Bar Mitzvah Planning Tips

Having made two bar mitzvah’s within one year (no twins either!) and another one several years ago, I have some experience which I would be happy to share with Beyond BT readers who have reached this point in their family lives.

Practical Points
The most important thing is to make a list of all required actions and put them on a schedule leading up to the date of the Bar Mitzvah.
A sample would be as follows:

-9 months to one year before:
–begin bar mitzvah lessons if son is going to lein the parsha
–reserve the date with the gabbai of your shul

-6 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering from Eretz Yisroel
–decide what to do re: seudas mitzvah, Kiddush, Shabbos meals
–examine venues and reserve one for each of the above if needed
–start your diet (just joking!)

-3 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering locally
–make inquiries into invitation businesses and order invitation package. Don’t forget some form of thank you cards.
–make inquiries for catering and reserve caterer. The actual reservation can be done at a later time but it should be started early.
–hire musician and photographer. If they are popular or you live in a large city this may have to be done earlier.
–call neighbors and arrange for sleep over arrangements for those friends and relatives staying over for Shabbos
–order new sheitel if needed
–if cooking for meals or Kiddush yourself, start freezing!! You should not have to cook for shabbos at the last minute

-2 months before:
–begin shopping for clothes for family, including YOU! (for bar mitzvah boy this includes new suit, new hat (or two), shoes, etc.), for both Shabbos and seudah evening. This could be done earlier if clothing for the season is available, but since children tend to change size, I don’t recommend shopping too early.
–edit and make final changes to invitation

-1 month before:
–confirm and pay for hall and establish table set-up.
TIP: don’t forget to check out where the speakers will stand and make sure there is an outlet nearby for the sound system!
–decide and confirm menu for seudah, Kiddush and shabbos meals
–send out invitations
–confirm with musician and photographer.
–prepare a list/spread sheet for invitation responses and who sent gifts for thank you cards
–order benchers.
–confirm neighbor’s guest arrangements
–buy small gifts for neighbors who will be hosting your family
–buy small welcome bags and fill with snacks, water, etc for your out of town guests
–if you are self-preparing the Kiddush, hire waiters to set it up while you are at shul.
–decide how to prepare centerpieces for seudah, and if necessary reserve at a gemach or florist. Gemachs can also be used for Kiddush serving pieces if doing it yourself.
–have hubby (HELP-ha ha) write the pshetel (bar mitzvah boy’s torah speech) and his own remarks.
–invite your Rabbi, rebbe, principal, etc. to speak at the seudah
–sheitel appointment
–haircuts

-Week of:
–last minute food shopping & Shabbos cooking
–last minute clothes shopping –don’t forget several pairs of new stockings
–give final guest count to the caterer
–make sure everyone’s siddur, other Shabbos needs are in one secure place. Especially their shabbos shoes!

-Day of (for Shabbos):
–Wake up early! Leave for shul early! Take a chumash to follow along with the leining (unless the shul has enough copies)!

-Day of (for the seudah):
–check out set up as early as possible. Many times things are not set up properly
–bring the centerpieces
–bring the benchers
–bring along a long, heavy duty extension cord (just in case)

-TIPS: For those seeking to scale down the celebration and/or save some money, there are several things that can be done yourself.

–The Kiddush can be in your home. This will save $1000 or more by itself. Yes, it will be messy and crowded, but it will last only an hour. We did ours in our back yard and it was amazing! We cooked, baked and froze, and were supplemented by many generous friends.

–The invitations can be done by someone who knows or is studying computer graphics, for a fraction of the cost. Buy the stationary yourself at Staples, and do the copying at a Kinkos.

–For the photography, find someone with a good digital camera and arrange a deal where he takes the shots and you just take the chip/card afterwards and you do the printing yourself. But this is not worth it if he is not good. The photos are your remaining memories of the event, so make sure he/she is good!

–We did the centerpieces ourselves: with vases from the gemach I made fresh flowers for each table in matching pieces of fresh fruit. You can cut the cost even more by putting flowers only on the women’s tables (men don’t notice or care anyways).

Emotional Points
–Obviously, this is a lot of work. It can get quite stressful, especially when there aren’t frum family involved helping you with the arrangements, or who want to do things differently than you. And especially when holidays like Pesach are near or on your son’s bar mitzvah date.

