How to Stop an Intermarriage

Link Updated.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s “How to Stop an Intermarriage” is perhaps the best known of all writings on this tricky subject. It contains excellent advice for anyone trying to convince a child, relative or friend to break off a proposed intermarriage. The complete text is now available for free online here.

Does anyone have any additional advice, successes or thoughts on the topic?

Voting Closes Tomorrow!! Help Make A $100,000.00 Dream Come True

Please vote if you haven’t already.

My daughters are fans of Yaldah Magazine. It is a magazine for Jewish girls created, written and edited by Jewish girls. Leah Larson, who started and runs Yaldah is a finalist in Wells Fargo’s “Someday Stories” contest and she is running neck and neck to win the grand prize of $100,000.00.

Take a look at the video here; Our contestant is Evelyn from MA.

And then vote for Evelyn from MA ;(Leah’s mom) to help make Leah’s dream come true.

Hat tip: Ezzie

OJ and Me

In the Fall of 1995, I was employed at a small civil defense law firm on Wall Street. It was Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and OJ Simpson was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. On October 3rd, the news broke that the jury had reached its verdict. Most of us at the firm were huddled into a small corner office where we kept the television that we would use to view surveillance videotapes.

There were myriad reasons why everyone in the office was interested in watching the verdict. Some of us were sports fans who had grown up watching OJ’s Hall of Fame career as a running back for the Buffalo Bills. Others were interested in the racial perspective of the case which seemed to be polarizing the nation. Still others, as lawyers, were interested in watching the judicial system in action with some of the nation’s top lawyers at work. I think that for others (and perhaps for all of us) it was reality tv writ large. Some of these reasons engendered my interest as well. But there was something else. Something more. It was erev Yom Kippur and I couldn’t help associating myself with OJ, as loathsome as I found him. He, like me, was awaiting his verdict. I watched with earnestness as OJ waited for the jury to enter. I wondered, what must be going through his mind? What does a person think about when his life hangs in the balance? How did it feel to know that the decision was imminent? How could he stand to just sit there and wait for his verdict?! And how could I? I, too, was awaiting my verdict as that evening began the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment.

OJ was eventually acquitted and his acquittal became the symbol of a system gone awry. I didn’t have much interest in the aftermath of the acquittal and the subsequent civil trial. Life moved on.
Read more OJ and Me

Shame on Me – An Approach to Approaching Teshuvah

Shlomo HaMelekh, the wisest of all men, tells us: Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.

The surface level interpretation of this is simple. A scoffer doesn’t want to hear rebuke and, so, when you rebuke him, he will hate you. A wise person, on the other hand, is always looking for an opportunity for growth. When you rebuke him he will love you since you are pointing out a flaw in a certain area and giving him an opportuniy for additional growth.

The Shelah has a deeper interpretation of this verse, The Shelah explains that the verse doesn’t speak about two different types of people being rebuked, it speaks about two different ways of giving rebuke. One way of rebuking is something like this: “You are disgusting! You have some nerve behaving that way. You don’t know what you are doing. You better shape up.” By rebuking this way, the rebuker turns the one who is being rebuked into a scoffer and he will then “hate you”. The other way of rebuking is something like this: “You are a great person. You are a wise and introspective person with good middos. I’ve noticed something that doesn’t seem to fit with your good qualities. If you work on this issue, you will refine yourself even more.” By rebuking in this manner, the rebuker is making the one who is being rebuked into a wise man and he will “love you.”

Rabbi Hadar Margolin in his HaSimchah B’Moadim (partially available in english as “Crown Him with Joy”) explains that this insight into giving rebuke is just as applicable when rebuking oneself, especially in the pre-Rosh Hashana teshuvah mode. The mishnah in Avos adjoins us: “Do not view yourself as a rasha.” Don’t regard yourself as a scoffer, “rebuke a wise man!” Tell yourself: “I am the grandchild of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. I have good qualities, I’m striving to grow. As such, it is incumbent upon me to improve myself in this particular area.” Such an approach motivates and stimulates improvement. The opposite approach, beating oneself up and degrading oneself can cause depression and lead one to think that he can never improve thereby creating a barrier to teshuvah.

Kesiva v’Chasima Tova.

Build New Bridges on Shabbos Nachamu

The past two weeks have been active ones here on BBT including some spirited discussions about numerous important issues. The issues that have been drawing the most attention and comments seem to involve inclusiveness.

We here at BBT are always looking for opportunities to foster constructive dialogue on important issues and to build more bridges.

