The End of Baal Teshuvah Discrimination 

29

By Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer

I recently was menachem avel a mourner who I only knew peripherally. I wasn’t familiar with his particular pedigree or family background but I assumed from his ha’varah and general comportment that this respected Ben Torah came from a heimish home and was perhaps second generation American.

After acknowledging my presence, he said that he wanted to share something personal with me. He said, “It must be tough convincing people in Brooklyn about the imperative and urgency for Kiruv. After all, so many Flatbush and Borough Park Yidden come from families that have preserved the Mesorah for generations. How can these Yidden be expected to understand the plight of those American Jews who are so close to losing their entire heritage? How could they relate to the fact that there are other Jews that are  languishing and suffocating to keep any vestige of Yiddishkeit alive?”

He really hit the nail on the head. His assessment was accurate. Supporting Kiruv is an uphill battle as many, unfortunately, still haven’t yet sensed the dire straits that Klal Yisroel is in as a whole.

However, what did this have to do with the Avel? The Halacha is that the conversation in a makom shiva should ideally be about the niftar.

Then this presumed yeshivish/heimish “greenhorn” laid the bombshell.

“I am fourth generation American. My great grandfather was totally secular. My grandfather was a leader of a Conservative Temple. My father, the niftar, was the first member of his family to receive a basic Jewish education. I, in turn, went to the finest Yeshivos and learned in Kollel for many years. My kids are all chashuva Bnei Torah. However, without Kiruv, we would be barely affiliated. Few people know and realize that my entire family’s Yiddishkeit is the result of a few very dedicated Rabbonim who were mekarev others. Those intrepid Rabbonim who saw the pintele Yid and spark of Kedusha in every Yid; those tzaddikim that understood that we are all bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok V’Yaakov regardless of level of affiliation. No one would suspect me or my family of coming from baalei Teshuvah. No one would dare guess that at my Seder table growing up there were relatives who brought pastrami on rye sandwhiches and drove home from the seder. My father, z”l, will have a Kaddish and thousands of hours of Torah learning from descendants, because there were great people who weren’t myopic, short sighted or insular but saw the future of Klal Yisroel wasn’t limited to a select few but encompassed and included all Yidden, no matter what.”

I was shocked to discover this person’s background. However, this wasn’t the first time I’ve confronted such special individuals. Very often, I meet people from Flatbush who confide to me that one or both of their parents or grandparents are baalei Teshuvah.

The avel continued,

“Very often people like me choose to hide our true backgrounds. I did too but now with my loss I find that sad and strange. In reality we should be at the vanguard of supporting Kiruv. One moment of introspection led me, and should lead others to realize that we owe our entire spiritual existence and all our zechusim to Kiruv. I really appreciate that BJX put Kiruv on the map locally.”

It seems to me that many Baalei Teshuva feel compelled to disguise their identities. They are afraid they will encounter societal stigma. That’s exceedingly sad. They should be respected and revered for their herosim and tremendous self sacrifice. Many of us born into frum families don’t come close to their supreme Ahavas Hashem, fidelity and devotion. Instead, they should have pride in their choices and backgrounds.

Many people don’t realize that their child’s rebbi or morah may be a child of baalei Teshuvah or may even be a Baal Teshuvah him or herself. Many of the most popular authors of seforim, read the world over, and several of the most renowned rebbeim are actually  baalei Teshuvah from totaly secular backgrounds. These great mashpiim are mamash changing lives, positively impacting and inspiring Yidden even from Yeshivish and Chassidish homes.

All because of Kiruv.

29 COMMENTS

  1. We all came from Avrohom who was a ger. Today we see so many Children and grandchildren of so called choshuva admorim and rabbonim who are going off. It’s sad but each person has free will. I have seen quite a few who wear streimels but are mechalel shabbos and eat trief. Then you see kids who are wearing knitted yarmulkas and daven seriously and learn Torah as well. Free will is everywhere. Avrohom had a yishmoel. Yitzchak had an Esav. And so on. You as a parent do your part but always remember ultimately your child has free will.

  2. Why did he have to admit his background?
    The fact is that when it comes to Shidduchim, it is extremely hard for a Baal Tshuva to be accepted. Our typical Heimishe people start thinking of lack of Taharas Hamishpacha, and push away any Shidduch whose grandparents were Ballei Tshuvah. Even when your son tells you that his Chavrusah comes from Baalei Tshuvah you get upset.

    • As a ba’al teshuva myself, I can say that baruch Hashem, I never had any problem, neither marrying an FFB, nor marrying off any of my children. Now, when it comes to parnassah, that’s a different story.

