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The Yeshiva World and the Children of Baalei Teshuva
The Ugly Secret
by Catriel Sugarman
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Voice and Opinion

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7/18/08

The following article contains some strong opinions, some which our readers may disagree with and/or find objectionable. Nevertheless, I have posted it here, because there are points made by the author that deserve our consideration.

Yakov Horowitz

Ba’alei Teshuva—sometimes translated to mean “penitents,” but, more commonly used to refer to Jews from secular backgrounds who have become religiously observant, often hareidi, or ultra-Orthodox—have been held in high regard by Jewish tradition. In the Talmud (Berachot 34b), Rabbi Abbahu says: The [elevated] position that ba’alei teshuva attain, tzadikim gemurim [those who were always righteous] are unable to reach.”

Try telling that to Avigail Meizlik, who recently wrote a controversial article in Mishpacha, a highly regarded English hareidi magazine, about “issues” ba’alei teshuva (BTs) face when they try to affiliate with various hareidi communities in Israel.

According to Ms. Meizlik, when it comes time to register their children in mainstream hareidi schools, the BTs are rejected, finding, to their dismay, that they were never really part of their chosen community after all.

This is true not only in Israel. In the United States, too, the children of BTs—along with the offspring of Jews of Sephardic background—are increasingly denied entry into mainstream hareidi schools.

Personal Experience

A resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh and a BT herself, Ms. Meizlik related her personal experience with the Israeli hareidi educational system. Her daughter’s class, composed almost entirely of children whose parents were BTs, was suddenly closed. Worse, no other hareidi school was willing to accept them.

This was true, she said, even of Beit Shemesh BT families that had been religious for more than a decade.

“The husband wears a long black coat and a streimel; the children are sweet and have long side curls, are raised to be modest and G-d-fearing, in homes without newspapers or a computer; good pure hareidi children—until they reach school age,” she wrote.

Ms. Meizlik’s angry conclusion was that the hareidim, the FFBs (frum—or observant—from birth) who engage in kiruv, or outreach, should curtail their efforts to bring non-observant Jews into the fold, “since they do not make any serious efforts to integrate them into their community anyway.”

“Why bother? Why convince [the BTs] to make such a difficult, painful change? Why call upon them to come and live a Torah lifestyle if no one has any intention of giving them the opportunity to live such a lifestyle? Perhaps the time has come to stop investing in outreach,” she wrote.

Harsh Reactions

Responses to her article came fast and furious, and some were surprisingly brutal. Advocates of the schools’ strict exclusionary policy cited the BTs’ secular relatives, expressing the fear that even second-hand encounters with non-religious people could do irremediable damage to the spiritual health of tender impressionable hareidi children.

In a letter to the editor, Yael Berg bluntly explained that BT children had to be kept out of mainstream hareidi schools because “the newly observant tend to meet with their non-religious relatives and the children are exposed to their relatives’ culture, their speech patterns, music, body language, and concepts.”

“I feel that the pain of the girl who has not been accepted is preferable to the anguish of families whose daughters are affected by a girl who was erroneously accepted,” wrote Ms. Berg.

Zippora Beit Levi, a teacher in the hareidi community’s Beit Ya’akov girls school system, agreed. The hareidi community has “enough troubles with its own young people without importing ‘trouble’ from outside,” she wrote.

Not all responders agreed. Someone who identified on the Mishpacha website only as “Krum as a bagel” wondered what exactly was so offensive about “BT speech patterns.” “Is their language linguistically coded with kefirah?” Krum asked, using the Hebrew word for “heresy.” “Do they belly-dance when they talk?”

60,000 Strong

According to Rabbi Yitzhak Greenman, executive director of the New York branch of Aish Hatorah, there are roughly 60,000 BTs in the US, a number which may be a bit high.

While some insular hareidi communities in the US have virtually no BTs, others, such as the thriving Orthodox community of Passaic, NJ, are comprised overwhelmingly of the newly observant.

For BTs, problems arise when they try to assimilate into established hareidi communities in Brooklyn, such as Borough Park, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Flatbush, as well as Lakewood, NJ, and Monsey, NY.

“Dhimmis”

While the BTs’ problems with the hareidi community are not widely discussed, they have been recognized. Rabbi Chananya Weissman, whose organization, “End the Madness,” is dedicated to combating the “angst and hardships associated with dating in the religious Jewish community,” noted that while BTs are lauded and even admired for overcoming the challenges to achieve an observant lifestyle, they “never manage to shake the stigma of not being FFB.”

In a satirical piece entitled “The ‘Dhimmis’ among Us: Judaism’s Lower Class,” he compared BTs to the second-class status of Jews and Christians in Muslim communities. The BTs’ stigma, he wrote, is “even transferred to children and the extended family, as if it is a genetic defect of spiritual proportions.”

He pointed out that not only are the BTs’ children rejected by many hareidi institutions and denied positions of leadership in the yeshiva world, they also have “a significantly lower value on the shidduch market.”

“Nowadays, it has become completely mainstream for contestants to be made to divulge whether they are ba’alei teshuva, and, if so, for how long. Those who mush check this unfortunate box on the questionnaire are essentially branded as undesirables,” he said.

Prejudice

This unlovely and almost universal prejudice against BTs in certain Orthodox communities is seldom discussed, except on the blogosphere, where anonymity promotes abandoning all inhibitions, including halachic prohibitions.

Those who protest this growing phenomenon rarely reveal their names or offer any identifying information. The fear of being exposed and blackballed is pervasive and palpable.

It is not hard to find blatant anti-BT sentiments on the web. An example is “Avakesh,” overseen by a blogger who claims “he is a part of this world and actively teaches ba’alei teshuva.” Although “Avakesh” praises the kiruv movement as “an unquestioned blessing,” he nevertheless insists that “frumkeit is and always remains for a BT a coat.”

“No matter how well fitting and comfortable a favorite coat can be, it always remains a coat. In theory, at least, it can always be taken off. For a person born and bred in Torah, Judaism is and always will be his skin. He can no more take it off than a man can shed his skin,” he wrote.

Avakesh enumerated the “host of problems” that he said “fester beneath the surface of the BT community.” For Avakesh, these include “underground survival of secular attitudes,” “serious psychological imperfections,” “shallow understanding of the Torah,” and “rampant deficiency of Torah knowledge.”

Like Spanish Anusim

He compared today’s BTs to the Spanish anusim and their descendants, Jews who were forced by the Spanish Inquisition, beginning in 1492, to abandon their faith and adopt Christianity, but who, years later, returned to Judaism.

Avakesh maintained that from the ranks of the “thousands of wonderful, self-sacrificing Jews [who] streamed to Amsterdam and Turkey, seeking authentic Judaism and spiritual renewal,” came the “most devoted followers” of Shabbatai Tzvi, the notorious 17th century false messiah.

Avakesh also insisted that “the descendants of these same families gave rise to the Reform movement some time later.”

Little “Chani” and “Moshe”

The extremely questionable historical accuracy of Avakesh’s observations is emblematic of the entire problem. A responder who took umbrage at Avakesh’s diatribe, pointed to the harm of such malevolent generalizations.

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, little Chani’s friends won’t come over because her parents are BT—despite the fact that they spent five years learning in kollel and actually know the halacha and ask halachic questions—since all BTs are only ‘wearing a coat’ and ‘can’t be trusted on halacha,’” the responder wrote.

A shadchanit (matrimonial matchmaker) in Borough Park who has been active in her field for over 30 years, confirmed the observations of Rabbi Weissman and Avakesh’s responder. “Though no one will admit it openly, there’s a caste system at work here, just like in India. Except here, in certain communities, the BTs and their children are at the bottom of the heap. There are thousands of ‘little Chani’s’ (and ‘Moshe’s’) in all the frum neighborhoods where ba’alei teshuva live.”

Shunned Children

According to the shadchanit, FFB parents on “both sides of the Atlantic” can be “zealous” in barring the offspring of BTs from their own children’s circle of friends.

“They’ll have birthday parties and Shabbos programs for all the little girls in the neighborhood, but ‘somehow,’ Chani, the daughter of BTs, will never be invited,” she said. “It’s insidious, it’s heartbreaking, and the worse thing is that neither poor Chani nor her naïve BT parents will have the slightest idea why.”

According to the shadchanit, this happens despite common agreement that the affected children are “eidel” (delicate, sweet, and refined) and their parents frum and learned. When the children are rejected by a school, “the administrators make up every excuse in the world to justify not taking anyone with a different background,” she said.

All Over

She maintained that this happens even in the comparably open world of Lubavitch chasidim, known for establishing schools throughout the world for BT children as well as those from completely non-observant homes.

“The ‘real’ true-blue Chabadniks send their boys to Ohalei Torah in Crown Heights. You won’t find too many children of ba’alei teshuva there. There’s a word for that: segregation,” she said.

However, she admitted that the “Litvish yeshivish,” the term for hareidim who maintain the ultra-Orthodox tradition of the Lithuanian-Jewish communities (present-day Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and the northeastern Suwałki region of Poland) “are the worst offenders.”

Sinas Chinom

She insisted that “sinas chinom” (causeless hatred), which, according to tradition, was the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, “would not be too strong a term to use for some of these people.”

“Their insistence on yichus [lineage, pedigree, distinguished birth] is nothing but an ego booster. Everybody knows—though no one will admit it—that plenty of children from yichusdik families, great rabbanim, and roshei yeshiva, go off the rails,” she said.

Even “if by a miracle,” the BT child, does get into a “good” school, her life will not be improved, said the shadchanit.

“They’ll make her miserable. She’ll be snubbed constantly by her classmates and even by her teachers who should—and do—know better,” she said. “She will be permanently tagged as the daughter of a BT—just like a leper—and even while her teachers prattle on about the importance of observing the mitzvos bein adam le’chaveiro [ethical commandments between human beings] and ‘kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh’ [‘all Jews are responsible for each other’], she’ll be treated like dirt.”

“Harry”

In a letter published recently in Yated Ne’eman, a weekly English-language hareidi newspaper published in Monsey, a bewildered father expressed concern that his son had been labeled “a Harry” in school. It took the father some time to understand that, in “yeshivish,” “Harry” is an insulting term used by some FFBs to refer to a BT or his children.

The father came to learn that a “Harry” is someone who demonstrates some lack of familiarity with the subtleties—some of them truly infinitesimal—of yeshivish living. For example, although this “Harry” was an excellent student, he made the mistake of wearing white socks instead of black. Another “Harry” might wear his talit in an unusual way or tip his black fedora at an angle slightly different from what is accepted in his yeshiva.