What better way to do so than to have you join us, live and in person, at the 3rd BBT Shabbaton in Kew Gardens Hills on Shabbos Nachamu, August 15-16, 2008.

This year we are co-hosting with SerandEz and are also happy to announce that Jameel from The Muqata will be joining us, from Eretz Yisroel, for our Melava Malka where we will be unveiling the latest incarnation of the BBT Jam Band (you will surely want to be present for that historic event, no scalping please) .

There will be a full Shabbos program including relaxed catered meals and personal thoughts on the themes of Integration, Inspiration and Individuality. We have kept prices as low as we can in order to encourage full participation.

The cost is $50 per person and family and individual discounts are available. We will provide housing accommodations. Hope to see you all, yes that means you, there.

Email us at beyondbt@gmail.com to register.

More Proof That the Jews Run the World

It’s an oft repeated canard of blatant anti-semites that “Jews own the banks and run the economy”. If this is true, we’re having a bad week, guys.

While no right thinking individual places any credence in such age-old hate, sometimes, the way things happen, even a non-believer might start to think that, even if the Jews don’t run the world, they’ve got a pretty strong connection to the One who does.

This is never more readily apparent than around the time of Purim where we are taught that if we peek behind the curtain, we will see that nothing is a coincidence. Last year, Starbucks, (whose CEO is Jewish) decided that they would pick one day to offer all of their customers free coffee. Of all days, which day did they pick, shushan purim. I mean, come on, you couldn’t pick a better day for free coffee than Shushan Purim where, if you’re not shaking off the cobwebs of a bit of the Ad LoYadah (the mitzvah to drink), you certainly are quite exhausted jumping straight back into the workweek after a long day of Purim festivities. It’s like they pulled this day out of a lottery and the Jews won. Sound familiar?

This year, Purim falls on Friday. This makes for a difficult time crunch; squeezing davening, megillah, shaloch manos and a seudah into a Friday with concomitant Shabbos preparation is no simple task. No problem, we’ll just have congress change the rules for daylight savings time for the first time in twenty years so that we will have an extra hour until chatzos (halachic midday, the time by which many opinions state the majority of the Purim seudah should be completed) and Shabbos will come in an hour later. You see, when you have connections, everything seems to just fall into place.

Happy Purim to all.

Letting It All Hang Out

Nope, although the title might imply it, this post is not about tzitzis. It’s about how we respond when the question of one’s BT-ness is brought up. This issue can arise by way of a direct question but more likely it will come up as a result of an inquiry like: Where did you learn? Where did you go to High School? Where did you go to camp? Where did you go to seminary?

I attended public high school at Forest Hills High School. A few times when I’ve been asked where I went to high school and I respond “Forest Hills High School”, people have said “Oh, Chofetz Chaim” (Forest Hills was the home of the main branch of. Chofetz Chaim for many years). Well, not quite.

How do you respond when the question comes up and why do you respond that way? Are you straight foward, simply answering “I’m a Baal Teshuvah” or “I didn’t grow up frum”. Or do you go for something a little less direct like “I came late to the game” or “I’m a late bloomer”. How do you feel when the issue arises: proud, insecure or something else? What are some of the interesting responses you have gotten when you’ve told someone you are a BT?

Grampa’s Menorah

In my family, there are precious few “religious heirlooms”. In fact, other than this menorah, I can really only think of my Grandmother’s small, white, swan-shaped porcelain honey dishes used by my mother each Rosh Hashanah. This menorah is not much to look at. Although it is pure silver, it is small, a bit slanted to one side and it’s missing the shamesh. But to our family, it’s the most beautiful menorah ever.

My mother still remembers that cold winter day when my Grampa brought the menorah home. He was wearing his trademark silk and wool scarf which was easily one and a half times as long as he was tall. He entered the home, menorah in hand. No wrapping paper, no cushioning, heck, no bag. Just the menorah in his shivering hand. This menorah came with silver caps so that you could put the oil right into the cup, place the wick in the oil and thread it through the silver cap. However, by the time Grampa got home that windy evening, a few of the caps had blown away. And, so, the caps were never used. I’m not sure what happened to the shamesh but I wouldn’t be surprised if that blew away too!

