Should I Hide Being a BT?

By “Alan”

I live in a fairly black hat community and it seems to me that many BTs make great efforts to hide the fact that they are BTs. There are people here who are BTs for 5-10 years, who learned for less than 2 years full time in Yeshiva, who don’t even consider themselves BTs anymore.

One person told me that many people hold that being a BT is a negative, although few will tell you that to your face or say it publicly. Being known as a BT effects how people view you, shidduchim, and jobs in certain community organizations, so he feels it makes sense to hide the fact that you are a BT, whenever possible.

My problem is that I think that living this type of charade will cause problems for me and my family in the future. It seems like we are denying a reality instead of dealing properly with it. I didn’t choose to be born into a non-observant family and I feel that the strides I’ve made are significant and I continue to work on my Yiddishkeit. So tell me again why we should hide or deny the fact that we’re BTs?

Originally Published July, 2007.

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From the comments:

Ora says:

I’ve never felt that I had to hide my background, but I’ve chosen to do so on several occasions. Mostly for four reasons.

1) (especially when I had been religious for less than 2/3 years) It’s nice to “pass.” It takes a lot of effort to get to the point where you are knowledgeable enough and comfortable enough with Jewish life that those who grew up in religious homes can’t tell that you didn’t. I liked the feeling I got when some girl from seminary who I’d known for months would say, “Oh, your family isn’t religious? I didn’t know!”

2) I don’t want to deal with stereotypes. I don’t know if the people I’m meeting have BT stereotypes, or if they think of being a BT as a positive or negative thing. But either way, I don’t want that one part of my history to influence their opinion of me. This is especially strong when I first meet people. In fact, now I have a pattern of telling people a bit of my story after I’ve known them for a little while, and then the full story comes out after a few months.

To be honest, sometimes it’s more annoying when people are overly positive than slightly negative. I don’t like being told “Oh, BTs are so inspiring, you gave up so much, blah blah blah” when I’m feeling like an uninspired slacker. Also, I don’t feel like I gave up very much to get to where I am, because I wanted so badly to be here that all the other stuff didn’t really matter. So I don’t feel that I deserve the praise.

3) I’m afraid that people will take my opinions less seriously. As in “oh, you’re a newcomer, what do you know,” etc. I have never once encountered this attitude, but my fear of it is still there. I think a lot of BTs who hide their identities do so mostly do to their own fears and not actually FFB attitudes.

4) Ultimately I don’t think it matters very much. So many of my friends who were raised in religious households weren’t really religious until they were in their late teens/early 20s. They might use terms like “raised religious” or “FFB,” but until a certain period in life they were just going with the flow (and then at some point fully accepted Hashem/Torah). Others were seriously introspective and spiritual even as kids, but had a period where their hashkafa grew apart from that of their parents. We’re all pretty much in the same place now. So I don’t see how telling someone “I’m a BT” will give them useful knowledge. It will eventually come out in anecdotes/ when they meet my family/ etc if we’re close, but I feel no need to mention it if the subject doesn’t come up.

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From the comments:

Dovid says:

This is a wonderful post and I’m thankful to all who have commented thus far. Integration into a frum community is not an easy process. After all, we’re not talking about our first day on campus at college here. For us, “Orientation” is an ongoing process that for some continues for years or even decades,
depending on what stage in life we are when we become BT’s.

My wife and I became BT’s in our mid 30’s, so we did not have the opportunity to develop over
our younger years like most BT’s that we know. No time studying in Ohr Someach or Aish, etc. during our college years, when most of our BT friends began their BT journey’s. No, for us it was a quicker decision both for ourselves and our children (6 and 3 at the time). We were in an “out-of-town” community with a small shul that had maybe 3 Shomer Shabbos members and the rest of them either non-committed but enjoying the shul. We knew that we needed to move away, because the community presented conflicting values and observances that would confuse our children. For us personally, the “Modern” communities presented an outlook (both outward and otherwise) too similar to the secular lifestyle that we were trying to move away from. We wanted a frumkeit that was so clearly different than the secular life we left, that our children would grow up to feel “uncomfortable” with an outlook that shared the fashion and open-door philosophy we found to proliferate in these communities. After consulting with our Rav and a few good friends, we chose a large and diverse frum community that is essentially black hat, (although their are all sorts of those, and streimlach-a-plenty). Yes, it was a bold move indeed.