“In general, if you consider yourself a member of the yeshiva world and do not know what a ‘Harry’ is, you probably are one,” the father wrote.

Principals and Parents

According to the shadchanit, responsibility for this “moral flaw in the system” lies with school principles and parents. For the schools, she said, “chinuch [education] has nothing to do with it.”

“The real reason for this unfortunate exclusionary policy is to ‘prove’ that they are better than the competition because their students come from ‘purer’ homes,” she said.

However, she added, she knew of at least three schools in Brooklyn and one in Lakewood in which the administrations were bullied by organized groups of parents who threatened to withdraw their children if the offspring of BTs were admitted.

Some of the “more prestigious seminaries,” she said, have parents’ committees whose “sole purpose” is to “winnow out” any “undesirables.”

“I actually heard people say that,” she said, explaining that the committees’ function is to make sure “no unworthy pretenders share the same classroom with their precious daughters.”

Thrown Out

She recalled an incident which involved her own neighbors, whom she described as “erliche yidden” [righteous Jews]. After graduating from college, the husband, a successful businessman, and his wife, an accountant, had adopted an observant lifestyle. After their marriage, he learned for four years in a well-renowned BT yeshiva in Israel while she attended a prestigious seminary for women.

When they completed their studies, they returned to Brooklyn where, a few years later, they attempted to register their son in a well-known yeshiva ketana [elementary school]. The principal met them at the door with a radiant smile and a twinkle in his eye, both of which grew broader when he realized they were not only BTs, but well versed as well.

But the smile vanished when he learned the purpose of their visit. “Since you are ba’alei teshuva, you, of course, realize that your son will never be able to internalize our derech [way of life] and hashkafa [outlook and philosophy]. He’d never fit in, and it would be a waste of our time and your money for us to take him,” he informed them.

According to the shadchanit, without another word, he literally threw her neighbors out of his office.

“The poor woman cried all the way home,” the shadchanit recalled, adding that, over the years, hundreds of BTs have confided to her, “some with tears in their eyes,” that they had no idea that after the sacrifices they had made for Yiddishkeit, it would still be almost impossible to integrate into the frum community.

Exceptions

There are exceptions. According to the shadchanit, BTs who have acquired great wealth, or who are fortunate enough to have parents who acquired it, or who have managed to acquire a sponsor “too prominent to be ignored,” can see their children accepted to schools.

“It can happen, but it’s rare,” she said.

One young couple learned this the hard way. The husband had become observant while still in his 20s and had studied for a number of years at a well-known yeshiva for BTs in New York and then, for two more years, in Israel. While in Israel, he met and married an accomplished young woman who had spent three years in well-known Jerusalem yeshiva for BT women.

Upon returning to the US, the young idealistic couple affiliated with a hareidi community, actively involving themselves in community programs and shiurim. They also contributed as superb volunteer fundraisers for the local yeshiva.

When the young couple’s son was ready for school, the yeshiva’s administration accepted him. The parents now say they did not realize the school officials were merely “biding their time.”

Merciless Bullying

Although, from the beginning, their child encountered some minor problems in school, when he entered the fourth grade, “the roof fell in.” According to the parents, he was taunted mercilessly and ostracized by his classmates, who often called him horrible names.

“Ben Nida was a favorite,” the father said, referring to the fact that, because the parents were BTs, the child was accused of being conceived without regard to the laws of family purity, a mortal insult in the hareidi world. “That name they could only have heard from their parents at home.”

The child came home from school every day in tears. “They spread malicious rumors about him and us. I can’t even imagine how many halachot bein adam le’chaveiro [ethical commandments between human beings] they violated And his classmates are children who come from supposedly good frum homes and learn Pirkei Avos—the Ethics of the Fathers—every week,” the mother said.

No Help from School

It was not long before the child developed severe stomach cramps and began having nightmares.

The distraught parents went repeatedly to the school, asking the principal and his teachers to intervene. “They would smile, make promises, and do nothing,” the father said.

After awhile, the parents said, they understood what was happening. “The principal and the teachers—men whom we had known for years—actually wanted our boy—and us—out. We were good enough to raise money for them and run their errands, but we were not good enough to have a son in their yeshiva. It hurt,” said the father. “In numerous places, the Torah commands us to treat proselytes with equity and sensitivity. Shouldn’t born Jews receive at least the same treatment as converts?”

Escape to Modern Orthodox

Although there were hashkafa issues, the couple managed to relocate to a Modern Orthodox community where their son was enrolled in one of the local schools and “blossomed.”

There, they met another family of “refugees” from the hareidi world. The second family had sought to enroll their child in a famous yeshiva ketana which was willing to enter into a “compromise” with BTs: Before the child was accepted, the parents had to agree to break off all relations with any family and friends who were not strictly observant.

“In addition, we had to commit ourselves to throw out any ‘goyishe’ [non-Jewish] books and pictures that we might still have—as if we had pornography hanging on our walls. Would you believe, the principal wanted us to sign a contract to that effect,” the mother said.

The family turned the school down and “moved out of the area as soon as we could sell the house.”

Five Torah Personalities

That this brutal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews by hareidim is a relatively new phenomenon was noted by Prof Yitzchak Levine, of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, and a frequent social commentator, who attended last month’s 2008 convention of the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, Torah Umesorah.

At the convention’s Shabbos seuda shlishit, Rav Avraham Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago, recalled that, 40 years ago, there were eight boys in the eighth grade of Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit. Of those eight, he noted, five were not from shomer Shabbos homes, but all five went on to become “outstanding Torah personalities.”

Dr. Levine interpreted Rav Levin’s anecdote as praise for Torah Umesorah, which obviously had played a key role in the development of Orthodox Judaism in Detroit and in those five boys—who did not come from BT homes, but, rather, completely non-observant backgrounds.

What Example?

Dr. Levine turned to the gentleman sitting next to him at the convention and said, “You realize, I’m sure, that today those five boys could not get into most of the yeshivas in Brooklyn.”

The gentleman replied, “It was a different tekufa [era] then. We are no longer concerned with parents who send their kids to public schools. If someone wants to start a yeshiva for public school kids, then let him.”

Stunned at this flippant response, Dr. Levine ended the conversation, but, he said, he could not stop thinking about those five boys in Detroit. “Forty years from now, what will a rosh yeshiva have to point to that occurred in places like Brooklyn that will serve as an example of the exceptional accomplishments of Torah Umesorah?” he said.



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1. Could this be true?     7/18/08 - 8:24 AM
Shloime - Brooklyn, NY

I see why Rabbi Horowitz needed to add a disclaimer to the head of this article.

Can this be a true, widespread phenomena in our communities? I haven't observed it personally, but my heart suspects it could be much worse than I know.


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2. Truly heartbreaking     7/18/08 - 9:35 AM
Eliezer - Toronto

I have no other words to describe this.


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3. shidduchim     7/18/08 - 10:56 AM
anonymousfornow

Now I know what a Harry is. I'm an FFB but have long felt a bit out of step due to my out of town upbringing, and not quite knowing all the rules sometimes myself.

I do have one comment about shidduchim with BTs, though. As a mother of kids in the parshah, that the parents are BTs would not nix the shidduch in the least if everything else checked out. But, I would be very hesitant about a BT as a child in law. It's a very different world now. In my generation (40 something) many BTs came from traditional families, strong families, and the world was different then. Now my first two reservations I can easily overcome - so the BT didn't have a framework, and may or may not have divorced parents (if they do, and the parents have worked together in the kids' best interests, no problem there AFAIC). But kids now are exposed to so much more, and are more likely to have some level of experience that this complicates things, so if someone redts a BT to any of my kids, I will have to proceed much more cautiously. But I am definitely open to proceeding.


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4. not only is it true     7/18/08 - 11:01 AM
Anonymous

not only is it true, but it is actually true in a milder form in modern orthodox communities and schools as well. (speaking from personal experience with my self and my children).

after especially bad episodes, I start to wonder whether the anti-semites aren't right about some things after all.


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5. Is it true?     7/18/08 - 11:36 AM
Anonymous

Of COURSE it's true. You can't be be an involved member the yeshivish velt without seeing it in spades. It's disgusting, but there's no point in denying it.


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6.     7/18/08 - 11:54 AM
Anonymous

There is probably some truth to this article but like always when you start a smear campaign you are asking not to be taken seriously.

In relation to some of the examples all I can say is what should I believe anonymous accounts or my own eyes?

I live in Lakewood and noone I know would not allow their children to play with the children of a BT who has been in Kollol for the past 5 years.No schooll I know of would tolerate the merciless bullying of a BT's child(Few,if any, 4th graders would know what a 'ben niddah' is.And according to the article I must ask; how did the kid get into school to begin with?)etc.etc.etc.

If one wants to address the issue,please do it without an axe to grind.


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7.     7/18/08 - 12:36 PM
been there done that

Overall, an excellent article. However, there is one thing I disagree with. One person quoted in the article stated "there’s a caste system at work here ... the BTs and their children are at the bottom of the heap." Actually, converts are at the bottom of the heap and BTs can be just as cruel to converts as FFBs are to them. Take for example another quote " Shouldn’t born Jews receive b>at least the same treatment as converts?" At least? What does he mean "at least"? Is he suggesting BTs should be accorded better treatment than converts?


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8. Check the Source out     7/18/08 - 1:20 PM
ML - Passaic

Rabbi Horowitz,

Many of these problems exist, but this "newspaper" is well known to be unreliable. Feel free to ask any Rav in North Jersey about it. It would be better to deal with the problem while sticking with a reliable source.

I live in Passaic, which by the way is not "comprised overwhelmingly of the newly observant", but in which the adult population is probably 25% BTs and we do not seem to have these type of issues. Do they exist in the commuity - yes. To the degree mentioned in this article - doubt it.


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9. doesn't like Jewish Voice     7/18/08 - 1:41 PM
Andy - Wesley Hills, NY

The question isn't whether Jewish Voice is a reliable paper. The question isn't whether the stuff he wrote is true or false. It is clearly both true and exaggerated. The issue is what need to do about what is true in the article, incidents we have observed ourselves.

I'll share -- and it's not even about BTs. In my neighborhood, some very fine yeshivishe families will not allow their children to play with children of fine baalebatishe families. Likewise, I heard from the Rov that children of BTs are sometimes intentionally "forgotten" when invitation for pirchei/bnos/shabbatons occur.

It's all the same problem. As Rabbi Horowitz said in another article, "" The monster is inside!