Grampa Aaron was something special. He was about as close as I ever got to “the old country”. He had a heavy accent and his English was liberally spiced with Yiddish. He wore long underwear (longe gotkes) all year round including in the summer. He would cross major thoroughfares with absolute disregard for traffic signals and vehicular presence. Holding both arms straight out to his sides as a stop sign was sufficient. When frightened he would say “Oy, I almost became a hearts attack.” Grampa couldn’t understand why ice cream had pits (chocolate chips to me and you) and he, quite simply, did not hear too well. In the summer, Grampa Aaron would sit outside our bungalow in a brown chaise chair, taking in the country air and smiling. He quickly became popular with the colony kids who knew that a quick hello and a smile would yield chocolates, sucking candies and a few quarters for the pinball machine.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this menorah that makes it so special. Perhaps it’s because, like Grampa, though it may be small, old and a bit hunched to one side and though it may be missing a few pieces, beneath it all, it’s pure. And I guess it’s because this menorah is one of the few remaining links of my family’s Jewish past.

Achdus!

I once again have the privilege of co-chairing the Achdus Chinese Auction which will be held this year at the New York Hall of Science on Motzei Shabbos, November 10th. Now, most of us that live in Jewish neighborhoods on the east coast are aware that this time of the year is “chinese auction season”. It seems that there is a different chinese auction, (or two, or three) every other day. Achdus, we believe, is different, very different.

The idea for the Achdus auction was developed four years ago when administrators from two different schools, the Bais Yaakov of Queens and Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, realized that they were each planning to run their own chinese auction. They hit upon the idea of combining their auctions thereby lightening the load on the community calendar and enabling the pooling of the respective resources and talents of two administrative and parent bodies to produce one amazing joint fundraiser — Achdus! We believe that this joint fund raising concept is unprecedented.

We have worked extremely hard to produce an elegant, fun evening with great games, delicious food and amazing prizes. There’s really something for everyone: fine jewelry, travel, Artscroll Shas, electronics, trips to Israel, judaica, gift certificates and “Achdus Auction Exclusives“, unique and fun prizes that can’t be found anywhere else. For example:

The Kosher Supermarket Blitz
The winner of this special prize will have five minutes alone in a fully stocked kosher supermarket. The store will be closed to the public as the lucky winner races against the clock to fill his/her shopping cart to overflowing with a bountiful array of kosher groceries. I’m sure this will end up being a phenomenal YouTube moment!

Give Me Two Scoops and Make it Personal
Many of you are familiar with Max & Mina’s Ice Cream store in Kew Gardens Hills. They are famous for their wild flavors such as lox, potato chip fudge and Ring Ding, have been written up in the New York Times and have been named no 1. on the list of Top 10 Unique Ice Cream Parlors in America by the author of Everyone Loves Ice Cream. The winner of this “Achdus Auction Exclusive” will be able to help create their own flavor that will appear on the flavor board and be served up at Max & Mina’s. Anyone up for a scoop of Chewy Teshuvah Chocolate Chunk?

Up, Up and Away
Hop aboard and bring a friend on your private one hour aerial sightseeing tour of New York City. Traffic will crawl beneath you as you glide safely above the City that Never Sleeps.

This year’s Grand Prize is a Kosher Caribbean cruise for two. As old man winter has finally begun awakening from his slumber, imagine yourself surrounded by turquiose waters aboard a Five Star luxury cruise liner with award winning gourmet Glatt Kosher dining, complete spa facilities, top notch entertainment, women’s Israeli dance classes, Shiurim, Daf Yomi, Minyanim, Mixers and much more. The Grand Prize includes two round trip tickets to point of embarkation and $1,000 spending money.

Those of you who are in the metro New York area, please join us this motzei shabbos and stop me to say hello, I’ll be the one running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Those of you who aren’t local, please take advantage of the opportunity to support two great schools, the achdus concept and the chance to win some amazing prizes by purchasing your tickets today.

For a list of all the prizes and to order tickets, check out our website at achdusauction.com

**Today, November 5th, is the last day to take advantage of the early bird bonus ticket packages.**

Drop By Drop

Friends of ours had bought our five-year old daughter a flowering plant. She was proud of having the responsibility to care for and tend to the plant. A few weeks later, I noticed that the plant was not looking too great. In fact, it looked to be on its last legs. “Atara, what’s going on with your plant?”, I asked. She held her hand to her tiny lips and said “Oops, I forgot to water it this week!” Perhaps I should have used the moment to explain to her the importance of plant care (me, the blackest of the black thumbs?!). Perhaps I should have stressed the character trait of responsibility. But, she was too cute and my cereal was too crunchy for me to take the moment to pass on that parental advice.

About a half hour later, Atara confidently walked up to me, Poland Spring water bottle in hand, and proudly exclaimed “Abba, I poured TWELVE bottles of water on my plant.” Then, she looked at me as if to say “That problem is solved” and confidently walked away to go about the business of coloring, jumping rope or some other activity of great importance. If I had thought she was cute earlier, now she was absolutely delicious. But I knew at that moment that if the plant previously had any remaining chance of survival, it had just been, quite literally, washed out.