We have been here for 7 years now, and as expected, we have found many, many other BT’s here. BT’s seem to gravitate to each other somehow. It has been a great comfort to us that this is the way of things. We can talk and share our experiences together and help each other along the way. We have all experienced the “cold shoulder” from FFB’s who have no clue about what it is like for us, and we don’t blame them personally. They simply have lived such cloistered lives, that they don’t know what to think of folks like us. But for the most part, we have had positive experiences here. I would have to say that even though our children have adapted well, I expect that they will some day likely marry into other BT families. I would be pleased if they married into FFB families as well, but I think that people generally will be attracted to others whose families are similar to their own. There are exceptions of course, but I think it will take more than one generation for our family to more completely meld into the community that we’ve chosen. We do not hide our BT status, and do our best to show our brothers and sisters who are FFB, that we have come a long way to be here (a lot longer trip than driving from Flatbush). Some don’t feel comfortable with that, and others are most welcoming and encouraging. Upwards and onwards…

45 comments on “Should I Hide Being a BT?

  1. 1st ever post-hi, 1/3 of the people around you are probably bt’s or kids of bt’s-how would you know? my kids go to black hat yeshivas-only difference it makes is they aren’t getting money from 1 of the grandpas. My neighbor from Queens doesn’t care, the bais Yaakov rebbetzin’s daughter doesn’t care, and if someone won’t marry your kids cause of it than it’s b’shert. (shh, I’m biased against New yorkers, Queens is different… ) Everybody has their thing. Be comfy with yourself and G-d.

  2. Unfortunately, many FFBS exhibit an amazement or bewilderness when they meet someone with a superb secular background who became a BT. It borders on “why would anyone want to become frum”-a POV that IMO is indicative of spiritual adolescence or worse.

  3. Shalom Esti,

    I just wanted to say I just saw your comment to me, and to thank you for the wonderful feedback. You know how it is when you write. You walk away thinking, aha, I’m so happy with that. I articulated what I really felt … and then it falls flat like a dud. Then other times you think you’re making no sense at all, and people respond favourably. The internet, what a medium!

    LeahL

  4. Bob,

    It’s true. The students from homes not so well-heeled we’re not into the “activist” thing and were looked down upon by the “activists” because instead of cutting class to protest whatever they actually had to take a job to pay for school.

    Also I have some childhood memories of the early 70s whan many teens walked around barefoot (in the streets). This really disturbed my father because as a child growing up in the Depression he saw the same thing….because the families couldn’t afford shoes for their kids.

  5. Jacob,

    Some of the most radical, violent students during my college days (1966-1972) came from comfortable, upscale suburban backgrounds.

    Go figure.

  6. Without downplaying any difficulties in being a BT (I speak from experience) perhaps the bottom line is just to develop some resiliency and learn to take things in stride. Yes, easier said…..

    If you really think a community switch is called for then do your homework and preparations as far removed from emotional content as possible.

    To provide some historical content. The American post WWII generations, speaking in macro terms, could have been the easiest times in human history. For those who had the guts to look for and find something more meaningful they are still nevertheless shocked by the apparent injustices from perceived BTphobes.

    “Wasn’t it supposed to be easier than this?” Apparently not and it doesn’t necessarily have to be considered a bad thing. Perhaps my favorite (l’havdil) non-Torah mayseh is “No boxer grew up in Beverly Hills”

  7. I’m inspired by the many posts I’ve read, by the BTs, gerim, etc. May you all grow and grow in Torah and find your path!