–Despite the joy the event heralds, many BT mothers have experienced bar mitzvah planning as lonely and stressful. If you don’t have a mother or sister to share the planning with, it would be a positive move to involve a good friend to help you out, shop with you, and help you make your decisions (along with your husband of course).

–Family milestones can also resurrect difficulties with non-frum family that you thought were resolved. For example, asking them to dress modestly, issues of driving to you on Shabbos, the separate dancing, the separate seating, the women behind the mechitza in shul, can all be flashpoints for vocal disagreements. Being prepared for this eventuality and discussing with your husband how to respond to various possible scenarios is the best way to prevent or diffuse any arguments.

–After all the planning, however, when the day arrives, it ushers in a powerful experience of simcha and yiddishe nachas, when you realize how far you’ve come as a family and how much your son has grown. In my experience, boys take their bar mitzvah very seriously and it is an opportune chinuch moment to emphasize how proud you are of him and how you love seeing him involved in his learning and davening. Im Yirtzeh Hashem he should go from this accomplishment to other Torah milestones!

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta

A BBT practical advice classic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 1
Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 2

Here’s an excerpt:

Right Level of Learning
It is important to choose a school which is a close fit to your son’s level of learning. Boys’ yeshiva high schools, with the exception of a community school, tend to be narrowly tailored to a specific level of learning. It is important to consider schools where your son will be challenged, but not so much that he will feel frustrated or be on the bottom of the class and struggling to keep up, nor too little that he will feel bored too soon or where it would be difficult for him to find a chavrusa of similar skill. Larger yeshiva high schools might have more than one class/shiur, with the different classes tracked. It is important to determine if there are different kinds of boys in one track vs. the other and which group your son is most likely to be part of.

How to determine what learning level a school is on can sometimes be a challenge. Yeshivas, like other schools, like to strengthen their reputation to prospective families, and sometimes schools will declare, at an open house or elsewhere, that they serve “the best boys” or have a “top program.” It is important not to be naïve and take everything a yeshiva says about itself at face value. That is, it is important to go beyond these statements and find out what the learning level of the boys who are currently there really is to determine if it is a good match. [Similarly, if a school brags about its graduates who go on to the Ivy League, try to find out if they are bragging about one or two unusual boys, or whether it is typical for its graduates to go on to the Ivy League.]

I would hesitate to send a boy to a “top” school if his grades in learning don’t match up or if he is unmotivated. Some rabbanim recommend that a boy go to a “better” school rather than one with a lesser reputation if a boy is borderline in his learning abilities, because, if things don’t work out initially, it is easier to transfer from a better school to a lesser school than visa versa. I would say this should only be followed where the boy is very motivated and is the type to put in the extra effort he will need to maintain a fair position in the class, and if you as parents are willing and able to pay for tutoring if he needs it. It does him no favors to languish at the very bottom of the class at a “better” school rather than thrive at a more modest school (unless there are other factors present that would counterbalance this possible sense of failure and lack of accomplishment).

Read the whole thing.

How to Make a Bar Mitzvah and Actually Enjoy It

Having made two bar mitzvah’s within one year (no twins either!) and another one several years ago, I have some experience which I would be happy to share with Beyond BT readers who have reached this point in their family lives.

Practical Points
The most important thing is to make a list of all required actions and put them on a schedule leading up to the date of the Bar Mitzvah.
A sample would be as follows:

-9 months to one year before:
–begin bar mitzvah lessons if son is going to lein the parsha
–reserve the date with the gabbai of your shul

-6 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering from Eretz Yisroel
–decide what to do re: seudas mitzvah, Kiddush, Shabbos meals
–examine venues and reserve one for each of the above if needed
–start your diet (just joking!)