Here we stand, before another Yom Kippur. Another year where we, humans that we are, failed to take proper care of our souls and the responsibilities entrusted to us by Hashem. Our souls are thirsty and weak because we have failed to diligently and properly water them throughout the year (and you thought a one day fast was difficult!). We realize our mistakes, we regret our mistakes, we verbalize our mistakes and we resolve to rectify our mistakes. But all too often we attempt to slake our thirsting souls with bottles and bottles of water in a well meaning attempt to make up for the long drought. “I didn’t properly set aside time to learn torah last year, an hour a week is just not enough. This year, I’m going to learn daf yomi, mishna yomi, mishnah berurah yomi, hey, I may even invent a new “yomi” and learn that as well!”

On the surface, it makes sense. We are thirsty and we realize that we should have been drinking all along. But we simply cannot handle all of that water all at once. Overwatering kills more plants than any other cause. We are just setting ourselves up for failure.

What we really need is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation was developed and perfected in Israel. It is the slow, steady application of water directly to the plant’s root zone where the water is most urgently needed. Drip irrigation minimizes water loss and prevents overwatering which eventually chokes off roots and kills the plant. If I’ve realized that an hour a week of learning is not enough, this year I’m going to start learning an extra half an hour a week. After a few months of consistency, after the roots have gotten stronger, they may require a little more water, another fifteen minutes perhaps. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that a drop at a time cannot develop sea changes. Remember the story of Rabbi Akiva who had observed a hole cut clean through a rock, the hole having been formed by the continual dripping of water.

Throughout Selichos and the Yom Kippur service we echo the words of the navi Yezekiel’s promise from Hashem: “I will sprinkle upon you pure waters and you will become purified.” As Hashem does his sprinkling, let us do our own sprinkling: little by little, drop by drop, Spiritual Drip Irrigation. Gemar chasima tovah.

Everyone’s Meshugah!

I recently read Baruch Horowitz’s “Are you Happy Being Haredi?” To a certain extent, it reminded me of feelings I’ve had regarding people choosing different derachim than mine. Some of my fellow BT travelers will remember the comic bit where a comedian asks the question: “Did you ever notice that anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot… and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” Funny. And true! There have certainly been times during my post-teshuvah life (for lack of a better term) when I could have rephrased this as: “Did you ever notice that anyone to the right of you is a “fanatic”… and anyone to the left of you is an “apikorus”?” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, for me, the concept has, at times, rang true.

Reconciling the fact that one’s chosen derech may not be the best derech for another wasn’t simple for me. After all (I subconsciously thought), if I have chosen a certain derech, that must be THE derech. However, I eventually realized that I needed to focus on the fact that it is not THE derech but actually THE derech for ME. I also found that the area in which I was making most of these judgments was centered around the way people attempted to find the proper balance regarding the level of interaction with the non-frum or non-Jewish world. It seems to me that this is, perforce, an area of extreme importance for any BT. Here is an example: If I had a question about my ability to attend a holiday work party and my Rov advised me to go, I would view a friend’s Rov’s advice that he should not attend as unnecessarily strict. On the other hand, if my Rov had advised me not to attend and my friend’s Rov advised him to go, I would view my friend’s Rov’s decision as being too lenient. It took me a while to realize that my friend’s Rov was making a decision taking my friend’s individual issues into account and advising him within the Rov’s own well established derech.

Much was said about the topic of BTs being judged by FFBs in Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community. That brought me to do some personal soul searching only to discover that I too can be negatively judgmental of my fellow BTs and of FFBs. (what a BT being judgmental?!) I wonder if this is a wider issue or just my own challenge.

What No One Wants to Talk About

Beyond Teshuva is now just about a a year and a half old. I think we,as a community, have done some great things. We’ve pretty much taken at least some small steps in the direction of our tag line “learning growing, giving”. Our posts have pretty much run the gamut from noserings to sartorial splendor, economic pressures to “Big Fat Secular weddings”. However, there’s one area that I consistently see us failing to address and that is the issue of singles, dating and marriage. Sure, we’ve often detoured into the area and touched upon it on the periphery of related topics. But, no one seems willing to step up and address it head-on. That “no one” includes me.

Maybe together we can bring the issue to the foreground. I will throw out some questions for discussion and hopefully we can start a meaningful dialogue in the comments. Please get involved by giving your input.

Here goes:

Is there really a singles “crisis”?