    We moved from a nearly entirely black hat community where we met the occasional BT. I felt like I never fit in. We moved (for job reasons) to a nice out-of-town community where there are many black hats, and many BTs, FFBs, anything goes. We fit in! Nobody cares if you’re a BT, FFB, etc. Nobody knows to ask, sometimes it comes out in normal conversation and its all OK! I’ve been surprised to find out some of the most chashuv neighbors are long-time BTs and they don’t mind saying so. Some are embarrassed, but it seems they are embarrassed that they used to not be religious, and they’re embarrassed for the right reasons – Lishma. Which is why I believe there is a prohibition to speak lashon hara and reveal a BT as being such. Because someone might be embarrassed that they didn’t always do mitzvos lishma. Not because they are embarrassed in front of fellow human beings because they want to hide out.

    Leah, keep writing, its beautiful and inspiring when you do!

    Keep moving everyone, onwards and upwards!

  8. Shalom Shayna,

    There is a difference between a BT and a ger, and it’s an amazing difference in my humble opinion.

    There is a specific mitzvah in the Torah that a Jew is to be accord every respect to a ger tzedek. To my knowledge you won’t find a similar mitzvah naming the BT tzedek. We BTs are lumped in with everybody else, but the ger tzedek is singled out in a very special way.

    Devarim 10:19 – “V’ahavta es ha-ger…”

    Ergo, again in my opinion, it is a transgression of the Torah to treat the ger tzedek as a “lesser” simply because he is a ger.

    This refers to the ger tzedek, that is, the ger who converts halachically and strives to educate himself and follow “kol Torah” with enthusiasm and sincerity.

    Regards, Eliahu

  9. That is so interesting! It seems this also applies to gerims. As a convert, I have encountered other gerims who confided with me about their status as if it’s a secret. I think one should be proud of one’s choice in life, and that it is a difficult but honorable lifestyle. It is a shame that there should be people out there who judge one because of their background, past, or superficial attributes. Unfortunately, I and my children have experienced this, but we are stronger in our frumkeit because of it. I also think my presence does make others become more sensitive and tolerant of converts and BTs who are not like them.

  10. Food for thought:

    After a generation or two or three, will families from BT backgrounds retain some special sensitivity in dealing with “new” BT’s?

  11. To me, discussions like this are the essence of what BeyondBT is about. I guess we all have our own reasons for participating here.

    Just the other day I was joking with a friend who’s an FFB and is coming with her BT husband to the Shabbaton about spending Shabbos with all of us BT’s – emphasis on joking. She told me she didn’t even think of me as a BT. Aw shucks. But I guess that’s because our common link was being friends in the “singles scene”, which was much more relevant to our friendship then where she did and I didn’t go to Yeshiva and/or camp. It’s like when you have a friend from work, whatever else you might share in common, the “link” is your respective professional experiences. Which is to say, we don’t necessarily chose our friends because of religious factors.

  12. In KGH, there are numerous BTs, albeit probably not as many as in Passaic. Mark commented in his comments re our daughter’s chasunah why KGH is a unique community and I would refer the interested reader to his post on that issue.

  13. Good morning Fern,

    Oy, long-sleeved shirt/skirt and stockings in the summertime. Yikes, it’s hard sometimes. I get very peculiar looks on my subway travels in the a.m. ;-D

    Maybe not as peculiar as the looks I used to get as a fledgling BT after making some glaring errors — like chattering after al netilas yadayim, or saying thank you when the challah was passed to me following hamotzei.

    I’m very unrepentant about my mistakes. I’m actually proud that I stumbled through the early years with my head high and with a sense of humour about it.

    Maybe a good approach would be to say, “I’m just learning,” versus, “I’m a BT.” It’s a subtle difference, but perhaps a little less self-deprecating.

    After all, aren’t we ALL just learning?

    Have an awesome Shabbos!

    LeahL

  14. It’s sort of interesting to me to even ponder such a thing as BT-bias. I live in a community where the overwhelming majority of Jews are either totally secular, Reform or some level of BT. Pretty much every FFB person here is in some sort of outreach work, so it would be pretty weird for any of them to be biased against BTs.

    The other day it was scorching hot here. I was wearing a long sleeved shirt, a long skirt and stockings. Even wearing all that, a FFB person I met assumed I was non-observant and just liked dressing modestly. So, I guess it would be sort of nice for people to make the opposite mistake about me once in awhile. It would be nice to have the option to hide my background.