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10. To ML - Passaic     7/18/08 - 1:58 PM
Anonymous

Obviously, you didn't read the article very carefully. The article states:

"While some insular hareidi communities in the US have virtually no BTs, others, such as the thriving Orthodox community of Passaic, NJ, are comprised overwhelmingly of the newly observant.

For BTs, problems arise when they try to assimilate into established hareidi communities in Brooklyn, such as Borough Park, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Flatbush, as well as Lakewood, NJ, and Monsey, NY."

In other words, the article was explicitly not referring to your home town of Passaic.

By the way, you seem insulted that the writer said that Passaic is "comprised overwhelmingly of the newly observant." It sounds like you are suffering from the mentality described in the article.


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11. not necessarily a problem everywhere     7/18/08 - 2:27 PM
MB - Flatbush

Reading this article, especially the "ben-nida" story made me cry. However, on my block we have ba'alei teshuva and in my sons' and daughter's classes there are children of ba'alei teshuva and geirim. These children are welcomed everywhere, invited to all simchos and birthday parties etc.. AND I LIVE IN FLATBUSH. My children are in very mainstream yeshivos - Chaim Berlin and Bnos Yisroel. I know the parent body in both places and there are PLENTY of ba'alei teshuva in both crowds. From personal experiences I can say that these kids are sweet and frum and have the nicest midos. When the not yet frum grandparents come to visit on my block, the neighborhood children learn a lesson in tolerance and acceptance by saying hello to them and showing ahavas yisroel. My children did not pick up anything negative from these kids of ba'alei teshuva except an admiration for the courage their parents had for changing their lives to serve Hashem. So while I am sure it is a problem, it is NOT a problem across the board. As for shidduchim, there are stigmas attached to many things, not only for children of ba'alei teshuva. Anyone who cannot accept and deal with different lifestyles, cannot appreciate the value of ba'alei teshuvas and their families. The truth is as well, that with marriage problems so pervasive today, it is probably a better recipe for success when the husband and wife come from similar backgrounds. That is not a slur or insult it is just practical advice.


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12. To Comment #3     7/18/08 - 2:54 PM
Nachum

A few points have to be made:

1. We're not talking about ba'alei teshuva here, but their kids. Do you mean to imply you'd treat *them* differently?

2. Even if you mean ba'alei teshuva, you're still not acting correctly. Your justification of "times are different" is precisely the one condemned at the end of the article.

3. Maybe I'm too Modern, but the tone of your post seems to suggest your kids have no say in the matter.


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13. re 13     7/18/08 - 4:11 PM
anonymousfornow

Re 1. I guess I shouldn't have read it on erev Shabbos, I thought there was a reference to marrying BTs. Re 2. FFBs have just as many issues. The reason I mentioned times are changing is because there are new issues, or exacerbations of old ones. If anyone with serious background issues was presented as a shidduch, and after consultation with appropriate people I had reservations, I would just have to say, it may be the right one but not now. When they're this young they don't need the extra pressures this presents. Re 3. My children do have a say, but respect our judgment. Something totally unrelated to BT, FFB, etc. came up, we said no to the shidduch and the child really respected where we were coming from.

My apologies if anyone was offended by what I wrote and gut Shabbos.


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14. Wrong!     7/18/08 - 5:29 PM
Anonymous

The writer of this article is wrong. To collectively damn the entire hareidi world -- on both sides of the Atlantic, it patently false. To accuse us of a shadowy caste system is simply not at all true.

As a BT, I can say with joy that I have teachers, friends, and students who are FFB. There are no issues there. My children are friendly with children of FFBs and BTs, and there is no difference. In over 20 years of being frum, I have NEVER experienced (and have never heard of) such maasim.

Let's focus on the overwhelming good that we possess, and stop flagellating ourselves.


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15. Kiruv "at arms length"     7/18/08 - 5:33 PM
Benzion Twerski

This is another one of the shortcomings of our community that is being painfully exposed in print. As I have witnessed this occurring in certain communities and schools, I am sure that there are exceptions where the criteria are more lax. I have witnessed some of the “kiruv at-arms-length” that exists within the Chabad community, and this has had difficult results, to say the least. Conversely, I have also seen mainstream Chabad families who welcome baalei teshuvah families into their own with shidduchim between their families. I have heard comments about the strange phenomenon of considering a baal teshuvah family for mechutanim, and the facial reactions that accompany this.

I cannot cite chapter and verse, but the Steipler Gaon (found in his sefer Chayei Olam) discusses the subject of accepting shidduchim to mainstream families of baalei teshuvah or their children. The question, as I recall, refers specifically to the statement in the gemora about bnai niddah being “pegumim” or blemished. He specifically advises that we not alienate this community, and that we bring them into our mainstream. I do not have the sefer handy, but I recommend checking what he stated as his reasoning.

I will also report a vignette that occurred many years ago with the Bobover Rebbe R’ Shlomo ZT”L. There was apparently a bochur who was a baal teshuvah who sought to enter the yeshiva in Bobov. A member of the hanhala was involved who approached the Rebbe and inquired whether he should be accepted, as he is a baal teshuvah. The Rebbe replied, “So what is wrong with being a baal teshuvah?” The question was reframed, and addressed the fact that Bobov did not have as its derech to get involved in kiruv rechokim. The Rebbe reframed his reply, “Is the bochur functioning at the level that he can learn with his age group peers?” Yes. “Then why should we deny him the opportunity?”

The pattern, where it does exist, of ostracizing the baalei teshuvah families is an ultimate thorn in the kiruv movement, since we have invested so many hours and mesiras nefesh to be mekarev only to then put forward the greatest rejections. These policies need considerable reworking. They reek of the approach of yeshivos “only for metzuyonim” that sends horrible messages that the average will never be accepted or tolerated.

Just think – the Netziv would have been rejected from nearly all of our yeshivos. That price is really steep. Are we so convinced that accepting a child from a baal teshuvah family is so corrupting? Can we prove that? Or are we just jumping onto the egotistical railroad for yeshivos?

I would like to see this topic being addressed specifically in the kiruv movement, perhaps at an AJOP convention. It is real, and it deserves to be fixed.


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16. what about the rest of the jewish people??!!     7/19/08 - 10:31 PM
Anonymous

if this is a problem in the frum world....what about the rest of the jewish people? i guess a rabi akiva wouldn't be accepted either; nor would his emphasis on v'ahavata lereacha kamocha. in all the hassidic stories that i read about greats like the besht, reb nachman, levi yitzhak etc they all emphasized ahavas yisroel.

what the heck is going on and how can we solve it??!!


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17. and we're moving to one of these places next month!     7/20/08 - 1:23 AM
Harry's mom

At least I know what to look for, as far as BT 'discrimination'. I'm so glad we're renting (instead of buying a house), just in case we need to pack up and go somewhere else for the sake of our kids!! I want to cry...


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18. Factual inaccuracy     7/20/08 - 2:56 PM
Anonymous

>>“The ‘real’ true-blue Chabadniks send their boys to Ohalei Torah in Crown Heights. You won’t find too many children of ba’alei teshuva there. There’s a word for that: segregation,” she said. <<

This is flatly untrue. There are two main schools in Crown Heights which 90-95% of all boys attend (the others attract a clientèle unrelated to the issue of BT vs FFB) Both reflect the community demographics.

The main girl's school accepts all comers. Both of my daughters went to "top" Chabad seminaries - and both had daughters of BTs in their classes.

I can't speak to what happens in other communities, but if this comment is typical of the level of accuracy of the rest of the article, then it's not worth much.

I don't claim that issues don't exist. But making up stuff or grossly exaggerating is at best unproductive, and at worst counter productive.


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19. Deep Roots     7/20/08 - 3:05 PM
CB

"...this brutal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews by hareidim is a relatively new phenomenon.."

This particular manifestation may be a relatively new phenomenon, owing to the fact that the proliferation of Ba'alei Teshuva, kein yirbu, is a relatively new phenomenon. But the root of the problem—the elitism that we have been discussing for weeks here—most definitely is not.

Here's a shocking example:

In a recent book, the biography of a significant personality within the Beis Yaakov movement in Europe and later in America, the author describes "a home for Bais Yaakov girls fleeing Russia that had been established by the Agudah" in Vilna in 1940. The author then continues:

"The tired new refugees were unaware of how many girls who were not Bais Yaakov girls had tried to worm their way in... The administrators... were on guard, wary of young women who might be coming just for a free ride and would at the same time be a negative influence on the girls already there."

In Lithuania.

In 1940.

Unfortunately, not much has changed.

We've still got it backward, thinking that by excluding Jews who are not up to our "high standards" we will at least ensure our own survival. It is exactly this attitude that is the "negative influence" we should all be afraid of. It is this attitude that rips the very fabric of Klal Yisrael and virtually assures us that we will not get out of this very long and painful galus on our own merits.

Hashem once destroyed the entire world due to sins between man and man, and once refrained from doing so due to the unity among men who were in the midst of an attempted rebellion against Hashem Himself!

It is clear what Hashem values ABOVE ALL ELSE. Why are we still so confused?


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20. Biased Article     7/20/08 - 5:23 PM
David in Yerushalayim

I’ve been a BT for 30 years and married for 25 years in Israel; my wife is also BT. My children have always been well accepted in the litvishe cheder and Bais Yaakov, they get along great socially in the chareidi neighborhood we live in, and so on.

Additionally, we’ve been hearing very good shidduchim for the older children that are a “catch,” in terms of their talents and abilities (although we have some other grown-up children with really big issues).

I think the main point is that we invested deeply in becoming fluent in Torah knowledge and we believe in and accept the community’s goals and passions.

This article, based on anecdotal evidence, is skewed, and heavily influenced by the author's prejudices. You could write horror stories all day about any community under the sun if that’s what you set out to do.

I could write an equally convincing article about the chesed of the frum community and how so many frum people did so much to advance my wife and I, and our family, over the years; about dozens of BT’s I know personally who are marrying their children to the children of roshei yeshivos and mashgichim, and yes, chassidishe rabbonim!

Of course there’s room for improvement, but I wouldn’t degrade an entire community based on such flimsy hearsay evidence.

Furthermore, R. Harry, this statement is problematic: >In light of prevailing attitudes, that is something for any potential BT or Ger to think about when considering becoming observant.

You can’t equate the choice of a ger to that of a Baal Teshuvah. The ger need not convert, he’s perhaps even better off as a ben Noach. However, a potential BT is just as obligated to keep mitzvos as you are. You can say this may affect his choice of what community to choose, but not “when considering becoming observant”!


