let live, please!

Kind Regards,
Future Shoshanna
Read more Postcards to My Younger Self

The Lonely Rocky Road

Rabbi Yehuda Zakutinsky
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

WHEN MANY frum JEWS ARE asked to picture the experience of a baal teshuvah, a fairy-tale-like portrait comes to mind, in which the baal teshuvah has experienced Jewish enlightenment and clarity, and complete acceptance and contentment in the frum community. Unfortunately, the reality for most baalei teshuvah is far from a fairy tale.

Their road is at times rocky, lonely, and filled with many obstacles. After the period of inspiration the baal teshuvah experienced, which often occurs in a yeshivah or seminary geared specifically toward incubating the new found love for Judaism of these men and women, baalei teshuvah are plunged back into the new reality of their life, and they now need to incorporate Torah Judaism into their already established lives and relationships.

Parts of the frum lifestyle that we take for granted seem daunting for these baalei teshuvah. Shabbos and Yom Tov can be lonely when there is no family to go home to for these festive times. Shidduchim, which are challenging for even the most savvy of the frum community, can be very confusing for the newly religious individual. Their newfound commitment can at times strain their relationships with family and friends, who are all trying to adjust to their lifestyle change. The spark that was ignited can begin to flicker, or even be extinguished, due to the tremendous loneliness and difficulties of the path they’ve so boldly chosen.

Baalei teshuvah need a venue in which to come together as a community, where they can meet and make friends with others who have walked the same path they have.

When a child comes back from learning in Eretz Yisrael, the scene is generally one of excitement and anticipation. For the baal teshuvah, this reunion can be filled with misunderstandings, disagreements, and at times many tears. While both the baal teshuvah and his parents love and care about each other, the child’s newfound frumkeit can, if not handled with care, create deep rifts. Keeping kosher can create chaos at a family dinner, and keeping Shabbos can leave the baal teshuvah home alone during family time. I have found that with intense, ongoing, one-on-one guidance, driven by understanding, empathy, and concern, baalei teshuvah and their families can often learn how to maintain their close relationships, without compromising the child’s new commitment.

Judaism is a very family-oriented religion. Shabbos and Yom Tov are times when people join together with family and reconnect with them. For the baal teshuvah, who doesn’t have religious family to go to, Shabbos can be a lonely time. At best, the baal teshuvah has the uncomfortable task of inviting himself over to people’s tables, always feeling like a nomad and a guest, and never finding a place to call home. At worst, a challah roll and a can of tuna alone in a basement apartment can be the extent of the Shabbos seudah.

There needs to be warm, loving, nonjudgmental, accepting environments in the frum community where one can always feel welcome. An integral part of integration is for the baal teshuvah to have a network of frum families who will invite them into their homes and into their hearts. It is imperative that the proper “shidduch” be made between host and guest. They become adoptive parents for them, and create an environment where they can be themselves and not be put on display as the “baal teshuvah” in the room.

The process of finding a spouse in the religious community is very different from the one with which the baal teshuvah is familiar, and navigating it requires guidance and advice. Also, without a parent advocating for an individual, the process is that much more difficult. Finding shadchanim who are sensitive to baalei teshuvah is essential, as is the role adoptive families can play to advocate for them, research prospective dates for them, and coach them with the love and care that they need.

The baal teshuvah often feels he is playing “catch up” in his Torah studies because of his late start in Yiddishkeit. To address this, it is important that there are learning programs, shiurim, and chavrusos specifically geared to helping the baal teshuvah learn and grow.

When someone is blessed with a simchah in the frum community, the family shifts into high gear, so to speak, to make every aspect of the simchah as beautiful and as meaningful as possible. But the baal teshuvah’s family is usually unfamiliar with the many minhagim and halachos of a simchah, and this can result in significant friction between the young couple and their families, and leave them with no one to count on to help make their simchah the special occasion it is.

Vorts, aufrufs, sheva brachos, brissim, pidyon habens, bar mitzvahs, and weddings — at every stage of the life cycle there are occasions which the baal teshuvah’s family may not be able to truly be there for them. I have found that this is another time when the Jewish community has the opportunity, as well as the obligation, to step in and create the simchah that these men and women deserve.

Based on more than three decades of working with baalei teshuvah after their return to Yiddishkeit, I know that while the road for baalei teshuvah can at times be rough and challenging, with siyata d’Shmaya and support from the Jewish community, the baal teshuvah story can be a truly successful one.

Rabbi Yehuda Zakutinsky, a musmach of Rav Pam ztz”l, has been involved in kiruv for over thirty years. He is a founder and the director of Hashevaynu, an organization that functions as a support system for baalei teshuvah who are integrating into the frum community.

Does Torah Observance Make You Happier?