    • I’m a bal teshuva that married into a “chashuvah family” … However as soon as I got married I found out that my father-in-law’s father wasn’t frum at all, nor were any of his family members besides for his mother that made teshuva. Not only that his father was a rasha gamur that was arrested once for a serious crime committed against a woman.

      As for my mother-in-law, her mother had polio growing up and was confined to a wheelchair. She married but again married someone very shvack, so shvack that he went off the derech…

      I then looked around at the other shidduchim my in-laws had made before me and I saw what was going on. Each family was a little bit “funny”. They made some normal shidduchim also though but all in all it wasn’t so “chashuv” like I thought.

  3. B”h this is no longer an issue. There are rabbonim, Roshei Yeshiva, & choshuve ballei batim that are mishadeiach with children of balei teshuvah.
    The stigma is nearly gone.
    Ballei teshuvah have an important role within the frum world & have nothing to hide.
    They are accepted & respected by all frum Jews. The last generation had it difficult.

    • The only instances I know of where this has happened is where the ‘better’ side is hiding a problem, or desperately need money, to be provided by the ‘lesser’ side. If they are really so choshuv, and without own stigma or financial problems, they can usually get everything they are looking for in an FFB, so why take a BT?
      Maybe one day it will be like you say, but not yet – not in ‘real’ black orthodox circles, anywya. Even in Lubavitch, the authentic variety steer well clear of the BTs, albeit quietly and unobtrusively.

  4. HaRav HaGaon HaTzadik Rav Shlomo Freifeld ztzvk”l, one whose methods and impact on the baal teshuvah movement are sorely underestimated, told at least one of his talmidim to NEVER refer to himself as a baal teshuvah. He also used to repeat again and again to be a gavra; to be bigger than yourself, to strive for greatness, and to run away from mediocrity.

    More often than not, baalei teshuva wear their background on their sleeves. They want sympathy. They never move to a siddur without a translation. The RaMBa”M paskins the baal teshuvah is to change his/her name. Unfortunately, many change neither name, nor language, not mode of dress. Many carry with them claims on the Yeshivos for not allowing smart phones, for discouraging college, etc. Rather than taking the dive, they dog paddle in the kiddie pool and never move on.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, the community at large does not help them transition by modeling and mentoring rather assuming that they’ll make it; they are in Yeshiva, they daven in a regular shul, etc. Meanwhile, the baal teshuvah doesn’t have a clue as to what is an ikar and what is a taful.

    Kiruv? YES!! Admit to being and remaining a baal teshuvah? NO!

    • Assume you do not know a ba’al teshuvah. Think their years. Abominations and treif intriduced. No insular timing or thought. They ever want a jewish life its a total battle. Unorthodox horrors must be duscussed daily in confession just to think Torah can be held.

      Hashem has them. They grow,p. They have Torah and they design a family.

      So many problems when you ruin Israel. Every given child is denied a holy mind.

      They do return. We can help. I am one. And yet my needs continue try and hope our faith.

      All hope is dream and Torah. Hashem is.

      Dream.

  5. With all due respect. The Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l has been sending out shluchim all over the world since the beginning of his leadership because he saw that every Jewish child is a ben Avrohom, Yitzchok & Yakov or bas Sarh, Rivkah, Rochel & Leah. As a matter of fact I remember in the 60’s & 70’s that other religious Jews used to ridicule his efforts but that did not stop him, Suddenly in the eighties others woke up and said let’s get into the kiruv work.

  6. a girl was very interested in marrying this great guy, but the [chassidishe] parents had reservations bec. he was a B.T. so they went to the skulener rebbe shlita , he told them “a baal teshuva is a beautiful thing”
    so the rebbe revealed that really BT ( also) stands for “Beautiful Thing”, yes a bt is trully a bt!!!
    [ btw im a ffb, hoping to become a bt too – dont gotta wait fo ellul!]

  7. I think Klal Yisroel has supported many organazations like Ohr Somayach and Aish Hatorah and Gateways among others. So not sure what the grievance here is all about .
    Alteh Bucher

  8. @Jeff – “Suddenly in the eighties others woke up and said let’s get into the kiruv work”
    Excuse me, already in the 60s and well into the early and mid 70s, NCSY let by the strongly committed, oheiv Yisroel, Harav Pinchas Stolper shlita (may he be granted arichas yomim without yisurim), along with his directors including Rav Baruch Taub shlita, were sending shluchim, and returning hundreds of non-shomrei mitzvah boys to Yeshivos and girls to Beis Yaakovs, and when that was simply not possible, they sent to local day schools, and when even that was not possible, they provided warm, welcoming, educating, guiding environments to nurture them. Lubabitch did not invent kiruv, and they are still not the only show in town.