-3 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering locally
–make inquiries into invitation businesses and order invitation package. Don’t forget some form of thank you cards.
–make inquiries for catering and reserve caterer. The actual reservation can be done at a later time but it should be started early.
–hire musician and photographer. If they are popular or you live in a large city this may have to be done earlier.
–call neighbors and arrange for sleep over arrangements for those friends and relatives staying over for Shabbos
–order new sheitel if needed
–if cooking for meals or Kiddush yourself, start freezing!! You should not have to cook for shabbos at the last minute

-2 months before:
–begin shopping for clothes for family, including YOU! (for bar mitzvah boy this includes new suit, new hat (or two), shoes, etc.), for both Shabbos and seudah evening. This could be done earlier if clothing for the season is available, but since children tend to change size, I don’t recommend shopping too early.
–edit and make final changes to invitation

-1 month before:
–confirm and pay for hall and establish table set-up.
TIP: don’t forget to check out where the speakers will stand and make sure there is an outlet nearby for the sound system!
–decide and confirm menu for seudah, Kiddush and shabbos meals
–send out invitations
–confirm with musician and photographer.
–prepare a list/spread sheet for invitation responses and who sent gifts for thank you cards
–order benchers.
–confirm neighbor’s guest arrangements
–buy small gifts for neighbors who will be hosting your family
–buy small welcome bags and fill with snacks, water, etc for your out of town guests
–if you are self-preparing the Kiddush, hire waiters to set it up while you are at shul.
–decide how to prepare centerpieces for seudah, and if necessary reserve at a gemach or florist. Gemachs can also be used for Kiddush serving pieces if doing it yourself.
–have hubby (HELP-ha ha) write the pshetel (bar mitzvah boy’s torah speech) and his own remarks.
–invite your Rabbi, rebbe, principal, etc. to speak at the seudah
–sheitel appointment
–haircuts

-Week of:
–last minute food shopping & Shabbos cooking
–last minute clothes shopping –don’t forget several pairs of new stockings
–give final guest count to the caterer
–make sure everyone’s siddur, other Shabbos needs are in one secure place. Especially their shabbos shoes!

-Day of (for Shabbos):
–Wake up early! Leave for shul early! Take a chumash to follow along with the leining (unless the shul has enough copies)!

-Day of (for the seudah):
–check out set up as early as possible. Many times things are not set up properly
–bring the centerpieces
–bring the benchers
–bring along a long, heavy duty extension cord (just in case)

-TIPS: For those seeking to scale down the celebration and/or save some money, there are several things that can be done yourself.
–The Kiddush can be in your home. This will save $1000 or more by itself. Yes, it will be messy and crowded, but it will last only an hour. We did ours in our back yard and it was amazing! We cooked, baked and froze, and were supplemented by many generous friends.
–The invitations can be done by someone who knows or is studying computer graphics, for a fraction of the cost. Buy the stationary yourself at Staples, and do the copying at a Kinkos.
–For the photography, find someone with a good digital camera and arrange a deal where he takes the shots and you just take the chip/card afterwards and you do the printing yourself. But this is not worth it if he is not good. The photos are your remaining memories of the event, so make sure he/she is good!
–We did the centerpieces ourselves: with vases from the gemach I made fresh flowers for each table in matching pieces of fresh fruit. You can cut the cost even more by putting flowers only on the women’s tables (men don’t notice or care anyways).

Emotional Points
–Obviously, this is a lot of work. It can get quite stressful, especially when there aren’t frum family involved helping you with the arrangements, or who want to do things differently than you. And especially when holidays like Pesach are near or on your son’s bar mitzvah date.
–Despite the joy the event heralds, many BT mothers have experienced bar mitzvah planning as lonely and stressful. If you don’t have a mother or sister to share the planning with, it would be a positive move to involve a good friend to help you out, shop with you, and help you make your decisions (along with your husband of course).
–Family milestones can also resurrect difficulties with non-frum family that you thought were resolved. For example, asking them to dress modestly, issues of driving to you on Shabbos, the separate dancing, the separate seating, the women behind the mechitza in shul, can all be flashpoints for vocal disagreements. Being prepared for this eventuality and discussing with your husband how to respond to various possible scenarios is the best way to prevent or diffuse any arguments.
–After all the planning, however, when the day arrives, it ushers in a powerful experience of simcha and yiddishe nachas, when you realize how far you’ve come as a family and how much your son has grown. In my experience, boys take their bar mitzvah very seriously and it is an opportune chinuch moment to emphasize how proud you are of him and how you love seeing him involved in his learning and davening. Im Yirtzeh Hashem he should go from this accomplishment to other Torah milestones!