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21. why so surprised?     7/20/08 - 6:10 PM
The Hedyot - daashedyot@gmail.com

I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised about this. Any perceptive member of the frum world has surely noticed this for many years already. At best, BT's are admired, yet considered "different." At worst, the peculiar mannerisms of their frumkeit are quietly mocked among the FFB's, and they themselves are kept at a safe distance.

Putting aide the issue of potential negative influences, I've always felt the underlying mistrust of the BT is for a different reason altogether: The BT has proven by his very act of becoming frum that he is not cowed into conformity by society. But the chareidi community is in many respects all about conformity. They do not value independent thinkers. They do not want people to stand up and do their own thing. So even though he has signed up for their team and claims to subscribe to their values, there will always be a lingering suspicion and mistrust. After all, he's already proven once before that he is willing to buck the crowd. Maybe he'll do it again?

Another factor that comes into play is that the fervent idealism which BT's often bring to their Judaism reflects quite poorly on FFB's whose religious practice is so devoid of any sincere devotion. It's no surprise that people who practice a shallow and superficial religion would resent a newcomer whose deep spiritual intensity holds a very ugly mirror up to their perfunctory lifestyle.


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22. Perhaps it's better the way it is.     7/20/08 - 7:14 PM
shoshi

I have been a BT for around 20 years now. At the beginning, I was very disappointed when people shunned me, I could not believe that people who would invite me for shabbes would never consider me for a shidduch.

Now, I came to the conclusion that it is perhaps better the way it is.

Who says that it is all that desirable to have your children enrolled in schools where they learn just torah and nothing else?

Are they not better equipped for their future if I give them something from the culture I grew up in (e.g. science, college education, etc).

On the long run, I think that FFBs make more sacrifices than BTs.

FFBS don't get a proper secular education, wich makes them very vulnerable on the job market. I know many of them who are out of work.

FFB's parents have to invest a lot of money in the "torah education" of their children.

FFBs are denied many choices and opportunities that BTs have.

Therefore I do not bear too much of a grudge. If they do not want me, I will not crash the gates.


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23. Well said, deas hediot,     7/20/08 - 7:21 PM
shoshi

YEs, this was one of the great disappointments of my "tshuva".

To find out that the Torah world was so conformistic, often racist and intolerant.

And of course you cannot trust a BT for this very reason.


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24. arrogance and ignorance     7/20/08 - 7:58 PM
shoshi

But as far as the attitude towards shidduchim with BT or BT's children is concerned, I think this is just an sub-group of a problem I would call "arrogance and ignorance".

And I think that this attitude of "arrogance and ignorance" does more harm to the ffb than to the BT.

Because they live in permanet fear of things that could damage their chances in shidduchim.

You have a down syndrome child? Hide it, or it will be bad for shidduchim Your daughter suffers from diabetes? Hide it, or it will be bad for shidduchim. Your couple does not work? Do not divorce, it could be bad for shidduchim.

So who wants to live a life like this?


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25.     7/20/08 - 8:16 PM
Disappointed

I recently wrote a comment about this problem. I am a BT that recently moved away from the yeshivish neighborhood to a non-yeshivish non-chareidi neighborhood. I AM A HAPPY JEW NOW!!!!!!!

It's all true. It is extremely sad. But it is all true.

I can not forgive them, not for what they did to me or my husband, but how they treated my children.

For all those who think this just can not be true, stop being naive, open your eyes, and if you want to see it you will. I lived in a building with many yeshiva couples who invited each other for Shabbos meals, had all kinds of Shabbos get-togethers, and it was as if we didn't exist. The one thing that hurt me every year was a Purim party. Every year smne. would host a Purim party in their apartment & it was as if "beshita" they would not invite us. These are just some minor things, there were terrible comments that came our way, my husband & I swallowed everything, we looked the other way, until it came to my children. That is where it had to be stopped. One fine sunny day, when my son came home crying from a chareidi yeshiva, he was called terrible names because of who his parents were, my husband & I went to yeshiva & exactly like it says in the article, the principal smiled & said he would take care of it (like he did numerous times before) & did nothing about the problem. That same day we went to a different neighborhood (non-yeshiva) & looked at houses, bought the 3rd house we saw & moved away, away, away.

I understand that everything is from Hashem, maybe it was part of my teshuvah process that I had to be humiliated, embarrassed, disrespected, etc. , but not when it came to my children.

I can not forgive them for treating my children that way.


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26. If they don't want you, move right along     7/20/08 - 9:43 PM
Anonymous

A lot of truth in it, but I am not particularly fussed. I am an FFB, but a BT in my heart since I am always trying to improve myself and grow in my relationship to Hashem.

Anyone who becomes frum did so to improve themselves. If that means they are a cut above FFB mindsets, then so be it. In the eyes of the establishments, BTs are the bottom of the barrel when it comes time for shidduchim. But to discriminating Jews (and I count myself among such), the dynamic among us tend to be converts or BTs. I want my kids to marry dynamic people.

In the immortal words of every mother: "If they don't want to play with you, then they are not good enough to be your friend."


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27.     7/23/08 - 2:56 PM
Anonymous

Personal question for Rabbi Horowitz.

I've seen many articles in mainstream Jewish magizines about the plight of the BT and how to treat them, and make it easier for them (the JO had many in the late 80's).

This article is clearly biased and focused on badmouthing frum people.As you can note yourself not one poster above seem to be motivated to help BT's as a result of this article, many just furthered the articles clear agenda to just bash frum people/yiddishkeit.

Assuming you don't share that agenda (as I would like to believe, but am finding it increasingly difficult to do so)why did you choose this specific article to highlight the plight of BT's?

Couldn't you have found a more goal oriented one?

Couldn't you have written one yourself with your own proposals if you don't like the exsisiting articles on helping BT's?

Why did you need to publish an article so obviously hostile to frumkeit itself if you are really looking to help strengthen it?


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28. to Harry's Mom and disappointed     7/23/08 - 3:03 PM
tb

My comments disappeared around the time this blog did, so I'm not sure the connection. In a nutshell, be careful where you choose to live. While we can't change this problem immediately, we do have to be aware and choose communities like Passaic and Far Rockaway where people can feel more comfortable. Out of NY is always a better option. The reality is that the Baalei Teshuva are not properly prepared for this reality because the people who advise them either don't want to admit the problem or hope it will all work out. Frummer is better so the more Chareidi the neighborhood, the better. For Baalei TEshuva, the more eclectically frum the neighborhood, the warmer the neighborhood the better. I think this is the most proactive suggestion one can make right now. It will also make it easier on them for schools and possibly Shidduchim, later on.


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29. BTs and the system     7/24/08 - 5:03 AM
Yardena - EY

None of my BT friends in have experienced this in their schools. Nor have I, but that could well be because of the make-up of the schools we send our kids to: The faculty members are a mix and you have ex-army BTs working alongside very meyuchas FFBs and everything in between, and the student body is the same. Many of my friends send to mainstream haredi schools. That the article implied that Mrs. Meizlik's experience is the usual is not fair to the hundreds of schools who DON'T do what her school did.

That said, I HAVE heard of this happening. Where? In the Chassidish, Yiddish-speaking schools. Note that Meizlik said:"The husband wears a long black coat and a streimel; the children are sweet and have long side curls, are raised to be modest and G-d-fearing, in homes without newspapers or a computer; good pure hareidi children—until they reach school age.”

This sounds like BTs who went the Chassidish route. It's understandable that many BTs think the Chassidish life is a dream come true, a way to give your children all the purity and beauty they missed growing up in shmutzy Western society. Also, when you study Chassidus, it is so very beautiful. What many of those BTs don't realize is that the Chassidish life today is much more cultural rather than idealogical, as it used to be. They don't realized how protective it is, and they SHOULD be told. What happened to Mrs. Meizlik what was cruel, but it was also wrong to dupe her family from the beginning. Today's brand of Chassidus has a strong emphasis on dress, Yiddish, your external behavior, your friends, etc. (By the way, many Chassidish schools here are also very reluctant to accept even the most charedi Americans for the same reasons.) But on the other hand, BTs need to realize that the Yerushalmi lifestyle is not attainable, regardless of your level of yiras shamayim, because it's not about that. Israeli Chassidim rely very heavily on their families to maintain their standards and BTs just don't have that. We just don't.

If American FFB chassidim in a school of THEIR OWN Chassidus feel pressure (and many admit that they do), all the more so BTs.

I know of one Chassidish school that suddenly told all the girls not to be friends with the daughters from a BT family anymore, but they did not tell the daughters that they'd done this, and the daughters were hurt and confused as to why all their friends were suddenly snubbing them. Even worse, this school had a rule that you could only associate with your cousins or girls from the school, so the BT girls did not have ANY friends for a short while during that period. They are really lovely girls and are still shomer Shabbos, but not so much else now.

At the boys' school of that same Chassidus, there were the sons of Eastern European BTs who wanted to go back to the Chassidus of their grandparents before Communism had taken over. The Rebbe reluctantly allowed it based on the argument: "My grandfather was loyal Chassid of your grandfather! How can you allow your school to deny us entry?" But in the end, the teachers there allowed the other boys to gang up physically on the sons of the BT family on a daily basis until the family removed their children from the school and left that city.

We see that "frummer" and even speaking Yiddish, doesn't reflect accurately on middos. BTs should stop trying to aim for the moon - it doesn't really exist in they way that they think. (I'm a BT and I used to think that way to, until I saw the truth.) We need to go where we are accepted, where middos are key, and stop thinking that Chassidish, or Yeshivish, or Yiddish is intrinsically better. Those are externals. For example, some Yiddish-speakers are full of refinement and some aren't.

My personal experience with Israeli Chassidim and Yerushalmis and Yeshivish has been very positive. I've found them very open to chutznikim and BTs, etc. They'll be friends with you, no problem. It's when you decide to join their group that they put on the pressure to maintain their standards EXACTLY. The problem is that when you can't, they go into panic-mode rather than problem-solving-mode and that's when things get ugly.

I don't mean to be trite, but it really is okay to be different. If Hashem wanted me to be FFB, he would've put me in that home. As it is, I am a charedi mother whose own mother wears pants and drives on Shabbos. My siblings are all married out. My kids have a relatioship with them and are therefore exposed to secular things that their FFB counterparts are not exposed to. If, due to intermarriage, most of your cousins (or your grandparents) aren't even Jewish, then that will make you a little different than your FFB friend from Monsey. So what? We're doing the best we can, and that's what counts. And we won't try to get accepted into a community/school/shidduch that can't handle us.