    With that in mind, it’s hard for me to say what I would do in a community like Alan’s. I’d like to think I would choose Leah’s reaction, although I’m not sure I would have a choice, I’m sure my mistakes and lack of knowledge would give me away.

  15. re: comment 29
    Dovid: What an all around excellent comment.

    Alan,
    Your question is obviously a hot topic. There’s a big difference between wearing an “I become a BT and all I got, Baruch Hashem, was this gevaldik shirt” and, in fact, hiding your background. It’s been my experience that if you try to hide, the truth comes out. Figure out what works best for you. There’s no easy answer on this one. Great post, BTW.

  16. This is a wonderful post and I’m thankful to all who have commented thus far. Integration into a frum community is not an easy process. After all, we’re not talking about our first day on campus at college here. For us, “Orientation” is an ongoing process that for some continues for years or even decades,
    depending on what stage in life we are when we become BT’s.

    My wife and I became BT’s in our mid 30’s, so we did not have the opportunity to develop over
    our younger years like most BT’s that we know.
    No time studying in Ohr Someach or Aish, etc. during our college years, when most of our BT friends began their BT journey’s. No, for us it was a quicker decision both for ourselves and our children (6 and 3 at the time). We were in an “out-of-town” community with a small shul that had maybe 3 Shomer Shabbos members and the rest of them either non-committed but enjoying the shul. We knew that we needed to move away, because the community presented conflicting values and observances that would confuse our children. For us personally, the “Modern” communities presented an outlook (both outward and otherwise) too similar to the secular lifestyle that we were trying to move away from. We wanted a frumkeit that was so clearly different than the secular life we left, that our children would grow up to feel “uncomfortable” with an outlook that shared the fashion and open-door philosophy we found to proliferate in these communities. After consulting with our Rav and a few good friends, we chose a large and diverse frum community that is essentially black hat, (although their are all sorts of those, and streimlach-a-plenty). Yes, it was a bold move indeed.

    We have been here for 7 years now, and as expected, we have found many, many other BT’s here. BT’s seem to gravitate to each other somehow. It has been a great comfort to us that this is the way of things. We can talk and share our experiences together and help each other along the way. We have all experienced the “cold shoulder” from FFB’s who have no clue about what it is like for us, and we don’t blame them personally. They simply have lived such cloistered lives, that they don’t know what to think of folks like us. But for the most part, we have had positive experiences here. I would have to say that even though our children have adapted well, I expect that they will some day likely marry into other BT families. I would be pleased if they married into FFB families as well, but I think that people generally will be attracted to others whose families are similar to their own. There are exceptions of course, but I think it will take more than one generation for our family to more completely meld into the community that we’ve chosen. We do not hide our BT status, and do our best to show our brothers and sisters who are FFB, that we have come a long way to be here (a lot longer trip than driving from Flatbush). Some don’t feel comfortable with that, and others are most welcoming and encouraging. Upwards and onwards…

  17. Oh and

    5) If you haven’t told someone for a long time, it can be pretty awkward telling them, then it looks like you’ve been hiding something and you get in to all kinds of explanations, etc.

    I have to admit I have a slight anti-BT bias myself. Not for people who became BT 5/10/whatever years ago, but more for those who are recent BTs. I’ve seen a lot of people lose interest and drop out. It’s not a huge percent, but it can be frustrating/confusing when friends swing wildly back and forth in terms of observance. So at this point I also wouldn’t set up a relatively new BT without knowing them pretty well, and I think of BT friends as “religious for now” until I’ve known them for a while.

  18. I’ve never felt that I had to hide my background, but I’ve chosen to do so on several occasions. Mostly for four reasons.

    1) (especially when I had been religious for less than 2/3 years) It’s nice to “pass.” It takes a lot of effort to get to the point where you are knowledgable enough and comfortable enough with Jewish life that those who grew up in religious homes can’t tell that you didn’t. I liked the feeling I got when some girl from seminary who I’d known for months would say, “Oh, your family isn’t religious? I didn’t know!”