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for your Son – Part 2

Part 1 posted here.

Speak to Other Parents

Make lots of effort to speak to as many parents of boys currently in the school as possible. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Ask a lot of directed questions. Try to find out how the rebbeim/menahelim handle problem situations – like scuffles/fights in school, skipping class, chutzpah, bullying — even how they would handle an instance of sexual abuse. Ask how the rebbeim have answered difficult questions raised in class, both in terms of hashkafa ( how do we know we’re right and the other religions aren’t) and hadracha (why can’t we talk to/go out with girls, why is internet/TV/movies so bad? ). I have heard scary things about the inability or unwillingness of some rebbeim to answer these questions. It is always important to ask about smoking and drugs in the school, and for co-ed or sister/brother high schools it would be important to ask about dating and sexual exploits among students (although you would have to speak to the students themselves, not the parents, to get candid and accurate information on these points). It is important not to be naïve and think that these things can never happen in a yeshiva. They can and do, but obviously not in all places, so it is important to ask.

Other Factors

Other things to investigate about a school:
1) What are the graduating seniors like? Do you want your son to be like them? What do those boys do immediately after graduation, three years after, etc. (advanced learning, working, college)? In other words, do you like their product and would you like your son to follow the path that the majority take?
2) What kinds of boys go there? Are they the kind you would choose as friends for your son? Are they the kind your son has typically chosen as his friends in the past?
3) What is the ambience in the school? Go visit the school and look around – do the boys seem relaxed and happy? Do the rebbeim/teachers seem happy? Are the boys in class (esp. during secular hours)? Is the school clean and neat? Is there a schedule that is enforced – i.e. is there order? Is there tension from a very strict hanhala?
4) Is there time in the day for physical exercise and some respite from the work? What sort of extra-curricular activities are offered, and what sort of homework policy is there?
5) Do you feel that you can speak openly and honestly with the mechanchim at the school? Are they open and down to earth with you, or do you feel like they are trying primarily to sell their school, or do you feel a sense of their being closed to your input? Do you feel that they understand typically developing adolescent boys with all their challenges, and know how to mold them into young men? Or do you feel that they don’t/wouldn’t understand the nuances of your son?
6) Try to find out the economic level of the typical family at the school; whether the average boy has a lot of pocket money to spend and whether they spend significantly more than you do on material things and/or vacations. Your son may come home newly interested in designer suits and/or wanting to order takeout instead of yeshiva food or wanting to go skiing or to Florida during various vacations and long weekends. This may not matter to you or your son, but it is something to consider.
7) If your son has a particular need or challenge academically, emotionally or socially, do you feel the school is equipped and willing to handle it and is confident of its ability in that area? In the same vein, if your son needs to take any kind of medication, do you feel confident in confiding this to the school hanhala and working with it as a partner in your son’s care?

Dorming

A few words about dorming. Many parents prefer their sons to live at home if at all possible during their high school years. However, it is not always the case that the best choice of school for any particular boy is local, so dorming is a factor to weigh among the other factors. It is my humble opinion that dorming can be a positive experience, and although some “scare stories” are true, many other boys will benefit from the experience. One must research each school’s dorm on a case by case basis.

It is crucial to ascertain that the facility is safe and was built and maintained to code, and that there are procedures for emergencies and other more mundane health issues. It is also very important to ascertain the level of supervision and rule enforcement in the dorm and the types of boys in the dorm. Some boys start smoking in dorm environments, many don’t get too much sleep, and some boys get exposed to things their parents rather they not be. Having said that, there is a wide variation in how strict yeshivas are about dorm supervision and in some schools problems are dealt with swiftly and completely. It is important to speak to some of the older boys in the dorm themselves and ask them directed questions, such as “how many boys smoke?” or “are there any drugs in the dorm?”, “what do the boys do for entertainment at night?” “what is the average lights-out time?” Also speak to the dorm supervisor to get a flavor of the place. Ask specifically if there have been any known incidents of sexual abuse or attempted sexual advances (even boy-on-boy), and what the school did about it.