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30.     7/24/08 - 9:06 AM
Anonymous

Yardena; you said it better than anyone else yet! This is an old phenomenon, and the reasons for it are more cultural than anything else. For better or worse, people have to take it as is, and it don't attempt to change a system which is not their to change. GO somewhere else!


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31. Distinctions     7/24/08 - 10:30 AM
Benzion Twerski

I would add a note of caution to drop the distinctions between “chassidish”, “litvish”, “yeshivish”, and the like. While there may be a drop of meaning to these labels, they are actually artificial these days. One may observe quite a number of “litvish” roshei yeshivos who conduct a “tish” and have followers that mark their every move. There are also “chassidishe” rebbes who say shiurim. The lines of demarcation are fading, and today there are no real “Chassidim” or “Misnagdim” in the sense that these existed many generations ago. Earlier comments drew attention to midos and avodas Hashem as the relevant issues, and the externals have little to do with them.

About the only issue that truly distinguishes these categories is that certain chassidishe communities operate to a degree as “kehilos”. In a kehila, the institutions (beis hamedrash, shul, chevra kadisha, yeshivos, hachnosas kallah, gemach, etc.) are obligated to serve the needs of the kehila’s members. If someone is a longstanding member of a chassidishe kehila, the mosdos have an obligation to accept their children. This is a rule with exceptions, and I have not a doubt that not all chassidishe kehilos operate the same, but this feature is quite different from most “litvishe” or “yeshivishe” schools that are essentially free enterprises and belong to no one but their administrations. There may be some interesting sociological debate about the merits or disadvantages of the kehila issue, but it does appear that the philosophy of “no child left behind” appears more in tune with these kehila based mosdos.


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32. support for comment 19     7/24/08 - 11:55 AM
Anonymous

“The ‘real’ true-blue Chabadniks send their boys to Ohalei Torah in Crown Heights. You won’t find too many children of ba’alei teshuva there. There’s a word for that: segregation,” she said.

How absurd. As the person commenting in #19 noted, if this statement reflects the accuracy of the rest of the article, then we are wasting our time.

Those baalei teshuva whose children are not in Oholei Torah, but in Lubavitch Yeshiva, whether on Ocean Pkwy or in Crown Heights, CHOSE to send their children there! They COULD have sent their children to Oholei Torah, which is a community school and does not reject anyone, but CHOSE NOT TO!

Could very well be the reason is that Oholei Torah has ZERO, NONE, NO secular studies. Or simply because Oholei Torah has up to five parallel classes per grade and Lubavitch Yeshiva is smaller.


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33. What works?     7/24/08 - 2:18 PM
tb

This conversation and especially Yardena's comment, caused me to have an epiphany about all of these community problems that we talk about here. What if all of us just focused on what works instead of what we "should" be doing and what "seems best." What if we looked at the facts (and for the purposes of this discussion, it would mean that Baalei Teshuva would have to be presented with the facts by their Rabanim) and said: "Look, here's what works most of the time." There is a secular pop psychologist who asks his clients: "So, how's that working for you?" If we define "what works" as living a meaningful, productive, happy life of Torah and providing that for our children , then we would have to approach each of our life decisions (marriage, schools, communities, troubled youth) with that in mind and set out to find out from community leaders and Rabanim what actually is working. If, in this example, new Baalei Teshuva were provided with the stats of "what will work" then they will make better choices and that would mean shifts in demographics so that more Baalei Teshuva would live in more mixed-Frum neighborhoods. The warm, open ones would grow and grow so everyone gains. If parents of challenging children were shown "what works" at early ages, then they would be putting their children in appropriate schools and those schools would grow and grow. Perhaps then there would be more demand for more accepting and responsive Yeshivos (not just the default Yeshiva for kids who are already very troubled) and everyone would gain. Why can't we be more open with each other, why can't we spell out somehow "What works" even if it isn't politically correct.


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34. This is not for AJOP - It's for the next Agudah Convention     7/24/08 - 3:29 PM
saddened by this

Rabbi Twerski,

Most if not all the people at an AJOP convention are not part of this. They are either Baalei Teshuva who are now renowned kiruv professional are they are very close to and respectful with the BT world. Telling them about this is preaching to the choir.

A much better idea would be to have someone who is respected by the Yeshivish/Chassidish olam, perhaps Rav Mattisyahu, perhaps the Noveminsker Rebbe, perhaps another famous respected Godol, speak about this at the next National Agudah convention.

I know there is truth in this article - just yesterday I learned of a really horrible policy was set that I can't disclose. I wish I could write it here, but I would get in trouble, perhaps lose my job. I tried to intervene and I got nowhere. The place to speak about this, if you want it to make some waves is at the next National Agudah Convention.


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35. bridging the gap with our brethren     7/25/08 - 6:59 AM
Yardena - EY

I really, really like tb's solution and Dr. Twersky's call to drop the distinctions. And I agree that people who work with BTs need to start leveling with them.

Just as a point of optimism: I think there are already positive changes occuring because I noticed that the BTs currently coming out of the same seminary I went to have retained their own mind and personality more than my peers and I did when we came out of there. To use tb's terminology, we focused on "should" and they are more focused now on "what works". When I told one of my old roommates this, she said, "Thank Gd! I really hope they are doing things differently because there have been so many divorces among the girls we learned with there!" So I think (hope!) that things are already changing.

I also want to add something to what I wrote earlier about the Eastern European BTs who were run out of their cheder: One of the cheder's rebbes did NOT allow the BT son in his class to be harrassed by anyone. Therefore, the family was able to allow that child to remain in that school until they found another place even when they took the rest of their boys out. Regardless of the school's policy and social pressure, this rebbe used his point of bechira and personal responsibility to follow Hashem's REAL will, and not the will of some panic-stricken lemmings. He is following in the original ideaology of his Chassidus. We need to really drill into our heads that fear, outside of "fear of Heaven", is not a Jewish value.

In support of tb's solution: We should take note that the gap between BTs and FFBs will only grow, so we need to start dealing with the differences now. More and more BTs are the children of intermarriage, and even biracial. There are also more geirim than ever before. (And because of all this, we already need to watch our mouths with comments like "shvartz" "puerto rican shower" and "goyishe kopf", which was never refined language befitting Bnei Melech to begin with). More and more are going to have 3 non-Jewish grandparents and only 1 Jewish one.

One teacher I knew who had an excellent reputation in NY did horrible damage when he took a position out-of-town at the only Orthodox high school in that state. Little did he know before he went on an anti-goy tirade while teaching the class, about a third of them had two or three non-Jewish grandparents with whom they got along quite well! One of the students was a ger himself as his parents had converted when he was two, and he was terribly hurt by the comments. (Actually, he was pre-Bar Mitzvah and technically still not Jewish, although living a totally Orthodox life, so the comments were more like a knife in his heart.) "My grandmother isn't Jewish and she likes us a lot! She doesn't want us dead at all!" shouted one. Another said, "My grandmother isn't Jewish but she keeps the kitchen kosher so we can visit whenever we want!"

When I became frum, I'd never heard of the daytime Shabbos seuda, but now there are more and more Jews who don't know the concept of Shabbos meals-or Shabbos- at all. More and more only know about Chanukah - maybe Pesach. The detested afternoon Hebrew school/Sunday school of my youth, which at least taught us Hebrew, is fading out and more and more BTs are needing to learn Hebrew in their twenties. With assimilated Jews growing up in a culture that legalizes gay marriage, and considers euthanasia and late-term abortion to be a form of mercy, and is increasingly anti-Israel, those of us who are already frum are going to have our hands full bridging the gap. So we need to get our heads on straight about this now.


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36. Harry Potter: pure and impure!!!     7/25/08 - 7:23 AM
Sarah

and let´s not speak about converses.... What about Abraham? Sarah? Rut?


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37. To TB     7/27/08 - 3:30 AM
CB

There will always be narrow-minded and improperly educated people out there who simply feel threatened by the thought of doing anything—or being associated with anyone who does anything—politically incorrect. Living anywhere where people are discouraged from independent thought is a danger to everyone, not only the BT.

But I have noticed a slow but encouraging trend where I live: My community is growing up. More and more of us are, as you say, looking for what works, even if that means different things for different children, even if it means being politically incorrect.

And you know something? After the initial pioneers (G-d bless them!) blazed their new trails, and suffered mightily for it on behalf of the rest of us, the idea of blazing a new trail has slowly (very slowly, but surely nonetheless) begun to seem less threatening to some. It has even begun to garner respect.


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38. CB     7/27/08 - 5:54 PM
tb

I hope what you are describing in your community is part of a larger trend.


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39. to TB     7/28/08 - 2:17 AM
CB

Amen.


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40. Responsibility     7/30/08 - 1:37 PM
Sherree

I think it is important to understand the responsibility of the Kiruv movement. It is not enough to bring Jews back into the fold then drop them. They need to be passed over to caring, compassionate and understanding people who can weave them into normal frum society and work these issues through. This situation is UNACCEPTABLE!! And when WE stop accepting it, we might be able to make a change for our brothers and sisters.

I just want to point out some of the results of this type of sinas chinom and abuse. The second generation of BT has bechirah just as their parents did. The parents chose to be BT and come back to yiddishkeit! The second generation, children of BT's who are actually FFB's are so disheartened and dissallusioned by the way they are shunned and treated that many of them "choose" to go back to the secular ways that their parents came from. So we wind up losing twice as many yiddin if not more than those we brought back. I speak from experience of some of my clients who were in this position. The children when they were in their teens and twenties just gave up and said what does yiddishkeit mean actually? If these so called "frumies" can treat other Jews like this, then the religion is just a big hypocricy!


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41. Hard To Imagine, But...     7/31/08 - 1:12 AM
JN - Passaic

It is hard for me to imagine that so much of what I'm reading here is really true. On the other hand, I also feel that there is a general level of insanity and idiocy out there that is mind-boggling.

I believe I have a unique perspective, having been part educated in a chassidic, litvish, and mizrachi yeshivas and having grown up in Brooklyn but in an out-of-the-way area that could've just as well been been Kalamazoo.

Bad midos are so epidemic, from the very 'top' and down. Some quick examples:

1. When my shul sent out letters to all members that if anyone owes ANY (!!) money at all they can't come for the Yomin Noroim w/o first calling. When I protested this outrage and Chillul Hashem (yes, I know it takes serious money to run a shul), I was told to take a hike. This from a rabbi who piously drivels on about 'kiruv rechokim'. So now my entire family stays as far as we can from the place and if I had nowhere else to go I'd definitely daven at home and take my chances explaining to Hashem why I chose to do so.