If so, how did we get here and how do we address it?

Is the problem more difficult for BTs?

How is dating for BTs different than dating for FFBs, if at all?

In general, should BTs date FFBs?

What are some dating mistakes to avoid?

What is the best advice you would give someone who is dating?

How can singles expand their contacts beyond their own local geographic area?

How can the average married person get more involved in shidduchim?

How does the dating process differ between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La’Aretz?

*** After writing this post, I saw an advertisement for “The Shadchan Magazine” which is a new magazine that states “Here’s what we’re doing about the shidduch crisis” and says “You don’t have to be a shadchan to make a sgidduch. The website is here. Has anyone seen the magazine? Any thoughts?

Getting Real and Going Global

One of the things I’ve loved about the whole “Beyond Teshuva” experience has been the ability to meet so many of our fellow bloggers and commentors at live events. We have two such events on the horizon:

Beyond BT Melava Malka in Eretz Yisroel

Mark has already landed in Eretz Yisrael and will be in attendance at the melava malka, moetzae Shabbos, May 26th from 9:00-11:30 in Beit Shemesh at the home of contributor Menachem Lipkin.(I’m stuck here holding down the fort. Man do I need a new agent) For location details and directions, please email msl at lipkinfamily-dot-com.

Shabbaton in Passaic

Preparations are under way for the Passaic shabbaton tentatively Scheduled for July 20-21, please e-mail us at beyondbt@gmail.com if you’re planning to join us.

Good Shabbos and Good Chodesh.

Still JIBing

Most of you are aware that the Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards, the JIBs, are under way (after all, we’ve only reminded you twice a week or so).

The JIBs have really served to give Beyond Teshuva a bit broader exposure which means more people are coming to the blog, sharing and joining our community.

Although the results in the Best Blog categories have not yet been officially released, it appears as if Beyond Teshuva will be moving to the finals in all three of the categories in which it competed. Thanks for voting and please support us by voting for us in the finals beginning May 9, 2007.

We also have two posts that have been nominated in the Best Post categories which have already opened for voting.

Please take a minute to vote for
Sam Smith’s Financial Realitites in the Frum World here for Overall Best Post and
Live on the Radio: The Seeds of Teshuva of a Nascent Rock Star for Best Jewish Music Post here.

Voting closes for the Best Post categories on Sunday, May 6th at 10 p.m.

FFB Children of BTs Part I

Last year, we were zocheh to host Rabbi Lazer Brody for our first Beyond BT melava malka. As my wife and I were discussing my plans for getting to Passaic motzei shabbos, our (now 14 year old) daughter asked to come along. My wife and I had previously decided that we wouldn’t be bringing any of the kids (even though this daughter is probably more mature than I am) and we jokingly told her “Sorry, it’s only for BTs”. She immediately responded “Yeah, but I have BT blood”. The kid is right.

BTs raising their FFB children face many, many challenges such as balancing how much of their past to reveal to their children, keeping up with their children’s studies and walking the tightrope of relations with non-frum relatives. But, in my humble opinion, FFB children raised by BT parents tend to exhibit a certain indescribable quality. Those BTs among us who have been zocheh to have children know that the challenge of BTs raising FFBs is a unique one. It is at times, daunting, rewarding, hilarious and, let’s face it, often downright scary.

I do not profess to be a parenting expert or an expert parent. I do profess to be a parent and to having many BT friends who are parents. In a way, I guess that qualifies me to discuss this issue. In this piece, I intend to highlight some of the major parenting issues and challenges facing BT parents, as I see them. Feel free to disagree, I’m sure you will:) .

In order to write a piece of this length, it helps to use acronyms. However, I haven’t yet stumbled upon a good acronym for children of BTs (I’ve tried SOBs [sons/daugher of Baalei Tesuva], too heavy with negative connotation, FFPs [frum from parents], too lacking in any personal input or choice on the part of the child and FFBBDBPBT [frum from birth but different because parents are baalei teshuvah], just too long. So, for the purpose of this piece, I will call them CBTs (children of Baalei Teshuvah).

My personal take is that well adjusted CBTs combiine the best of both worlds. They often have the bren and entusiasm that BTs are famous for (no, that does not mean that FFBs do not have enthusiasm) and the formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure of an FFB (no, that does not mean that BTs don’t have formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure). There is often a seriousness of purpose and an acceptance of Jewish responsibility that is not always found in non-CBTs. I recognize that this is an extreme generalization so let’s just say that CBTs have the potential to synthesize the best of the BT world and the best of the FFB world. We often decry the rift between the FFB and BT worlds and the challenges of BT integration and/or acceptance. CBTs have the opprtunity to integrate without shedding the positive aspects of a BT outlook. In life, the greatest potentialities walk hand-in-hand with the greatest potential pitfalls. Let’s identify some of these potential pitfalls and some possible approaches for avoiding them.