    2) I don’t want to deal with stereotypes. I don’t know if the people I’m meeting have BT stereotypes, or if they think of being a BT as a positive or negative thing. But either way, I don’t want that one part of my history to influence their opinion of me. This is especially strong when I first meet people. In fact, now I have a pattern of telling people a bit of my story after I’ve known them for a little while, and then the full story comes out after a few months.

    To be honest, sometimes it’s more annoying when people are overly positive than slightly negative. I don’t like being told “Oh, BTs are so inspiring, you gave up so much, blah blah blah” when I’m feeling like an uninspired slacker. Also, I don’t feel like I gave up very much to get to where I am, because I wanted so badly to be here that all the other stuff didn’t really matter. So I don’t feel that I deserve the praise.

    3) I’m afraid that people will take my opinions less seriously. As in “oh, you’re a newcomer, what do you know,” etc. I have never once encountered this attitude, but my fear of it is still there. I think a lot of BTs who hide their identities do so mostly do to their own fears and not actually FFB attitudes.

    4) Ultimately I don’t think it matters very much. So many of my friends who were raised in religious households weren’t really religious until they were in their late teens/early 20s. They might use terms like “raised religious” or “FFB,” but until a certain period in life they were just going with the flow (and then at some point fully accepted Hashem/Torah). Others were seriously introspective and spiritual even as kids, but had a period where their hashkafa grew apart from that of their parents. We’re all pretty much in the same place now. So I don’t see how telling someone “I’m a BT” will give them useful knowledge. It will eventually come out in anecdotes/ when they meet my family/ etc if we’re close, but I feel no need to mention it if the subject doesn’t come up.

  19. In KGH there seems to be little pressure to hide it. However I do know of situations, even here, where people felt that they needed to hide it to whatever degree possible.

    I’m not comfortable second guessing their decisions because I don’t know all the factors that went into it. But I would agree with the commentators here that there are downsides to having to hide it, that are not always so obvious.

  20. If it’s a matter of a shidduch though, wouldn’t they be required to provide that information? Wouldn’t it be BEST to provide that information up front, rather than risk a divorce later should the information come out?

    I don’t think that *not* volunteering this information is about hiding it from the future spouse, so much as it is about making one’s daughter or son more “competitive” in the shidduch market by not revealing something that sould potentially bias the shadchan.

    If a future chatan or kallah is concerned with yichus, he will ask about yichus and make sure to get all of that information before going out with someone. If a potential date doesn’t ask for this information but sticks to the basics (where the family davens, schools/yeshivas/seminaries attended, etc), than that suitor probably will be fine when the girl or guy mentions that her grandparents are not shomer Shabbat.

  21. This whole topic saddens me no end. I noted in an earlier thread that I, thank G-d!, experienced none of this potential discrimination and the attending fear/discomfort that goes with it. Things must be different in what I’ll call the Modern Orthodox and Israeli Religious Zionist circles that I’ve mostly been in for the last ~ 35 years.

    I can’t help but think that Rabbi Akiva and Resh Lakish would be given a hard time if they were here…

  22. I forgot to say something pretty critical to my story.

    The person who advised me not to say I was BT at the mikvah happens to be a BT mikvah worker whose entire family became BT en masse when she was a young teen.

    She has now been married to a black hatter from well known and respected yeshiva family for almost 15 years, and has children and lives in a yeshiva community. Her husband and his family know her background.

    So, she told me this out of concern for my well-being and because she’s been there.

    I know I have embarrassed her hugely at times just being me. I can’t help that, and I’m sorry for it. Pardon my ignorance, but I didn’t know better.

    As much as I was very angry at her the day she told me not to tell anyone I was BT, I do understand where she was coming from.

    LeahL

  23. >>The very fact that there are frum communities who will look negatively at a BT

    This is not a fact. There may be individuals in a community who do, but so what? There are individuals in any society that attach a stigma without cause.

    However, it’s not a community wide phenomenon in any frum community whatsoever.

  24. Mark,

    One only “has” to hide if he chooses to. and/or he chooses to live among people who force them to. These are both choices everyone has.

    BTs have much greater freedom in making choices than others. We choose our hashkafa, we choose our community type, we can even choose our minhagim to some extent.

    So it only makes “sense” to hide it if one chooses to be among people for whom it’s a negative thing.