2. A 3rd-party offered me a lift from Manhattan with a leading local ('Yeshivish') rabbi. Against my usual better judgement, I accepted. For the next 20 minutes I sat, totally ignored, while the rabbi listened to the super-liberal NPR. Then, in the rain, requested that I walk the final few blocks to my house instead of just taking me to my door.

3. I challenge anyone to sit in the parking lot of the local 'QuickCheck' and compare the percentages of the types of people who hold the door open a second or two for the person behind them. Enough said! And while you're at it, if it's a busy shopping day, see how many frum people park at QC yet go shop at the nearby kosher supermarket -- openly flouting the signs that say it is forbidden.

4. See how many frum people , at the end of a bus line, jump on to the 2nd bus instead of waiting for those who were there first to get on first (sometimes two buses arrive simultaneously and the 2nd one opens its doors while people are still boarding the first).

5. Count the number of people talking obnoxiously loud on their cell phones on the crowded bus to the city or have conversations across rows, sometimes even regarding things that are better kept in the community or that arouse jealousy and hatred in others.

6. I recall eating in the home of a very influential member of the frum world during the CH riots in the early 90's and realizing, to my horror, that there were a number odf people at the table who actually seemed to relish the trouble Lubavitch was in. On top oof that, I heard a caller from Lakewood, complete with a strong Yeshivshe accent, state how thrilled he was (!!!).

I could go on and on but I think my point is made. Add to that the foolish and costly mishegas that is so prevalent: The emphasis on expensive black hats, matching clothing for siblings, men dressing shabbosdik every day of the week - even when mowing the lawn or exercising, and on and on.

I give thanks every day that I was able to see where things were heading a few years back and take a big step back and separate myself, mentally if not physically, from the mad rush off the cliff.


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42. shidduchim     7/31/08 - 7:24 AM
A Jewish Mother

My husband and I have been frum for over twenty years now, since before we were married. We live slightly out of town, and send our children to the most yeshivishe school here. We were one of the first baal-teshuvah families to send there, but have overall been well-accepted, since we made no complaints. Now the school is inundated with children of BT's, which I personally think can only help the school be forced to improve in the areas which it definitely needs improvement (Can you say teach the children proper grammar?:) Perhaps they'll also get rid of the rebbe who grabs and potches). With regard to shidduchim, which will im yirtzeh H" start in a few years, we really have no desire to seek out matches with FFB's, because we've seen clearly that yichus does not equal middos, plain and simple. We don't want the pressure of the scrutiny they would put us under and the feeling of being forced to try to "fit in" all the time. We are definitely considered yeshivishe, our children go to real yeshivas and seminaries, but we come from a different background and our children will likely marry someone from a similar background. What's the problem, and why do so many Bt's feel like that''s rejection? If anything, we might be guilty of rejecting FFB's---of course, unless a beautiful shidduch is proposed to an FFB, and everything else seem right except for the fact that they are an FFB!


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43. "Al ze hayah daveh libenu..."     8/3/08 - 3:39 AM
Anonymous - brooklyn, ny

Our mekoros teach that a wise person readily welcomes musar as an opportunity for growth, while a fool reflexively responds by formulating defenses and resenting the critic.

Rabbosai--shall we choose to respond by invalidating the messenger and denying his claim? Or, perhaps, innocent though we may indeed be, shall we marshall the compassion which is the hallmark of G-d Himself and ask ourselves how we can possibly help alleviate the pain of a Yid? Whether we as a community stand guilty exactly as charged appears irrelevant; the questions we should be asking concern how we as a kehillah might best heighten awareness, increase sensitivity, and seek appropriate solutions to problems that remain real though they may not be our very own or prevalent within our particular communities.

The argument that opening our communal doors to fine children from homes permeated by a she-ifa for spiritual growth because the tumaah of a distant relative who may listen to distasteful music would corrupt our own children's connection to Hashem appears a transparent cover for snobbism and neurosis. Our mekoros consistently indicate that, with few exceptions, Hashem's most stringent standards of judgement are applied in transgressions bein adom lechaveiro. Oy lanu--woe to a generation who turns a cruel, deaf ear to the cries of our fellow Jews.

Outreach volunteers who walk the slick midnight streets of the kids-at-risk and adults-at-risk underworld would attest that few, if any, abandon derech haTorah as a result of exposure to the perspective of individuals who have read and studied secular or even downright heretical sources. Rather, in nearly all cases, frum Yidden experience alienation as a direct result of unpleasant interactions with Jews who display insensitivity, judgmentalness , and, invariably, an intense concern with the letter of the law at the cost of its true spirit: darcheihah darchei noam vechol nesivosayhah shalom.


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44. Thank you Anonymous     8/3/08 - 12:39 PM
CB

Whether we as a community stand guilty exactly as charged appears irrelevant; the questions we should be asking concern how we as a kehillah might best heighten awareness, increase sensitivity, and seek appropriate solutions to problems that remain real though they may not be our very own or prevalent within our particular communities.

Thank you for the most lucid and uncomplicated presentation yet of the crux of all the issues that are being discussed on this blog!


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45. I agree, but I've seen both sides...     9/7/08 - 12:01 PM
Lana - Boro Park

I am a BT of 14 years and can attest that what is described by this author is true. I have experienced it myself. I also have to say that I have met and benefitted from many amazing and spiritual FFB families, who do not fit the description in the article above, wouldn't dream of excluding the children of BTs and would be horrified if their children did.

Having said that, I have to chime in with my own unpleasant experiences living as a BT in Borough Park. When my son was about to start school, I went around to a number of schools looking for a shidduch for him/us. I went to the Cheder in BP and made the mistake of telling the director that I was a BT. I didn't fathom (naively) that this was a problem partially because my husband was practically a ben bais at the home of this man's brother -he knew my husband and I believe this man was invited to our wedding.

Within seconds it was clear that neither I nor my son was welcome in the Cheder. I didn't even have a chance to discuss any tachlis. I filled out the application which was given to me reluctantly and never heard from them again. This, despite that we (and my husband for many years prior to our marriage) had been contributing money to the Cheder every year during their annual fundraising drive. That was the last year I gave any money to them and told the fundraiser point blank the following year when he called that I would not give money to this institution any longer because of the way I was treated.

Over the years, I was repeatedly told by Rabbonim and learned from experience, not to divulge the 'horrible secret' that I am a BT.

I remember distinctly being told passionately by numerous people as I was becoming frum how a BT stands on a higher madreiga than a tzaddik. These are the people that would not consider having a BT marry into their families. "Me thinks thou dost protest too much." There were those who would fight over having me as a Shabbos guest, but wouldn't dream of reciprocating by stepping into my house. I remember the face of one woman who, as I left her house, thanking her for having us for a Shabbos seuda, was shocked that I said "Maybe you'll come to us once for a seuda." I thought she would fall on the floor.

As for Shidduchim, I am not up to that with my son yet, but I remember what I went through. I actually think, for me anyway, marrying a BT with common reference points was a good idea. However, there was definitely a hierarchy. And there were the totally inappropriate shidduchim read - like a very Chassidish bachur from Williamsburg...Hmm... why would this shidduch be read to me? Could it maybe have something to do with the fact that this man was off the derech and his parents wanted to get him married off at all costs? These people obviously did not care to look at me as a person, only that I was a BT and therefore blemished.

These examples are very sad, indeed. Sometimes it makes me very angry and makes me want to ask these people: Do you really think you are better than me? Would you have the strength of character to (with Hashem's help) stop eating treif, turn your entire life around, break with your family of origin who think you have joined a cult and become frum. I don't think so! Then I remember the really holy people who have taken me in, taught me Yiddishkeit, made me a part of the family and have been there while I went through this process. And I calm down again.

I will say that the kiruv organizations do a great job of getting people interested and observing, but there is no sustained, ongoing support for newly observant individuals and families. The reason I got as much as I did (and it was still not sufficient) was because I was incredibly persistent and basically kept showing up on these people's doorsteps asking them to help me. It's not an easy process and there needs to be ongoing, structured support in the community for everything from picking a shul to dealing with school issues to integrating into a neighborhood.

That's what I would like to see.

Unfortunately, I think the chances of changing the attitudes described above are slim, kind of like changing the way people drive in Boro Park.

I agree that the best chance of having it change is for the gedolim to address it at the Agudah Convention and set an example themselves. Tall order, but we can hope and daven.


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46. to Lana     9/7/08 - 1:12 PM
tb

I appreciated your detailed and heartfelt description. I would like to directly question why a Kiruv professional or organization wouldn't try to steer a new BT into a community that would be more open and accepting like those out of town or in specific areas around the NY metro area (Kew Gardens, Passaic). This would be really practical. The fact that you started out in Boro Park is just mind-boggling to me and I believe must fall under my biggest complaint about those who advise new BT's: "Frummer is better." The more outwardly frum the neighborhood (i.e. Monsey, Boro Park, Flatbush, Lakewood) the better it will be for the Ruchnius of the Baal Teshuvah and his/her family. It's really not helpful to them.


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47. in a perfect world     9/7/08 - 1:15 PM
tb

Of course, in a perfect frum world all communities would be equally welcoming, but we don't live in that world and we should advise accordingly. We can hope for messages to be sent out at conventions by respected Rabanim, but the reality is that these are entrenched cultural defects and will not likely change quickly.


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48. Response to tb     9/8/08 - 11:29 AM
Lana - Boro Park

Thank your for your response. One point I would like to clarify: The Rav who was advising me at the time did recommend that I move to another neighborhood, but I never really understood why at the time. He never explained it to me, and I made my decision based on the overwhelming number of families that I had gotten close to in BP. I had gone to many different neighborhoods, Monsey, Queens, Far Rockaway, Crown Heights, the Lower East Side, Florida, etc. I literally had a support network set up in BP when I moved there. That is probably why I did as well as I have despite the obstacles. Chalk it up to naivete. I am older and wiser now. I probably would not make this choice if I had it to do over.


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49. Chasida Flanders     9/8/08 - 1:18 PM
Anonymous

Rather than knock the community of Boro Park, I will give two examples of women who have thrived in Boro Park.

1) I heard Chasida Flanders speak in Boro Park. Chasida is a convert, a black convert. A brilliant, spiritual woman. She was welcomed in Boro Park. Her daughter, who also converted, was accepted in Beis Bracha, a chassidishe school, and graduated from there and went on to teach in Pupa in Williamsburg in Yiddish!

Unlike BT's who may be able to hide their background, Chasida was not able to do that. Nevertheless, she has been a hit here.