Assuming the dorm does not have major problems, the positive aspects of dorming include providing a healthy social outlet after a long work day, fostering independence and self-sufficiency, learning to live with others and be sensitive to others’ needs, learning self-discipline and good personal hygiene, and becoming aware of one’s own annoying habits. A parent needs to factor in the disadvantages of commuting to and from a school that may not be in the family’s immediate vicinity, in terms of the difficulty of carpooling, the time taken away from the boy’s sleep and free time during the trips, and just what will be accomplished by the boy arriving home in time to go to sleep in his bed and then leaving the house too early in the morning to interact with anyone anyway.

A dorm might be a good place to be if the home environment is negative, or even just unfulfilling for the boy, including having mostly or all sisters with no one to “hang” with. It is better if the boy has attended sleep-away camp before putting him in a dorm situation, or he may have a hard time adjusting. All of my sons went to (or are currently in) dorming schools despite my reservations, and I was amazed at the growth they experienced, even in their first year. Some of this growth I attributed to dorm living.

No School is Perfect

A final note: there is no perfect school out there. All have their positives and negatives. If I had to give advice in one sentence it would be this (a variation on weighing the pros and cons): Choose a few schools which have the features and positive aspects you are looking for, write down all the negative aspects of each school, decide which of the negatives you are willing to put up with and which you are not, and choose the school with the negatives you can live with.

No matter which school you choose, it is important to keep close tabs on your son’s progress during his high school years and be pro-active in finding out what is going on with him (especially if he answers your questions with typical adolescent-male mono-syllabic responses such as “fine” and “good”). Do not become complacent, even if you are thrilled with the school of your choice. Nothing replaces a concerned, active parent!

First Published – Feb 1, 2011

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for your Son – Part 1

‘Tis the season for high school applications, acceptances, and choices. For those who feel that they could use some pointers in how to go about making these choices I have put together some ideas which were the result of advice passed along to me, hard-won personal insights, and things I have observed during the tenure of three sons in mesivta (yeshiva style high school). I would welcome any additional ideas as well. Full disclosure: our experience is mostly with what some would call more “right-wing” orthodox schools, i.e. those who typically maintain dress codes of white shirts, black pants, hats while davening, etc. However, I think most points will apply to other kinds of schools as well. Also, I have not touched upon the issue of cost – in our experience, most schools of similar type had similar costs, and the differences were not enough to influence our decision. However, when there is a big difference in cost, that factor obviously needs to be considered – but you don’t need anyone to tell you that!

Right Level of Learning

It is important to choose a school which is a close fit to your son’s level of learning. Boys’ yeshiva high schools, with the exception of a community school, tend to be narrowly tailored to a specific level of learning. It is important to consider schools where your son will be challenged, but not so much that he will feel frustrated or be on the bottom of the class and struggling to keep up, nor too little that he will feel bored too soon or where it would be difficult for him to find a chavrusa of similar skill. Larger yeshiva high schools might have more than one class/shiur, with the different classes tracked. It is important to determine if there are different kinds of boys in one track vs. the other and which group your son is most likely to be part of.

How to determine what learning level a school is on can sometimes be a challenge. Yeshivas, like other schools, like to strengthen their reputation to prospective families, and sometimes schools will declare, at an open house or elsewhere, that they serve “the best boys” or have a “top program.” It is important not to be naïve and take everything a yeshiva says about itself at face value. That is, it is important to go beyond these statements and find out what the learning level of the boys who are currently there really is to determine if it is a good match. [Similarly, if a school brags about its graduates who go on to the Ivy League, try to find out if they are bragging about one or two unusual boys, or whether it is typical for its graduates to go on to the Ivy League.]

I would hesitate to send a boy to a “top” school if his grades in learning don’t match up or if he is unmotivated. Some rabbanim recommend that a boy go to a “better” school rather than one with a lesser reputation if a boy is borderline in his learning abilities, because, if things don’t work out initially, it is easier to transfer from a better school to a lesser school than visa versa. I would say this should only be followed where the boy is very motivated and is the type to put in the extra effort he will need to maintain a fair position in the class, and if you as parents are willing and able to pay for tutoring if he needs it. It does him no favors to languish at the very bottom of the class at a “better” school rather than thrive at a more modest school (unless there are other factors present that would counterbalance this possible sense of failure and lack of accomplishment).