    Personally I would find it revolting to live among such people, but that’s my choice.

    From the get-go shadchanim knew who we were and where our daughters came from. I know that there were many who would have rejected them out of hand as a result, but we davka were looking for boys and families who would accept and appreciate our daughters and us for who we are and where we came from. And B”H we’re 2 for 2 so far.

  25. The quantity of BT’s in most communities is pretty exceptional. Yet, it clearly is still a hid-it thing. There is a stigma attached, and even many, and I mean many, of those involved in or directing kiruv would never actually let their children marry a BT.

    Interestingly, this is not the case in Eretz Yisroel.

    We have to remember, over the last 300 years, the frum answer to the non-religious (the haskala movement) was to SHUN them, cut off the cancer and stay away from it like an infectious disease. It’s only in last 60 years that kiruv started, 40 years where it got more serious, and 20 years where all of frum society has joined in.

    Many may not realize that as little as 30 years ago, most of frum society was advising Chabad that they must turn away from kiruv as coming in contact with those people will destroy their own families and children. It’s only in the last 5 years that major Torah authorities from all walks have finally stood up and said that kiruv is important enough to stop learning for a few minutes to pay attention to.

    That’s a lot of years of cultural baggage from frum society to overcome.

  26. >>Can we change the perspective?

    No.

    >Should we bother trying?

    Yes.

    It’s no contradiction, “lo aleicha hamalacha ligmor–you aren’t required to finish the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.”

  27. There is no shame in telling what you have been up to now. The point is, what are you now? Of course, it depends on who you are talking to. Hopefully, whoever you are talking to will understand (whether they are FFB or BT, like you). Again, my opinion is to not be afraid to “tell it like it is (or was)”.

    Marty

  28. Sometimes a person (or their parents) might not give the go ahead for a first date with a BBT (Ben or Bnos BT), but after the first date it’s a different decision. This would be one case were concealing it as much as possible would make sense.

    In other areas also, keeping it quiet as much as possible might benefit people.

    I think everybody reading this site agrees it is a shame that we have to hide it at all. But given that being BT is a negative from some people’s perspectives, doesn’t it make sense to sometimes hide it.

    Can we change the perspective? Should we bother trying?

  29. I always find this issue somewhat amusing. Often I wish I could blend in and opt not to be known as “the ger.” As a minority, you don’t get this option. So, you often get the stares, whispers, and shidduchim problems. My Rebbetzin from seminary in Eretz Yisrael would often note, “You are a conventional Chareidi girl with just an unconventional background.” I guess being an 20 something African American Orthodox Jew with a Yeshivish hash

    I’ve learned to deal with the questions and stares as just a source of curiosity although I know many in my situation who have become angry and disillusioned while others live happy and fulfilling lives. Sometimes it does get disheartening when I am told “He would date a ger, but not such an obvious one.” or “What about him? He has dark skin.” You just have to realize there is so much beauty in Torah and the frum community and that a few bad experiences shouldn’t move me from a closer connection with Hash-m.

    Sorry, that was a little off topic but I always find that I have my own twist on the integration question. People often wonder how, besides from my skin color, I have blended in so well with the frum world. I just think that I have a true love for Torah and my fellow Jew and try to live that everyday.

    However, I don’t deny my earlier status as a completely secular goy. When girls come up to me with questions about what life is like outside of the frum world or are wondering about going off the derech, I can give them honest answers about the secular world and what it entails. In fact, I have been asked to speak to a number of groups about inspiration and the beauty of the frum worl from someone who has seen both sides. So, I would caution people from turning their backs on helpful lessons for their fellow frum Jews.

    Sorry for the long response but that’s just my two cents. IY”H, the beauty of every Jew will be seen, no matter their background.

  30. Hi Alan,
    While I don’t think it’s necessary to stand on a rooftop and shout to the world that we’re BT’s, keep in mind that we have nothing to be ashamed of, and everything to be proud of. If you’re close with someone, and the subject happens to come up, I can’t see why it would hurt to mention it. These days BT’s are so numerous in our various frum communities that they no longer stand out.