Dear Beyond BT

I’ve seen many people say that Torah Observance makes you happier, but I’m not sure whether it’s observable. It seems that there are many people in the Torah community who aren’t noticeably happier than their non-observant counterparts. Many Torah Jews also seem to have the same material strivings and keeping up with the Schwartz’s attitude.

Has Torah observance made you happier?
Are you always happy? If not, what leads to that state of not being happy?
What additional ingredients are necessary for Torah to make you happy?

Originally Published Feb 05, 2008

Some BTs Lose It, Some FFBs Never Had It

Rabbi Menachem Zupnik
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

THE PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED here are very real and serious, and the answers are very personal and complex, and can’t be properly addressed in a short forum. I am also uncomfortable that perhaps classifying these courageous Jews and their problems separately in this way is shallow and disrespectful. I try to be understanding of each individual, weighing his strengths and limitations as we talk. I experience each one as just an Orthodox Jew trying his best to juggle the stress and difficulty of fidelity to Hashem and His Torah in today’s day and age.

I have been privileged to be inspired by many Jews who demonstrate incredible dedication and modesty in the face of great nisayon; but I have also encountered Jews who unfortunately do not seem concerned enough about compromising their Yiddishkeit. There is a spectrum of connection to Hashem and His Torah that exists equally among both the frum from birth and the baalei teshuvah. Indeed, some FFB people demonstrate weaknesses requiring compromises that dwarf any I have ever made for a person due to his secular past. In my experience, it is not a person’s upbringing that defines who he is; his past is something for consideration, but no more.

You wonder how to deal with a baal teshuvah’s “buyer’s remorse.” In response, I query: Is their problem of disenchantment essentially any different from that which so many of our young FFB adults are feeling, and is the answer to “their problem” any different from the answer to “ours”?

Regarding the sheer difficulty and expense of being frum, I again suggest that the problem is no different for the FFB individual. What would you say to a good, well-meaning Jew who, following his rebbeim, struggled to raise daughters who wish to marry only bnei Torah? His wonderful success in raising six exemplary daughters is greeted with the harsh reality that the really serious bnei Torah “cost” more than he can afford. His daughters, he is told, must settle for boys who are not such big learners but can support themselves. He regrets having thoughtlessly followed the course of our community, he is disil-lusioned by the system, and angry that it does not value his precious daughters and give them the chance they so very much deserve. How does one respond to his remorse and anger? The problem is not essentially any different from the one described here as a baal teshuvah problem. Indeed, in my experience, the latter problem arises more often than the former.

The issue of full integration into the community is also a personal question that depends on the individual and the community. I cannot overemphasize the importance of making the effort to belong to and be part of the larger Orthodox Jewish community. This is especially important for their children’s sake, since they are lacking the added support of an extended frum family.

But once again, this is not only an issue for baalei teshuvah. They are not the only ones who want to retain their own identity and are hesitant to conform entirely. This is a larger problem with frum behavior in general; we may eat similar foods and wear similar clothes, but we are far from conformists. Just listen to the attitudes expressed among FFBs: This rav is too stringent and that rav is too lenient, that rosh yeshivah is too rigid and the other one does not give the boys a clear direction. Tragically, this occurs regarding gedolei Yisrael as well, with too many FFBs assessing their wisdom and deciding at a whim whether to heed their guidance.

The sad reality is that most frum Jews are in actuality very — perhaps too — independent. People resist committing themselves to any one shul, or rav, or any particular derech. This is not spiritually healthy for the FFB any more than it is for the baal teshuvah. So, before we start pondering whether an intelligent, well-educated baal teshuvah has to give up his or her independence and perspective to join our derech, perhaps we should address our own deficiencies in this regard, and ask ourselves: Do I have a rav and a derech? Have I given up my ideas and issues in order to conform to a kehillah?

The term ben Torah, although part of our lexicon, lacks a clear definition. I use the term to describe a particular type of Jew who may not have ever even stepped into a yeshivah, but understands that being frum entails striving to be a better Jew and constantly growing in avodas Hashem. In general, the life of a ben Torah is less secular and more intensely Jewish. One might therefore expect that he would have the hardest time in accepting newcomers to Judaism, with their “strange and different ways.”

Yet, I have observed over many years that the very opposite is true. It is these very intensely Jewish individuals who have the least problem accepting the newcomers. And that is simply because they have the most in common with them; they both are seekers of the truth. They value substance over style, and appreciate each other’s mesirus nefesh to try and do what is correct. Others who accept mediocrity and stagnation in their Jewish lives do not share this common bond with the baal teshuvah. And, although their more liberal form of Jewish living and familiarity with secular culture might seem closer to the baal teshuvah’s own experience, in reality they find little in common with the baal teshuvah’s sincerity and quest for meaning in life.