  9. 1) I think that there is still a holier than thou attitude very prevalent from ffb versus bt. I think ffbs in some communities look down at BTs. We need to work on this to help bring the geulah. It may be sinas chinam.
    2) Not enough heimish ppl care enough about Kiruv or understand it is central and critical for us and will bring an end to all the galus.
    3) Excellent point in this article. BT’s should be much more supportive of Kiruv. They know how important it is, more than anyone else. They should give back out of a sense of hakaras hatov and stop the spiritual holocaust.
    4) Didn’t the Novominsker say that Kiruv is the mitzvah of our generation?
    5) Wasn’t a Gadol B’Yisroel, the Alei Shur, Rav Wolbe, a baal teshuvah?

  10. Today I learned the reform took place on July 17, 1810 in Sessen Lower Saxony. This was Tammuz 15 5570.

    If not for, would we have had ba’al teshuvah?

    They had a big ceremony and asked all churches in town to attend. Commemorated by Esav, the lazy hate remained.

    In all, survival is a hope by only Torah. The ba’al teshuvah must declare war against the abomination that removed so much their right and standing in Israel.

    Give back our souls. We must honor Hashem.

    Great article.

  11. I’m a successful rabbi who holds a respectful position. Why? Because I always hid the fact that I’m a baal teshuva. My openly baal teshuva friends were not accepted to the yeshivos I was accepted to. Their children were not accepted to the same schools mine were. I was no different from them in any perceivable way beyond the fact that I felt it important to hide my background because I felt the prejudice from the onset. I can’t even tell you how many of my shidduchim were scuttled when the prospects heard I was a baal teshuva. Yes, they were interested until that very point and then suddenly the interest disappeared. This problem still exists and if we deny it we are hiding our heads in the sand. Most people still consider baalei teshuva second shaft for shidduch purposes. Sure *some* people will let their daughters go out with baalei teshuva, but for the most part it’s considered an insult to rhed a baalei teshuva to a young stable shidduch prospect on the first or even 5th suggestion. Roshei mosdos confide in me how much of a challenge it is to accept children of baalei teshuva. As a Rabbi I encounter the stigma all the time in so many facets of our lives. This stigma is alive and pernicious. We should be realistic, in many ways we are an elitist society. We eagerly stand behind the kiruv banner but when it comes to accepting those we invest so much to bring home we leave them abandoned in so many ways. And no, I won’t sign off because my kids aren’t all married yet…

  12. The question that one must ponder, is, why did this individual become a baal teshuva? Was it because he was down on his luck? Unemployed? Divorced? Abused? Depressed? Trouble with the law? Etc… If he’s “becoming” a baal teshuva because of personal problems & challenges, it will have no kiyum. He will never carry thru. As soon as his problems are perceived to be gone, he’s gone as well. Don’t waste valuable time and resources on such an individual. He’s just not serious.
    If he’s becoming a baal teshuva because of intellectual commitment and a genuine desire to become Frum and follow the Torah to the best of his abilities, than we have a chiyuv to help him in every way possible. Personalities generally don’t, and shouldn’t have to change once they become Frum. I think some people have a problem when they see baalei teshuva acting weird. It depends if they were that way before, or after.

  13. I am a “baal teshuvah” (though I wish I really was). The question is how BTs and FFBs regard each other. We will certainly learn from each other – the question is what we will learn.
    I used to think that the FFB community had an advantage on connection to the pure hashkafah untainted by secular wisdom. Today, I see FFBs so enamored of secular “wisdom” in the form of psychology, in particular, that they adopt it wholesale and have no idea where the ideas come from. If there were a true alliance between the two groups, we would be able to sort the wheat from the chaff; as it is, BTs are often not effectively used as a resource for better understanding the dreck of the secular world and knowing how to resist it.
    Another example: the encroachment of secular music into heimishe circles. Many FFBs don’t even realize what they are dancing to at chasunos. That seems to indicate a deeper problem i.e. that FFBs have often lost their sensitivity to kedushah and tumah. BTs are in a better position to say, “Stop! That is goyish! That’s what I wanted to leave behind.”
    As for the stigma, yes – it exists. Too bad – that’s just part of my tikkun.

    • How about you don’t listen to any music since the destruction!
      Psychology? Science? Mathematics? You think European yeshivamann were ignorent?

    • Excellent points, Yehuda.
      Just for example: I remember my surprise and disappointment attending my first chinuch course, which was advertised as being based on traditional Jewish methods with sterling rabbinical approval only to discover that it was just a re-hash of the child psychology 101 stuff popular at liberal colleges and non-Jewish women’s magazines.