    Just curious if your choice of community came before or after your dilemna? I’m also living in a largely black hat place, and it’s totally accepting – at least amongst my shul’s kehilla and my kids yeshivas.

  31. Terrific post above (#7), Leah. Very well said.

    The very fact that there are frum communities who will look negatively at a BT for something that is out of the BT’s control (being born into a non-observant family) is, IMO, a huge deterrant to moving towards observance in the first place. In my experience, those Jews who are moving towards greater observance are hoping to find a like-minded community of people who are “better” — that is, on a higher spiritual plane than their current secular cohorts — and judging someone due to a factor beyond their control is the very antithesis of being a “better” person.

  32. Shalom David S.,

    Interesting you would say that. My family was so angry and hostile to my becoming frum and marrying a frum man, it showed all over their glowering faces at our chasuneh.

    If anything, it made my community even more sympathetic and willing to help me overcome the barriers.

    LeahL

  33. Hi everybody,

    I just don’t see how the question is feasible. Suppose you hid the fact you’re BT and you or your children get a sidduch with an FFB who wouldn’t consider a BT for whatever reason.

    What next? You don’t invite your parents to the wedding? Or your brothers and sisters?

    Don’t your children know their grandparents? Don’t they talk to their friends?

    There’s no option to “stay in hiding,” only an illusion of doing so. Maybe you don’t want to talk about it, but you can assume the velt knows.

  34. I’m wondering how someone can at the same time:

    1. really love a community

    2. suspect them of despising, fearing, or shunning BT’s as a class

  35. Shalom Mark,

    The quotation in your post makes me want to cry. It’s like having to go underground like the marranos. Why?

    On the other hand, you correctly point out that we don’t know what situations exist that might make a BT want to hide their background, so of course, one size doesn’t fit all.

    If it’s a matter of a shidduch though, wouldn’t they be required to provide that information? Wouldn’t it be BEST to provide that information up front, rather than risk a divorce later should the information come out?

    I know of a gioress who lived in hiding in a New York black hat community for more than 20 years, married an FFB, raised kids, and had completely blended in. Even on the internet, she never let on she was a convert until the information somehow managed to get out, although we only knew her by her posting name.

    I just can’t imagine living in hiding like that for so long, but she was truly petrified she would be discovered. By her community? By her in-laws (she was a widow)? Did she hide it for the protection of her children?

    That would be living a lie from generation-to-generation. It’s heart-breaking to imagine!

    The laws of Loshon Hora state we aren’t to speak about someone’s background as a BT or ger. To me, that’s kind of a sad commentary about how Jews can be towards each other, but on the other hand, it certainly indicates there is a valid concern around it.

    I just wonder about those BTs who stayed in hiding for all those years. What if they had “come out” 25 years earlier? What if no one would have cared less? That’s 25 years of living in anguish, fear and misery, as if they had some terrible black mark against their soul.

    I thought teshuvah was supposed to erase that.

    LeahL

  36. It’s seems that in some communities many BTs really believe they need to hide their past. I would assume they feel that it is to their benefit to do this in terms of the community itself. We can say that they shouldn’t hide it, but are we really understanding the situation they are facing and the factors that led them to their conclusion.

    Moving to a different community is a easy answer, but it is not within their realm of possibilities for many families for a variety of reasons (financial, family, schooling, etc).

    In the communities where people feel they benefit by hiding their past, are they missing a larger perspective for a possible immediate benefit? Rabbi Yitz Greenman wrote about this over here in Inspired and the Art Denial:
    http://www.beyondbt.com/?p=86

    Here’s a quote:
    Here’s the rub however. I have met several people at various screenings who bemoaned [in private] the fact that they hid their identity as BT’s, because they felt that they had to in order to integrate into the frum velt. One woman came to me almost in tears after the film. What upset her I asked. She commented that the people in Inspired became frum and entered the Torah community in such a normal way, but she felt that she had to hide everything about who she was and the fact that she was raised secular. A couple came up to me at another screening and shared that they lived in their community for 25 years but no one knew that they were BT’s. It was as if they needed to share with someone: “Hey, we’re different, we’re special, please acknowledge us” but were afraid to let it out of the bag. This situation played itself out quite a few times.