Values and Culture Compatibility

Second, it is very important to choose a school whose values and culture “match” where your family is holding, religiously, philosophically, and practically. Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein shlit’a (from Project Chazon) has said that it is crucial to be on the same wavelength as the yeshiva, and that a family needs to trust the chinuch and guidance that comes from a particular yeshiva. This would include factors such as its attitude toward the outside world and philosophy about participation in secular culture and relationships with non-Jews; religious affiliations should match generally, i.e. are you and the school Agudah types, OU, YU/Modern Orthodox, etc etc; mode of dress/level of tznius practiced by family members; use of internet/movies/TV/various technologies and leisure activities practiced at home; ideas about secular education in general; ideas about a college education and advanced learning after high school; boy/girl relations or lack thereof; ideas about Zionism. Conflict, or even just a clash in values, can put your son in the middle of a sticky situation. Any normal boy will likely pick up the habits and values of his school culture and peer group and adapt them for himself and bring them home, so be comfortable with them before you start!

Some dorming schools also have a philosophy that once in that school, the primary responsibility and influence of a boy’s chinuch has shifted from the parents to the yeshiva, and they assume in large part that the parents are on board with this, and have chosen that mesivta partially for that reason. They are molding a “ben yeshiva” and they create this by being the place where he eats, sleeps, learns, and gets guidance and advice 24/7 for several years. In these schools the boys come home for Shabbos typically only once a month (in 9th grade it can be slightly more frequent) and sometimes less than that. If you choose this sort of school, realize that you are even more fully entrusting your son to their care, and that your role as parents will shrink, whether you want it to or not. Your son’s outlook on halacha, hashkafos ha chaim, and daily living will likely become that of the yeshiva and he may trust their advice more than yours, even in such important aspects of life as his future plans and whom he marries. That is the goal, and some BTs don’t realize this when they sign up. Therefore your values and the school’s values should be as parallel as possible. When the family and the school match, and are true partners, the boy often blossoms beautifully and it is wondrous to behold.

One aspect of judging whether a yeshiva’s values match your needs is its familiarity with BT issues and/or its ability to be flexible. It is good to discuss various “BT” needs and possible scenarios with a school administration to see their reaction and their ability to make accommodations prior to choosing a school. This sort of discussion can also prepare a willing but unfamiliar yeshiva with the kind of issues that may arise and will help the school make accommodations when necessary. An example might be to discuss how they would react to asking for your child to come home from yeshiva for a Thanksgiving dinner that is made for secular family members, or what kind of accommodation they would make for father-son learning sessions where the father is not very advanced in learning.

Is Your Son Wanted There

Does the school want your son? I think it is important that the school regards a boy as a valued member of its class, and communicates that they look forward to the responsibility to be mechanech him for the next four years. It is my humble opinion that it is not good for parents to “push” their son into a particular school, because in sending an initial rejection, the school is saying that they are not equipped or willing to be mechanech him. If anything needs remediation during the school year they may be less willing to respond or put forth resources for him, because they didn’t think the boy was appropriate for the school in the first place. If a family has more than one school to choose from, it is also not a good idea to send to a school if they have the attitude that they are doing you a favor by accepting your child. It does not make for a healthy foundation for the future relationship, and could affect the boy’s self-regard if he finds out he wasn’t wanted in the first place.

Secular Curriculum

Decide what you want for your son in terms of secular studies. There is a wide variation in what some schools offer, and an even wider variation in terms of what they enforce about attending secular classes. It is not unusual at some mesivtas for boys to skip the English classes entirely and graduate without a diploma, or to go to class in a pro forma way without really learning anything. This creates an atmosphere where it is difficult to take the classes seriously, or sometimes even to hear the teacher, even if a boy is interested in learning the material.

I would also take with a large grain of salt any statements that a school is planning certain improvements in the secular (or kodesh) program in the upcoming year/s. Statements from school officials that they will have something in place, will be hiring someone new, or intend to pursue having a particular course may be nice ideas, but the improvements sometimes never materialize, even if the school really wants it to happen. Decide if you will be happy anyway even if the intended improvements never happen, even in four years. The attitude should be ‘what you see is what you get.’ Decisions should be made based on what is, not what might be some day.