Great Expectations and Vicarious Living

Some BTs bemoan “lost time”, meaning that they feel like they wasted a good portion of their lives doing non-Torah things. A symptom of this “lost time” syndrome is that one might feel, perhaps subconsciously, that since their children were born into frum homes, they will direct their lives in such a manner as they think they would have lived if they were born into frum homes. One might also think that each of his children should be the gadol hador as opposed to being the best chaim or chaya he\she can be, living up to their personal potential and not to our “wannabe” dreams. The result of this vicarious parenting approach is often undue pressure, unrealistic expectations and the squelching of individuality.

Perhaps, the best way to address this issue is by first addressing it in our own lives. In addition to the parenting problems mentioned above, this “lost tim e” syndrome can be depressing and debilitating. I think that two approaches can help in that regard.

1. I have a family member who is a giores (convert). Shortly after she was megayer (converted), she told her Rav that she felt like she had wasted her whole life chasing sheker (falsehood). The Rav responded that Bnai Yisroel spent 40 years wandering in the desert before reaching Eretz Yisrael. It was 40 years of complaining, wrong turns and sins. That 40 years was necessary in order for Bnai Yisroel to reach the “holy land”. They couldn’t have gotten there without it. He continued, “You couldn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten to yiddishkeit if it weren’t for your own wanderings. “

2. The other approach was laid out by Rabbi Brody. Rabbi Brody says that we have to realize that we were born into non-frum families because that’s exactly where Hashem wanted us born. To quote Rabbi Brody “what, there wasn’t enough room for you in a family in Boro Park or Bnei Brak?!”. Along with that understanding comes the fact that Hashem determined that you be born into a non-frum family in order to grow from that and to bring something different, something special to the frum world.

Coming to terms with our own uniqueness and individual role will help us to appreciate and foster the individuality of our children, thereby avoiding vicarious parenting.

Stigmatism and Pomposity

I find that there is an interesting dichotomy in how many BTs view themselves. Some feel as if they are second class citizens and will do anything to hide the fact that they are BTs (that is not to say that all BTs who are very discrete about the fact that they are BTs do so for this reason and that there are never good reasons to do so). Others wear their BT status as a badge of pride. This can also be detrimental when taken to extremes. The way we view ourselves and our frumkeit is usually picked up by our children. BTs who are embarrassed that they are BTs will have children who may feel inferior or not as good as their non-CBT peers. On the flip side, BTs who take an extreme, unhealthy pride in their BT status can expect their children to develop a hloier-than-thou attitude toward their non-CBT peers.

The way to address this potential pitfall is by developing in our selves a healthy attitude toward our BT status. I would suggest that such an approach would be “I am happy that I am a BT because that is what Hashem has chosen for me and He doesn’t make mistakes. I am happy that I was zocheh to become frum and that I have tremendous opportunities for growth. Being a BT, in and of itself, doesn’t make me better or worse than the next guy. It simply means that I have different challenges and potential. The world needs FFBs and the world needs BTs.” If we take that attitude, our children will incorporate it in their lives allowing them to avoid both stigmatism and pomposity.

Annual Beyond BT Awards

As most of you are aware, this past Motzei Shabbos was the Annual Beyond BT award ceremony. Below, you will find a roundup of some of the more prominent awards:

Most Sparkly Commenter – As if there was ever any doubt – Jaded Topaz

Acceptance Speech excerpt: “Wow, this award is fantastically fuchia with undertones and frilly flashes of fluorescent filament.” (Ron Coleman was said to have commented: “Huh?”) It should be noted that when JT removed her sunglasses she realized the award was a grey mouse pad.

Best Spammer – Tramadol, 500mg

Acceptance Speech: “I like your blog, I have bookmarked it, click here for cheap, prescription drugs.”

Best Former Lawyer that Plays Guitar and Own a Maple Syrup Farm
– In a tightly contested category, Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz barely edged out the competition

Most Disgusting Comment
– Bob Miller for his Repulsive Chulent Recipe comments.