    Is changing the perspectives in those communities possible or not?

  37. I strongly agree with Leah L. The fact that this is even an issue is really annoying to me. I have not come across BT-prejudice yet but it probably is because I am living in a small community. If and when I do I am pretty sure I will not appreciate it but I will also NOT hide who I am.

  38. Shalom Alan,

    “Should I hide being a BT?”

    My reaction to your question is an emphatic NO WAY!!! Most certainly there will be people who will react negatively to it and take it as a “handicap,” but that is THEIR deficiency, not YOURS, and one I believe Hashem will not look favourably on.

    I was once told not to say anything about being BT when I first started going to the mikvah. Why? Would they throw me out for doing a mitzvah??? I was REALLY angry!

    I, you, all of us, have NOTHING to hide. We should be proud of making the choice to turn our lives upside down to become better Jews, to take up the yoke after living with utter abandon.

    I have never, ever tried to pretend I was anything but what I am. For one thing, I used to make too many mistakes to even try and fake it. For another, you can’t keep up a charade forever. And for a third, it is simply dishonest.

    Now that I’ve got a few years and more experience under my belt, I no longer feel the need to keep raising my BT-ness as an issue. It used to be my crutch to explain away silly mistakes and my abject ignorance.

    It’s amazing though. In some situations, I’m STILL self-conscious, for instance, when I daven in front of my FFB/Black Hat compadres. Sometimes I still have that momentary stomach lurch and brain spin when I try to articulate or do things I now know very well.

    We have to stop it. We have to stop worrying about it. We have to just relax and let it be. And we certainly have nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for.

    In fact, IMHO, it is a great kiddush Hashem when a BT who is completely experienced, practised and immersed in observance and has many many years behind him, still acknowledges he is a BT.

    He is one to admire, respect and praise for his success, and is a shining example for the rest of us up-and-comers.

    Always remember that we started out with great disadvantages and had many many more barriers to overcome than most FFBs. We had to work hard to achieve even a modicum of success.

    A lovely FFB woman I know, one of the most shining examples of devotion to Hashem, told me once that she admired ME, because of how far I had to climb and because I voluntarily took on the mitzvos.

    She said we BTs start on a higher level than FFBs like her, because we made the CHOICE to take on the yoke, while they were born to it and just accepted as their way of life.

    We accepted a tough assignment, one that required a giant leap of resolve and faith. Why would we try to hide that?

    Hatzlachah with all of your endeavours!

    LeahL

  39. Trying too hard in any arena will not work.

    I’m a BT and have a circle of friends, some BT and some FFB. Obviously I didn’t attend the same yeshivas and camps as the FFB ones but I’ve noticed it’s pretty much a non-issue for them.

    I’m not knocking those who place a lot of sentimental value into shared experiences like camps or yeshivas but fortunately there are ones more entrenched in the present and looking for those who have shared priorities towards building a family and Torah learning.

  40. I think that there needs to be a synergy between an individual’s comfort level with people knowing about his background and a community’s comfort level with BTs. It sounds like you may be mismatched to your community in this respect.

    There are communities of all hashkafot out there that are warm and accepting and have no issues with a person’s background.

  41. Alan-Frum communities tend to revolve around where one went to yeshiva, camp,shul as a child and teenager. Sooner or later, it will surface either in conversation or on an application for school or camp. Some FFBs have immense respect for BTs, some view a community with too many BTs as not frum enough for their tastes. I encountered that POV at an Ufruf this past Shabbos and decided that it was not worth discussing since the proponents of that POV were sitting next to us for dinner and I attributed it solely as to having been brought up and raised in a very insular FFB background.

  42. Concerns about revealing one’s BT past can sometimes be exaggerated. Some discreet detective work through watching and talking with many people may be necessary to get to the truth about your own community.

  43. Shalom Alan,

    This is a truly worthy topic, and one that never really concludes. Along with the insights you will get on this thread (sorry I have little to offer just now), try looking under the topics column to the right and look through the threads under ‘Integration’. You will see that the solutions vary as much as we all do.

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