There are many baalei teshuvah who, after a while, lose their initial vitality, and there are many FFBs who never had it. Yet we find in both of these groups dedicated Jews who maintain their enthusiasm for everything Jewish throughout their observant lives. This is the only meaningful distinction that exists within our community in an effort to deal with its problems; it is a mistake to continue grouping Jews by irrelevant superficialities.

The best thing we can do for our newly observant members is to continue to strive and grow to become better Jews. Most baalei te-shuvah will feel accepted and comfortable among such Jews. The worst thing we can do for them is to lose our own vitality and become more involved with style than substance. That is a tragedy for us as well as for them.

Rav Menachem Zupnik is the rav of Bais Torah U’tefillah in Passaic, New Jersey, a yeshivah community that is also a magnet for baalei teshuvah. His kehillah is noted for its ability to make the yeshivah worldview and experience accessible to newcomers.

South Brooklyn School Devastated by Hurricane Sandy

Dear All,

South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Seagate have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy last week. Among victims of the hurricane is Mazel Day School located blocks away from the ocean and the bay. The two buildings which house the school were badly flooded and all K-6 classrooms, books, furniture, classroom materials, computer equipment and kids’ art work were severely damaged by as much as six feet of sewage water. Several SifreiTorahs housed in what was supposed to be a water proof case were also damaged. The pictures of the damage are available and on the school’s facebook page.

Mazel Day School is an orthodox neighborhood school started 10 years ago with three children and grown to 140 today with a waiting list. The school is open to all Jewish children, regardless of religious observance. Children come from both observant and non-observant homes. The children from observant homes usually have parents who are baalei teshuvahs that value child-centered, value-oriented education dedicated to excellence in both Judaic and secular studies. School motto is “instilling a love of learning and the joy of Judaism”. This school is gem of the neighborhood and lives up to its motto. After the storm, the teachers organized conference calls for the children to learn the parsha of the week with their friends.

The school is very much supported by the parents and local donors. However, many of the parents and local donors were personally hit by the hurricane themselves and are not able to contribute as generously at this time. Before the storm, the school was gearing up for a new building fundraiser to expand the middle school and take more children from the wait list. The storm has crashed this plan and hit the school with the reality of now raising funds to replace was previously there.Principals and parents have been working around the clock to manage the situation from looking for temporary classrooms to salvaging flooded items to cleaning. Kids have been cleaning along with the parents.

Please help rebuild this school. If there is one thing Sandy can teach us, it is the fleeting value of money that we invest in our own comfort. Please consider investing in something that has an everlasting value – the Torah–based education of our children. Donations of any amount will make a difference. Please donate at All donations are tax–deductible.

Thank you in advance! May you be blessed with nachas from your own families and children and always be in position to help others!

Lily Shnayder

Mazel Day School parent

The Distress in Far Rockaway and How You Can Help

Dear Friends

I just came back from Yeshiva Shar Yoshuv. A couple of friends and I decided to take the day and help people in Far Rockaway clean out after the flood. We called Achiezer this morning and they said come to Shar Yoshuv and we will send you out.

When we got to Shar Yoshuv the sight was unbelievable. At the entrance to the campus was a truck accepting Shaimos. In front of the main entrance to the building was a truck accepting family’s laundry to be washed. The dining room was set up to serve lunch and supper. Supper was starting at 3:30 P.M. so people could get home before dark. The gym was set up with racks of cloths for men, women and children. Teams were being sent out to pump water out of people’s homes.

We came to the volunteer station and we were asked to help people unload Shaimos from their cars into a big truck. The line of cars coming to drop off ruined Seforim was nonstop. People were pulling up with cars, minivans and even a pickup truck loaded with full libraries of seforim. I with my own eyes saw thousands of Seforim that were ruined. I spoke to a woman who asked if we could send help over to her house to bag up her ruined Seforim. She came with a stroller with bags full of dirty laundry, together with her children so they could eat lunch. She said that she came on foot because she was afraid to use her car and run out of gas. She said that she just had no energy left to deal with the ruined Seforim. What I experienced was just dealing with the Seforim that people lost.

I did not see their dark cold homes; some still will many feet of water in them, others full of water damaged possessions. It was clear that many regular people are in need of lots of help. Boruch Hashem here in Kew Gardens Hills things are fine, but a few short miles away things really are not.

We have to do what we can to help our brothers literally dig out of this. If you have time to volunteer call Achiezer at 516-791-4444. If you can make a donation to the Hurricane Relief Fund you can do so at In the Zechus of the unbelievable Chesed going on may all of Acheinu Bais Yisroel have yeshuos bekarov.