Acceptance Speech Excerpt: “Really, try it, it tastes much better than it sounds.” (Audible gagging filled the auditorium)

Most Prolific Use of Acronyms – Steve Brizel (that makes six years in a row or should I say TMSYIAR)

Short Acceptance Speech Excerpt (simultaneous translation was provided): IMHO, IIRC, I would like to say TY to my EK, BBT, RYBS, and, OC, to HKBH for giving man the intellect to invent the alphabet. (A heckler from the crowd was summarily removed for repeatedly yelling out “I’d like to buy a vowel” during Steve’s speech)

Celebrity presenters included Rabbi Shmulky Gebrokts of “The Shabbaton is Coming” fame, Chaim G. and Anonymous (who looks great in a tux)

Entertainment was provided by Rabbi Goldson who sang “Stuck in the Middle With You” backed by Rabbi Simenowitz and Gili Houpt on guitar and highlighted with a mean, sixteen minute long kazoo solo by David Linn (who was immediately wisked away for a saliva transfusion). Hope to see you all at the awards next year! Freilachen Purim!!

The Slow, Long Climb

On Shabbos Parshas Yisro, I came across three small mussar insights brought down in Artscroll’s Limud Yomi all of which I thought have extra meaning for Baalei Teshuva.

Each of these insights are derived from the same pasuk. In the last verse of Parshas Yisro, the Torah tells us: “Don’t go up to My altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered thereon.” Rashi explains that this means to tell us that the approach to the altar should not be built with steps. Rather, the approach should be built with a ramp since it is easier to walk modestly up a ramp and it would be “disrespectful” to the stones to do otherwise. Many of us are familiar with the explanation that this teaches us that if we have to be concerned for the respect of inanimate objects, how much more so must we be concerned for the respect of our fellow man.

The first insight arises from asking the question: Why did Hashem place this instruction at this particular place in the Torah? At this point in time, Bnai Yisrael had just received the Torah, why did Hashem see fit to place this law here even before the actual commandment to build the altar is given? It seems an incongruous place for this particular rule. R’ Yisrael Salanter once said that “A person running to do a mitzvah can tear down an entire world on his way.” Good intentions and fervor are great but not when they trample upon care and respect for a fellow Jew. In other words: doing the right thing is important but it must also done right. After matan Torah, Bnai Yisrael were understandably enthusiastic and ecstatic about living up to its new status and tackling the tremendous responsibilities that had been placed upon them. Often, enthusiastic, excited people rush headstrong into their obligations without giving proper thought to how their actions may impact upon or affect others. Additionally, zealous individuals will often view those that don’t share their level of enthusiasm with skepticism which is not always warranted. That is why the Torah issues this warning right after matan Torah, as if to say: In your newfound zeal and responsibility, do not step upon those whom you should respect.

The second insight is brought out by R. Reuven Feinstein who says that the idea of avoiding “stairs” is applicable as well to one’s attempt to ascend in spiritual growth. If one tries to climb too quickly, his weakness will become exposed, it is far better to climb slowly, being sure of ones spiritual footing, and even resting when necessary, than to attempt to jump to a level that one is not ready to attain.

The last point is found in the interpretation of Orach LeChaim who explains that this pasuk is advocating the necessity of humility within spiritual growth. When one wishes to ascend in his service of Hashem, he should take care not to place himself on any kind of pedestal (this is the meaning of “Maalos”-steps according to his explanation). If a person approaches the service of Hashem with true humility, he will succeed in ascending to great heights.

The Ratio of Cows to Grandchildren

I’ve recently picked up the book “The Kiruv Files” by Dovid Kaplan and Elimelich Meisels (Targum Press 2003). It’s quite a good read with chapters on many issues faced by newly minted BTs. It’s also pretty funny. Here is a particularly interesting excerpt:

You may have heard of Yitz Greenbaum, one of the early Israeli Zionist leaders and a man notorious for his antipathy toward Torah and religious Jews. He is famed for his statement “One cow in Palestine is worth more than a million religious Jews in Europe.”

Well, bearing that in mind, read the following story told to me by a Rebbe of mine.

One afternoon my Rebbe was busy with various tasks, overseeing the sundry details of running a large yeshivah, when someone came running up to him and said, “Rebbe, you’ve got to come to the conference room right now. We’re interviewing a potential student for the yeshiva.”

My Rebbe, not grasping the uniqueness of this particular interview, said “Look, I’m kind of busy right now. Maybe someone else can do the interview.”

“But, Rebbe, you don’t understand. This is not just any student. This is Yitz Greenbaum’s grandson!”

“Really?” He exclaimed. “This I’ve got to see. Yitz Greenbaum’s grandson on his way to becoming a religious Jew! To witness how Hashem has brought it all full circle, that is truly a miracle!”. He immediately dropped what he was doing and went to meet the young man.