2) My good friend moved to Boro Park from Florida when she was a fresh baalas teshuva. She has been living here for eight years and she will tell you how marvelous it has been, how people welcomed her with open arms, how many friends she has made, how many wonderful things she has gotten involved with, etc. and she has not hidden her past, nor would she have been able to.

Let's avoid the negative stereotypes tb.


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50. My Shocking Story     9/8/08 - 3:41 PM
Anonymous

For some strange reason which I have never been able to fathom, I always had a strong pull towards Yiddishkeit, to the extent that when I learnt about Shabos when I was 12 - from the Midrash says - I started trying to be "shomer"". This was very interesting to explain to my completely "fry" parents.

My interest in yiddishkeit grew into fullblown observance and b'h I found a most amazing rav, who took me in as a ben-bayit. He taught me gemara, and soon a new yeshiva opened up in my city - far from the mainstream yeshiva world. I was finishing off my actuarial studies at the time, but dedicated about half a day to learning, and b'h I was flying.

It's really not mitzad gaavah - I want to tell this story.

Soon I was learning in chavrusa with the Rosh Yeshiva, and after a while I decided I need to grow in Ertez Yisroel.(I'll throw in derech agav - I was told that Rav Kushalevski Shlita doesn't let BTs into his yeshiva. I didn't know this when I applied, so I didn't bring up the issue. After he verhered me he let me in just fine!)

This is when the fun started.

When you are in a complete community of BT's and you do well, then everyone is happy. When you try get into a mainstream yeshiva - things change a bit!!

I first tried Rav Shechter's Ner Moshe. I thought the "no" that my rosh yeshiva got was due to overcrowding. Unfortunately, when I got to EI, I bumped into a bochur from there and we got talking. When I told him my nationality, he said, "We had a guy from there who wanted to come here. The hanholla asked us if we wanted him , and we said no". That's a great entrance policy. Forget talent. Forget Torah. Just see what the oilam wants.

Then, a new yeshiva was opening up in Geulah. I was set up with the Rosh Yeshiva, and he was very impressed with my chidush, so he let me in. Pity, when I arrived, no one would talk to me, never mind learn with me.

I remember going to a bochur, at the Rosh Yeshiva's behest, and asking him to consider a chavrusa. He just told me to go away. I asked him if he would like to try once just to see if it would work. I didn't merit an answer. I left the yeshiva the next day. What do I need tzoras for?

B'h, after all this I found a most amazing Talmid Chocham, who welcomed me in, and an oilam who followed suit.

I thought, when I became frum, that I needed to join frum society to grow. In a way, it was true. I never could have got anywhere in learning without it. And, b'h, I found an amazing oilam to learn with, and a rebbe that I can learn from. But, the utter lack of bein adam lçhaveiro that I experienced, because Hashem caused me to be born in a "fryer" family, leaves me hurt beyond words.


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51. the odds     9/8/08 - 6:15 PM
tb

Anonymous, some of my favorite and most wonderful relatives come from Boro Park (to paraphrase the saying). I just think we should call a spade a spade and some communities are more welcoming and easier to be comfortable in, to find a Shul, school, Shidduch for Baalei Teshuva. Same with Yeshivos as the commenter above illustrates. It is a reality. If someone needs to live in a certain place, hopefully Hashem will give them the Seyata Dishmaya to find kind, open Frum people and schools. If they don't need to be there, they shouldn't roll the dice. The odds are stacked against them. I won't back off that truth.


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52. to anonymous 51     9/8/08 - 11:18 PM
tb

I'm sorry about your experiences and I'm glad you had good ones too. I am so happy you put the word "frei" in quotes. It is a demeaning and inappropriate label. It is inexcusable that anyone would choose to use it to refer to our wonderful fellow Jews who have holy Neshamos just like us and whose Cheshbon is determined only by Hakodosh Baruch Hu.


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53. frei     9/9/08 - 9:27 AM
Anonymous

The early maskilim and those who left Yiddishkeit felt free (frei) and were proud of their choice and freedom and looked down on the primitive, rule-bound religious Jews despite the mishna which says that cheirus-freedom is achieved only through Torah.

I think the term is misapplied to those who are tinokim sh'nishbu, i.e. those who never received a proper Jewish education.


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54. Judge favorably applies to everyone     9/9/08 - 6:21 PM
tb

If we are going to make a guess about someone's personal Cheshbon (which we shouldn't do) why not guess in the Dan L'Kaf Zechus mode? When my kids ask why our neighbor drives on Shabbos, we say it's because some Jews are not lucky enough to go to Yeshiva and they don't know all the things they need to know. There are all kinds of Jews. If they want to know why we can't just tell them what they need to know, we answer that it's not that simple to change everything once you are grown-up. And--while the truth is there are many who don't want to live as we do, that shouldn't be in our Cheshbonos when we refer to other Jews. It's actually none of our business as long as we maintain a positive relationship with them. And how could we maintain a positive relationship with any of them if we dismiss them outright so coldly? Instead we need things like Project Inspire to get frum Jews to entertain the idea of opening a door to other Jews.


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55. Discrimination Against Sephardic Jews     10/24/08 - 12:49 AM
Mr. Hopeless - Brooklyn

All of the discrimination that happens to Baalei Teshuvah also happens to Sephardic Jews.

The Ashkenazic Baal Teshuvah is at the bottom of Frum society, but the Sephardic Baal Teshuvah is at the bottom of the bottom.

The Ashkenazic Baal Teshuvah may be able to temporarily fool people into believing that he is FFB if he dresses and speaks like they do, but the Sephardic Jew, with his darker skin, can never fool anyone.

A Sephardic Jew can attend an Ashkenazic synagogue, choose an Ashkenazic Rabbi to be his mentor, pray from an Ashkenazic siddur and have only Ashkenazic friends, but when it comes time for shidduchim or to send his children to yeshivah, he discovers that he will NEVER be accepted as normal.

Not understanding Yiddish is viewed as a devastating handicap, like a man who is missing an entire arm or leg. Admitting that your ancestors did not speak Yiddish is like telling people that your ancestors were apikuris homosexual mamzerim, and everyone knows that the grandson of a mamzer is also a mamzer.

All Sephardic Jews are considered to be semi-literate wife beaters who are probably not Jewish, and can not possibly marry Ashkenazic Jews under any circumstances. This applies even to Sephardic Jews who were born to Ashkenazic mothers.

I do not have enough time to fully describe the aggravation that comes from being both a Baal Teshuvah and Sephardic, so I will end with this true story:

In 1989, a 6 year old boy came home from yeshivah. His father asked him: What did you learn in school today? The child answered: Sephardim are not Jewish and Chassidim worship their Rebbes.


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56. I am a sephardi Jew & a ba'alat teshuvah     10/24/08 - 1:33 AM
Rachel J.

I hear what you are saying, BUT I don't think the two should mix, only because of cultural differences. I've lived among Ashkenazim most of my life & so did my husband, we know we are different, for the two reasons you have mentioned, B'H we are very comfortable in our own skin, I personally love being different, we don't have to be copies of each other, it is ok to look & be different, & if you feel discrimination from certain jews, let them know that you are OK, most people are nice & will appreciate you for what you are, we have our own sense of pride. There are all kinds of people out there, even some who are afraid of their own shadow, but remember it is their problem not ours. G-d created us sefaradim, & if they have a problem with it, let them take it up with G-d.

you mentioned about wife-beaters, I don't want to sound self-critical, but... we did have some, maybe not my generation, previous one. But you want to know smth., maybe by Ashkenazim it's the other way around ;) Also, don't forget that in previous generation they would give a painful "Zets" to boys in yeshivah, which is not done today. So, we've all come a long way.

Hatzlacha to us all.


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57.     10/24/08 - 10:40 AM
Anonymous

As a child of ba'alei teshuva in the litvishe velt, (and nevertheless surrounded by children of BTs,) I believe the majority of the problems reported are not caused by the fact that the person is a ba'al teshuva by itself but because the person (or parents) did not fully intergrate. Frum society is not known for celebrating diversity! Also it is true that often a BT's standards might be less than a FFB's, though it is inexcusable for principals to stereotype particularly when it is often the inverse. For the most part when it comes to admissions, most administrators would like to be the 'in' school. In general a BT does not have the connections that a FFB would have, specifically if it is a prestigious school it is possible that all its admissions are based on 'pull'. It is likely that in different areas condition vary, as some societies, particularly chassidishe, are more insular and focused on the cultural aspects of Yiddishkeit. I find it amusing that the 'harry' letter is quoted so often, as it is well know, and clear from the style of the letter, that it was not factual and only written to stir up controversy. I would speculate that most ffbs got the joke,albeit distasteful. Incidently,Rav Schechter's yeshiva was particularly elitist as it was attempting to achieve ivy league status on par with Brisk, so it's no shock that someone with an unusual resume couldn't get in. Many good bochurim from mainstream yeshivos also didn't. Also space is rather limited so people would prefer their friends. The reason that bochurim control admissions is because of the unusual way the yeshiva was set up in the first place.


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58. silly     10/26/08 - 5:40 PM
Anonymous

A Sephardic Jew can attend an Ashkenazic synagogue, choose an Ashkenazic Rabbi to be his mentor, pray from an Ashkenazic siddur and have only Ashkenazic friends, but when it comes time for shidduchim or to send his children to yeshivah, he discovers that he will NEVER be accepted as normal.

Maybe because you don't have self respect. Why aren't you attending a Sefardic minyan, praying from your own nusach, and learning from a sefardic mentor? Why are you an Ashkenazi-wannabe?

Not understanding Yiddish is viewed as a devastating handicap, like a man who is missing an entire arm or leg.

Oh please. My nephews learn in the Mirrer yeshiva in Brooklyn where they have cut out Yiddish. Plenty black hat yeshivos have dropped it. In Israel, my chareidi cousins don't know Yiddish except for the few who attended a certain yeshiva where they picked it up. Your exaggerations and inaccuracy don't help your cause.

In 1989, a 6 year old boy came home from yeshivah. His father asked him: What did you learn in school today? The child answered: Sephardim are not Jewish and Chassidim worship their Rebbes.

Says you. No name of a yeshiva. No name of the Rebbi who taught that.