      And just like with the liberal stuff, it either didn’t work or only worked for a couple of weeks and relied on the mother ALWAYS being able to uphold the methods to absolute perfection (regardless of pregnancy, post-partum exhaustion, illness, or any other normal issues that show up in life–and sure, they just told you to try your best at that those times & pretended like they weren’t holding the bar so high, but seeing as life throws you so many curveballs, being “perfect” can never be maintained for very long).

      I’m not Breslov, but Rav Shalom Arush’s chinuch methods of tefillah and cheshbon hanefesh are what saved me and my children.

      P.S. Great point about stigma being a tikkun, just like with any other nisayon. Personally, I haven’t really encountered stigma in the ways others have with schools and shidduchim. My tikkun has been in other areas.

    • Very nice Yehudah that you feel in need
      of tikkun for being born in an unchosen set of circumstances (check out ramban on the posuk hanistoros l’H Elokeinu).
      I very much resent your narcissistic attitude though as far as your children are concerned. That’s a big deal, and while you and your personality can deal with whatever tikkun you choose to be stigmatized with, it’s a different story for the children you bring into the world.

  14. Yehuda you are correct
    So many young FFBs have fallen for secular culture like music and psychology. I as an FFB and heimish would like to alert the BT bochurim and single girls to be careful in Shidduchim. I have noticed even so called choshuva families who Persue sometimes a strong baal tsuvah for a shidduch for one of their children. Not because the BT grew to a very strong Torah individual but because the child of the choshuva family is off the derech. They would never hear of a Shidduch who is not elite. It’s just that their own family member is not that observant any longer. When I was young and learning in a yeshivisha place,someone tried to set me up with a choshuva chassidisha rebbes daughter. I got very suspicious. Why would they set me up with a girl who is super chassidish when I wear a bent down hat. I checked in and sure enough the girl had some mental problem. Of course I never went out with her. But I know baalei tsuvah and even heimisha frum youngsters who were tricked into marrying choshuva mishpochas but the candidates were not even fully Shomer shabbos. Be careful. You must marry your type to avoid serious conflict. If a girl who is serious frum dates a guy who does not stop off at a shul for mincha or does not even mention that he davened,red alert. A girl dating a boy who is now t wearing tzitzos is red alert. The same with a frum boy and sees the girl not dressed tznios to his standards,red alert.

  15. Once Upon…it was hard and painful for Ba’alei T.

    Today overall it’s a whole different ballgame.
    The article and Comments are by and large out of date.

    Proof: Open any frum Magazine and read how just about every BT is turned into some heroic story and is glorified

    Au contrarie,
    Today It is the long term super simple frum families without airs who are more discriminated against.

  16. The most ridiculous thing is that the contemporary “frum for all generations” “holier than thou” ffb’s are themselves only a couple generations fully observant. Their greatgrandparents were for the most part extremely modern, were lax with kashrus, women didn’t cover their hair, were not enthusiastic about learning, etc. A few roshei yeshiva and rebbes were mekarev them after the war; if not for these heroic visionaries of the prior generation, all these ffb’s would themselves be traditional-amoratsim one step away from total assimilation. And now these “frum from habit”, these people whose emunah-less religion consists of empty showing off, are trying to snob those who made a superhuman effort and came back home! If anything, why would a baal tshuva want anything to do with the rotten establishment? Who knows if these “good families” will not succumb, chas vechalila, to the “off the derech” phenomena, which itself is a symptom of the prevailing emptiness. Who knows if today’s baalei tshuva are the future of Am Yisroel. Personally, I didn’t become frum to impress any human being, don’t owe anything to any establishment ffb’s, and have no urge to associate with empty people. Oh, and if a “mechanech” keeps his “yeshiva” free from baalei tshuva’s kids, he is a burned-out cynic who is a danger to the spiritual state of his pupils.

  17. The conflicts between the elite and non elite within the FFB crowd are numerous. Every group is concerned only if it’s own first and foremost. I’m an FFB who is independent. I am free to hold of every Rav since I don’t belong to any group. I can travel to uman for rosh Hashana which I have done in the past and spent a shabbos in Skver as well. I can mingle in 770 and be at home in satmar. I can daven in any litvish Shul and not feel out of place. I’m a lucky guy. Yes I go to Shiuerim and have no problem anywhere.

  18. Yom Kippur makes us honest. FFBs strive on it to become BTs and BTs on it, “the birthday of the world” as proclaimed with shofar-blowing, thus become newly birthed FFBs.

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