Another descendant of a distinguished politician of Greenbaum’s era also came to learn in a famous yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. This boy’s grandfather was a brilliant Marxist theorist and revolutionary, one of the most powerful people in the world, a leader in a country devoted to eliminating religion completely. The country: Russia. The politician: Lev Davidovitch Bronstein, otherwise known as Leo Trotsky, confidant of Lenin and creator of the Russian Red Army.

Yitz Greenbaum and Leon Trotsky, two brilliant, rebellious Jews, each convinced he had discovered the real solution to the Jewish problem–the abandonment of Torah–in exchange for a utopian political system.

Now they and their movements have crumbled in the dust, while the Torah they tried to eradicate is not only relevant and flourishing, but has become the province of their very own [grand]children.

“Mah gadlu masecha Hashem –How great are Your works, Hashem.”

pp. 40-41

Chanukah Insight – Two Sides of the Same Coin? or The Miracle of the Chocolate Coins

Last year I was asked to speak at a small Chanukah gathering for a kiruv organization. The crowd was a mixed one ranging from not- yet-shomer shabbos to fully frum for 15 years. As always, I didn’t know what to speak about until the night before. This is what I said:

Last night my family and I went to my mother’s house for a Chanukah party. We do that every year, getting together with my brothers and their respective families. Even though there is a minhag to have dairy on Chanukah, at my mother’s house we always have meat. (You have to listen to your mother) Everything was going along fine. My mother was giving the grandchildren “the chocolate gelt”, which no Chanukah party would be complete without, and there was a whole tumult. I was in charge of buying the gelt this year because my mother doesn’t drive and she couldn’t find pareve gelt close to her home. I walked over and asked what was going on. They screamed “these are dairy, they’re dairy!” I asked myself “How did I do that?” I remembered when I had bought the gelt that the packaging of the dairy and the pareve coins were strikingly similar. Usually, they put the dairy coins into the blue nylon plastic netting and the pareve ones in the red netting or the gold foil is the dairy and the silver foil is the pareve. But these were exactly the same except for the little writing on them saying “pareve” or “dairy”. I grabbed the gelt and sure enough they were the pareve ones, call me the “Man who saved Chanukah.”

I was thinking about what we can learn from that confusion. We see in the story of Chanukah that there were two warring cultures, the Greek culture and the Jewish culture. We usually spend our time discussing the differences between these cultures, how disparate they were and that, thank G-d, the Jewish culture was able to win that physical war and that ideological war.

What we often overlook is that there is a lot that is very similar between the two cultures. Winston Churchill speaks of how the Jewish people and the Greek people have made the greatest contributions to Western civilization. He says that Jerusalem and Athens were the prime places from which wisdom and knowledge eminated. But we don’t have to rely on Churchill for this point. The Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, says that Aristotle, the greatest Greek philosopher, was just a step below prophecy. There is a halacha that a sefer torah can be written in one of two languages. One of them, of course, is Hebrew, the other is Greek. There are many references in the commentaries, especially the Zohar, that speak in praiseworthy terms of the Greek culture and how there is a certain level of respect that must be given to it and that the “ancient Greeks” had a certain level of “emunah” that should not be ridiculed. I was thinking how this is a very interesting thing. I think we find in our struggles, in our daily lives, that most of us are not running after something that is obviously “not Jewish”, obviously “not Jewish”. If there is any type of a question or any area that we personally or communally fall into it’s because it is something that “looks” Jewish, it is something that sounds good, it sounds right. We’re not running out to do something that we know is completely forbidden. What we can learn from that, just like the story of the chocolate coins, is that you’ve really got to look very well at whatever it is that you are interested in incorporating into your life. You’ve got to look to see if it’s pareve, see if it’s dairy, see if it’s kosher. Even if things are packaged exactly the same way, you’ve got to look deeper than the surface.

One of the understandings of Chanukah is that we bring light into our homes, into our lives. Light is exactly what we need in order to distinguish between two things that are apparently the same.

The gemorah (Brachos 53b) states that you cannot make the brocha on the havdalah candle until you have benefited from its light. The gemorah defines “benefit” as being close enough to the light to distinguish between two coins. That is one of the reasons that some people look at the tips of their fingers in the light of the havdalah candle (since the difference between the nail and the skin can be determined by the same amount of light that you need to distinguish between two coins). We need to shine the light of our intellect and the light of the Torah into our lives so that we can properly discern what is Jewish and what is “all Greek to me.”

A Lichtiger (Illuminated) Chanukah to everyone.