I have friends who sent their sons to a particular mesivta partially based on public promises the menahel (principal) made about secular program improvements, and those improvements never materialized despite efforts the yeshiva made toward that end. These friends are still very dissatisfied with the program, and one has switched their son from the school. A boy should not have to experience this sort of upheaval based on a mistaken reliance on someone’s promises, no matter how well-intended.

Part 2 – is scheduled to be posted next week

Originally published in February 2011

On Having Married Off Our First FFB Child

Marrying off our daughter was a thrilling experience but one that, as a BT, was not without its challenging moments. But before addressing the challenges, I would like to mention something very positive: my mechutanim (parents of the boy), very established FFBs, were dafka looking for the daughter of a BT couple for their son. This boy, full of talent, middos, and “out of the box” intelligence (OK, I’m biased), was looking for a girl serious about her yiddishkeit, but did not want to be part of a judgmental, restrictive sort of family. So when looking for prospective shidduchim, his parents sought out those in the BT world. Here, in our world, as the shadchan said, they believed they would find the “real deal”: real Torah without the shtick. I take this as a personal compliment, but it is also a compliment to our entire BT community. I mention this in case anyone was worried that all children of BTs will necessarily face an uphill battle in the parsha of shidduchim. You never know. What you think is a liability may turn out to be an asset.

But being a BT “in the parsha” did carry with it a different challenge: mainly the resurrection of all of my parents negative feelings about orthodoxy. They had a laundry list of objections to this marriage and, frankly, from their point of view, I can’t blame them: she was too young to get married (almost 19); she hadn’t been to college yet (she is going now, but it wasn’t our first priority); why do they have to live in Israel (they can’t appreciate the kedushah, only the bombs); they knew each other such a short time (frum shidduch dating); she seemed too subservient to him (she let him take the lead, like a Bais Yaakov girl naturally does). My parents were outraged that he came from such a large family (let’s just say more than 10 children) and feared that she would spend the rest of her life pregnant and washing baby bottles, never “fulfilling her potential.” Her chassan had no “degree” of any sort, and my parents believe that knowing gemora will not earn them a living. “Rabbis are a dime a dozen in Israel!” they accurately screamed. Although they had always been generous with us, they resented the idea of our (even partially) supporting them, stating that if they can’t support themselves or he’s not professionally directed, they shouldn’t get married (they couldn’t appreciate the teaching opportunities he had with his connections).

Basically, they listed all the differences between the secular and the (more right-wing) frum points of view about dating and marriage, albeit in a loud and emotionally charged way. Why did I feel a sense of déjà vu? Hadn’t I gone through all this before, perhaps around 20 years ago?!

The hardest part for me about this parsha, therefore, was reliving all the fights I thought were behind us. Now I am more mature, of course, so I restrained myself much, much more, and I was not nearly as shaken in my beliefs and determination to do what I thought best as when I was young. However, the grief of the ongoing acrimony with my parents accompanied the joy, and it significantly marred what “should” have been a purely joyous time. It also took me by surprise that we couldn’t get through this easily, that my parents hadn’t yet given up and mellowed at all about my “orthodox lifestyle.”

Although some parents do come around, not all do; some BTs experience a wonderful rapprochement with their parents, but others, like myself, have to slog along for over 20 years continuing to fight the good fight. With love, of course, but with heartache.

Should BTs be Doing Kiruv?

One thing I have learned from reading Beyond BT for approximately five months now is that it is impossible to box all BTs into one group or category and make generalizations about them. Some of our bloggers and readers have been frum 1 year or less, some are not yet completely Shomer Shabbos but are interested, some are past their 20-year point; some have settled into a modern-Orthodox community, some are black-hat yeshivish, some chassidish, some dati leumi, some in-between; some are rabbonim or in klei kodesh, some are struggling in the world of commerce, some are busy wives and mothers, and some are working at jobs paying a high-level parnassa.

To answer the question, therefore, should BTs be Doing Kiruv, and how much, would of course depend on which group of individuals one is addressing. However, there is one advantage to doing some amount of kiruv that everyone (BT or FFB) can benefit from, and that is that it reinforces in oneself, and teaches one’s children, the answers to the larger questions of Yiddishkeit which newcomers inevitably ask, such as “Why be Jewish (or Orthodox),” “How do I know it’s true,” and so on.
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