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59. Mr. Hopeless     10/27/08 - 10:30 PM
tb

Mr. Hopeless, get out of Brooklyn, for goodness sakes! I know that this prejudice exists. I just heard young children in my own extended family say something horrible and completely inaccurate about Sephardim this past summer on a trip to Israel. I was shocked. I didn't realize how bad it is over there with regard to the feelings about Sephardim. It isn't actually as bad over here. But, I get your points and they are well-taken. Ignore anonymous above. I will concede one thing, Sephardim should not try to "pass" as Ashkenazim and take on their minhagim to "fit in." It's wrong. They should be proud of their own. Also, and don't stone me, it is better for those of us with specific cultural lifestyles and Minhagim to marry those similar to our own. That is why Chasidim really should marry Chasidim and so on. It just works better. That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions, but marriage can be challenging enough without huge culture gaps. That said, please move out of Brooklyn. It seems like it's poisoning your soul--happens to the best of us in places like that.


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60. why flee?     10/28/08 - 3:15 PM
Anonymous

Brooklyn has an enormous Sefardic community with shuls and schools. Why not be a part of it?


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61. good point     10/29/08 - 7:48 AM
tb

Good point, anonymous, but we probably don't have all the info we need here.


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62. Sad, yet true     1/31/09 - 11:37 PM
Geyores of color - out of town

It's late at night and I have read a lot of these comments.

I am speaking as an outsider. As a geyores and as a geyores of color. This is where I believe my position in the frum world is actually a beautiful one to have.

First, the kiruv movement does a disservice to the BT and the ger for not "warning " them of the ill-treatment they might receive.

Many of us gerim and BT learn yiddishkeit in the fun and safe environment of our college campuses. Our wonderful kiruv professionals never discuss:

the realities of being FRUM and sustaining that lifestyle in North America.

the high cost of raising a religious family

and the IMPORTANCE of "fitting in."

I feel that for myself, it is a great nes that I am still frum after 16 years (of being at it). Even though sometimes I have been treated like an "outsider." For the most part, rabbeim have treated me SUPER WELL, the schools have been fair and my children have friends.

I have a husband, a nice sized family and a big house. I really don't have much to complain about. My children go to yeshivishe schools where they are treated well. In fact, my children are on honor roll.

I believe that I was able to have these blessing precisely because of the decisions we made as a couple. We DID not choose a community where we wouldn't have a shot at being accepted. Yes, it is a grim FRUM reality that BT's may encounter discrimination. But it is a reality nonetheless.

And perhaps, I may be considered bottom of the heap because of my background and the color of my skin, but I REALLY DON'T CARE. I didn't come to frumkeit for status. I came to it because I saw a tremendous beauty and gift that been handed directly from Hash-m to the Jewish people. It is depressing to see precious time being wasted on shtoos.

And, this is what I teach my children. Live your yiddishkeit. Don't worry about making mistakes, worry about doing the right thing before Hash-m's eyes. Don't be a snob to other Jews if they have less or know less than you.

When the time comes for our children to get married, I would be less concerned about yeshivishe, litvishe, chassidishe, FFB or BT shidduch. How about something as basic as "good middos" ?


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63. To #63, Geyores of color     2/1/09 - 10:53 AM
Yardena - EY

Hi, you made some very important points and it sounds like, in spite of the challenges and disappointments, you are leading a fulfilling Torah life, and it sounds like you have a beautiful family that I would be thrilled to have my children marry into. Gerim like you are truly an asset and a blessing for Am Yisrael.


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64. Response to 63     2/1/09 - 12:20 PM
Sarah

As a Geyoret of color, I must agree with your comments. Unfortunately, I think that it is possible that children of gerim and children of color will see prejudice less as children and more as they go about seeking shidduchim. I also wish that kiruv rabbis would have been more honest about the realities of 'fitting in' once one has made the leap into the frum world. It is disappointing to know that issues such as 'sheitel vs. hat', 'black hat vs. knitted kipa', etc. (the list goes on and on...) mean more than middos, kavannah and the overall quest for a deeper meaning to life. The school my children attend stresses achdus. Thus far, the school seems to be sticking by its principles and my children appear to be thriving. (Our wallets aren't, but that is a separate issue)

I do feel that some areas are lacking, however, across the board. We try to inculculate our children with a healthy appreciation and deep respect for Hashem's world and ALL of his creatures. (I cringe when I see children --unfortunately usually chareidi children-- run and scream when they see dogs, cats, hamsters, etc. or hear our people make racist comments) When I see these Jewish values being taught in the public schools, but overlooked in the yeshivot, it is disheartening. It seems, in the long run, Orthodox Judaism has become less about doing what is right in the eyes of Hashem and more about 'fitting in' and 'keeping up with the Schwartzes'. In some senses, we have lost our way. Sigh. I love Hashem and Judaism, but sometimes I really wonder about the motivations of our people.


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65. to Giyoret of color     2/1/09 - 1:58 PM
anonymousfornow

If we lived in a perfect world, Mashiach would be here. Rabbi Frand has an excellent essay/tape on not letting ourselves get cynical, maybe one of the biggest challenges in this imperfect world. I like the way you think, and welcome. I do wonder, as a giyores, when you fist approached a rav, weren't you told of the darker and difficult side, etc. as part of the protocol to dissuade you?


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66. OY! The discrimination....     2/1/09 - 6:25 PM
giyoret of color - out of town

Thank you all for thoughtful comments!

I still love being a Jew and I would much rather take the extremes in our world than the extremes in the goyishe world.

I will offer this advice to gerim and BT's out there. As one of the other commentators mentioned on the issue of discrimination toward BT's in very shtark communities. "DO NOT AIM FOR THE MOON."

I say, be "normal," go for the middle road. Do not go for the extreme. Go to a small, out of town city. That is how we were advised by various rabbis. And, this was the best piece of advice we were given as a couple. We lived in Eretz Yisroel, NY, and other various out of town places. But we found the best fit for our particular situation, in the current city in which we live. Successful integration as a convert remains very important to me.

BE STABLE AND STEADY IN YOUR GROWTH. I can't seem to stress this enough! I know people who aim to be a little chassidish and a little yeshivish and a little chabad and follow a soup of advice from way too many rabbeim. And, in the process they develop a "one of a kind" Judaism which no one seems to practice. This just messes up the children.

As for the previous entry, yes, I was "dissuaded appropriately and according to halacha." I did not have the promise of a shidduch before I went to the mikveh! My husband was worried for me before we got married. He didn't want existing prejudices to scare me away from a life of growth. But , even after being dissuaded many times before my conversion, I could no longer live as a goy. My neshama was yearning for a life that was fulfilling.


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67. Thank you for sharing the benefit of your experience.     5/5/09 - 6:28 PM
Ben_Avraham_Hager_Ha'ivri

You are an inspiration for all Jews.

May Hashem repay you in full for being willing to meet your challenges with foresight and grace.


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68. a great dynamic people     5/3/10 - 3:47 PM
udi - flatb

We are.


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69.     5/3/10 - 4:04 PM
bt - bklyn

We were married as bt's in NY then left for Israel for a number of years and returned later. We never had a problem having our kinderlach accepted in yeshivahs and were accepted warmly in the neighborhoods. One thing is we were never afraid to seek advice from the Gedolim, so maybe it has been their brachas and tefillas that have helped. To be honest, I am concerned about shidduchim but my wife just keeps saying if they don't want us because we're Baalei teshuvah then we're not losing out if we are not m'shadech with them.


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70. to bt re shidduchim with children of bt's     5/3/10 - 9:01 PM
anonymousfornow

Maybe it's because I'm living in a community with many bt's but by and large it is a non-issue, for me and many people I know. Don't worry!


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71. 100% true     12/23/12 - 9:48 PM
Mike - Nevada

I know this is an old article and nobody may ever see my my comment, but this article could not be more true! I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who sees what goes on in the religious world.

I'm a BT. In all aspects of my life people treat with me common respect, as do I treat them. Only once I became religious did I start to feel that I was a second class citizen. I gave up my life on more than one occasion to go learn in Yeshiva so I could fully integrate myself into the religious world. I've been frum for over eight years already and to this day I have not been set up on one single shidduch. I nearly got set up with girls a few times, but the parents did not like that I was a BT and moved on.

The Torah is an amazing book that I follow everyday of my life. I fast, keep kosher, shabbat, etc. just like the rest of you. But the religious "community" is an absolutely prejudice dark place filled with nice people who have been so ingrained with judgmental attitudes that they don't know any better.


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72. Star Bellied Sneeches - not sure I WANT to be FFB     11/11/13 - 12:22 PM
The Normaler Rebber - Midwest

At the risk of quoting a "secular source" Dr. Suess has a story about two groups of "sneeches," one with Stars upon their bellies and the other, sadly with none. Needless to say, the Star-bellied sneeches lorded it over their "BT" counterparts and excluded them...

There is so much to say, but if I could boil it down: BTs should NOT try to be FFB. As a BT myself, who learned both at a "famous BT" yeshiva and the MIR, and who helped to edit a "major religious publication," because back then FFBs had trouble with grammar and such - and who has worked with BTs over the years - I would tell them - don't TRY to fit in.

I would tell them - BE NORMAL. You have to know how to learn, know the shprach, be familiar and normal so your kids can be normal, etc. But in their right minds would ever put themselves in a situation where they are second class citizens???? Move out of town, to a place where you are welcomed and respected.

Secondly, at the risk of starting a firestorm, I am not even sure I would LET my kids marry into an FFB family. Yep - you heard it here first. First of all, who knows how many of the brothers in this yichusdicke family are off the derech and mamash criminals?

But more than that - yes, there are so many cultural differences between the two groups...I don't want to be looked down upon by my inlaws.

Excuse me, I'm Ivy educated, learned in the Mir, love Hashem, and try to speak to him all the time. Have I heard secular music? Yep - and you know what - it's all coming back in the form of the current frum music. All the tunes we ran away from back in the day are reappearing - with, as Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l used to lament - a 'pasuk' attached to it. Great going FFBs.

Do NOT get me wrong. Personally, I love FFBs, but from a distance! I never expected to marry into them or to marry my kids to them. Perhaps, my grandchildren can join whatever club will be operating then (though moshiach will be here by then)...but for now - no. It's better off all the way around if people stick to their own in terms of marriage - and reach out to others in terms of chesed.

The bottom line is: Yes, know your own skin. Be comfortable in it, while trying to grow in ruchniyus, don't talk about shtus at the Shabbos table or talk during davening and think it's okay, because you're not "Harry." And be normal.

In the end, we are a nation of tribes. And even though I believe Rav Hutner, zt"l once said that there is no shevet Ba'al Teshuva...I think, all these many years later, there just might be. And that's not a bad thing.

All of Klal Yisroel adds its special contribution. BTs add enthusiasm and love for Hashem and a fresh-faced idealism for Yiddishkeit.

Be proud BTs. And yes, there's no excuse for not knowing how to read loshon hakodesh properly!

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