Yours Truly,

Rabbi Chaim Eli Welcher

You Have Graduated

By Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

MOST FRUM-FROM-BIRTH JEWS fail to appreciate the life-wrenching decisions and monumental sacrifices that are involved in becoming a baal teshuvah. In a very real sense, becoming a baal teshuvah may be com¬pared to being asked to move to Mars. Once the decision is made, almost everything in a baal teshuvah’s life is challenged, changed, and transformed. For most who make that choice, exceptional conviction and indeed heroism are required to adapt to the rigorous lifestyle of Orthodox Judaism.

To support the development of healthy, balanced baalei teshuvah, we must be aware of a number of cogent principles. From bitter experience, I have concluded that those Jews who walk in and immediately become shomer Shabbos and kashrus might well eventually de¬part from observance just as abruptly. That’s less likely, however, for those who supplement their rapid transformation with intense Torah study. Rather than push for the quick observance of mitzvos, I would encourage additional study and deliberate religious growth.

A healthy baal teshuvah needs to be a balanced person. Yet some methods of contemporary kiruv are antithetical to that goal. Very often the mekarev, who invests many hours, days, and even years working with a potential baal teshuvah, assumes “ownership” of the new neshamah. The mekarev and his/her family generally study Torah with the neophytes, open their hearts and homes to include them in their family experiences, often adopting the beginner as an additional child or sibling.

But this is unhealthy for the baal teshuvah. I’ve long argued that baalei teshuvah need multiple, authentic religious experiences. By exposing them to other mechanchim and rabbanim, with other valid points of view, the future baalei teshuvah come away with a much greater, broader, healthier picture of Jewish life.

True, separation is often very difficult to accomplish, for both the mekarev and the baal teshuvah. When I first began conducting the Beginners’ Service, it was so difficult for me to “graduate” a beginner. I had worked on them and sweated with them, cried with them and labored with them, and I mistakenly perceived that these people were mine! It was a good feeling knowing that the beginners “loved” the service and did not want to leave, and I too, was not eager for them leave.

It was a thoroughly heartrending decision for me to have to say to someone, “You have graduated. I will match you up with someone who will help you during davening in the regular shul.” It was painful for both of us. But it was necessary, in order to create a healthy balance, and allow them to progress and develop religiously.

Another important factor that is often overlooked is that mekarvim and committed community members need to be concerned with the “whole person,” to be aware of the factors that motivate a person to explore Judaism. Is it a true spiritual search, or was it a reaction to a death in the family, or the loss of a boyfriend/girlfriend, or job? Is it possibly due to emotional or psychological instability? It is certainly not just how many chapters a day of Tehillim the newly observant recite, or how many Mishnayos they have mastered, that should concern us. We need to be attentive to the whole person, including issues of parnassah, social status, and relationships with spouses, children, I cannot think of a single instance in my many years where confrontation has proven beneficial either to baalei teshuvah or to their families and parents. Those concerns are also part of becoming a Torah Jew and living a full Jewish life.

Another important factor in the development of healthy baalei teshuvah is assisting them with coming to terms with their past. Alienating them from their parents, or encouraging them to deny their past, is almost always destructive and wrongheaded. Defiantly antireligious parents, who see their children acting with uncommon respect and concern — despite the parents’ venom — are often trans¬formed, and become more sympathetic. When children are taught not to be confrontational, but accommodating (and that can almost always be achieved), it has a most salutary effect on the entire family, and the entire adjustment process for the baal teshuvah is enhanced as well. I cannot think of a single instance in my many years where confrontation has proven beneficial either to baalei teshuvah or to their families.

I have always made it a point to keep in closer contact with those with whom I have “failed,” than with those who succeeded. It is crucial to never give up! We must try to win back the less committed to the growth mode, even if it is one tiny step forward. These so-called “failures” are the ones who receive our annual calls before the holidays. They are the ones who are invited to our home for Shabbos and holiday meals, more frequently than the “success” cases. Above all, it is important to keep the lines of communication open. And when occasionally there is a return, it is a reason for great happiness.

It is crucially important that the frum community be there to support and aid baalei teshuvah, to show them love and concern along the way. I can candidly say that being warmly welcomed in a new shul has an exhilarating effect on me, and I am no stranger to shul.

Today, unfortunately, we find trends that are going in the opposite direction, where baalei teshuvah and their children often discover that they are not welcome. I wonder if the children of Reish Lakish, who started as a highwayman, were prohibited from attending the local schools and shuls because of Reish Lakish’s ignoble past. This growing practice is not only terribly wrong, but a real turnoff to anyone who is thinking of becoming, or has become, an observant Jew.

Ephraim Z. Buchwald is the director of the National Jewish Outreach Program and rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service.