Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Ba'al Teshuva facing chassidic reality


Years ago, I was sharing an apartment with a female Ba'alat Teshuva. The Ba'alat Teshuva, lets call her A. 

We were sharing an apartment in an haredi neighbourhood although some of our neighbours were still secular Jews. I suppose that today, the neighbourhood is entirely haredi and that secular Jews have probably moved away. 

I should mention that quite a few Baale'i Teshuva I know in Jerusalem are sticking to a firm Minhag (custom). Without becoming a member of a certain chassidic group, they still keep the Minhagim of their favourite group. You even find this in Toldot Aharon where female Ba'alot Teshuva come to the Tishes; they don't dress like Toldot Aharon but keep many of their customs and even live in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. They know Toldot Aharon families and are being invited by them for Shabbat. 

My former flatmate A. was such a "Shomeret Minhag - A Ba'al Teshuva keeping a certain chassidic custom without being an official group member". A. was "Shomeret Minhag Vishnitz". By the way, in those days, Vishnitz Bnei Brak wasn't divided then.

I never asked A. what customs she kept neither did I ask her about Vishnitz. The only thing I noticed was that A. was facing severe difficulties of being accepted into haredi society. There were many reasons for it but she still tried as hard as she could. There were times when A. may have got the feeling that she was accepted. At least from time to time. 

I, on the other hand, have never felt the desire squeezing myself into something. I neither need acceptance nor acknowledgement because I am simply too individualistic and especially introverted. Doing my thing and not waiting for other Haredim to say that I am so "holy". A Zaddika ! 

I am not and I don't want to hear all this slogans. I am not a Zaddika and not sooo terribly religious running after the perfect Hechsher, wearing only long sleeves or skirts. In my opinion, being religious consists of many different aspects in life besides the usual Halachot. How you react towards your environment, for instance. "Bejn Adam le'Chavero". Or that you honestly pray and not because the time for Mincha has arrived. That you take religious matters seriously, think and internalize them and not doing, doing, doing without using your brain. 

A. was desperate for acceptance and did anything gaining it. She had this behaviour of inviting herself to the neighbours Schabbes table every single Shabbat. They were born Chassidim but I cannot even tell to which Chassidut they belonged. I wasn't interested and A. had told me that they wouldn't talk to me anyway because I was still on the level of "between national religious and haredi". She said that it had taken her one year after moving in, until the holy neighbours finally invited her for Shabbat.

Honestly, I wasn't keen on being invited, as I had my own plans on Shabbat. Usually I went into town where I either stayed with friends of at the Jewish hostel Heritage House in the Old City. After Shabbat was over, I went back to our Ramot neighbourhood. 

A short period of time after me moving in, I met the neighbours' wife in the staircase. We talked for a while and she invited me for Shabbat. As I already had other plans, I told her that I would come in another few weeks or months. Telling this to A., she was shocked because I had been invited after a few weeks only. How this could be. I didn't know and I wasn't even begging the neighbour to invite me.

Then a serious incident occured making me think about born chassidic society and its behaviour towards Ba'alei Teshuva:

A. got a phone call from another "Shomeret Minhag Vishnitz" and was invited to a wedding taking place in the haredi Kiryat Mattersdorf neighbourhood. My flatmate was freaking out because SHE got invited. In her eyes, the was the peak of acceptance ! She immediately started to bake. I asked her for what and she said that she wants to bring all those cakes to the wedding. As a gift and simply to contribute something. 

For the next two or three days, A. was baking nearly without a break. Our small kitchen was flooded with cakes and pies. When the evening for the wedding arrived, I helped her loading all the cakes into the trunk of her car. Then she was gone and only came back the next day. She returned being in a bad mood and asked me if I can help her again. It turned out that none of the wedding guests had even touched one of her cakes. All the cakes came back in the trunk and were stuffed into the fridge. A. said that I can eat the cakes together with her but, in the end, they were rottening and being thrown away.

A. never spoke about what had happened but I found out from the neighbours: The sad fact was that no born haredi wanted to eat from the food cooked by a Ba'al Teshuva. Some readers may claim that this is a stereotype opinion but, according to my experience, A. is not the only case. 

When I go somewhere, I neither cook nor bring other foods with me. I even know a chassidic family where the mother doesn't eat at her daughter's homes and I accept anyone keeping his own personal priorities. This way, I am not getting upset or offended. I accept them without having any expectations regarding my acceptance. If someone wants to accept me that fine, if not, what can I do ?


  1. B'H

    And what about Hassidim who don't from a Lubavitch Hechsher? Or the Malochim and Neturei Karta who don't eat anything except what they cooked themselves or bought from a fellow Malach or NK? I can give many other examples. Just to say that it's not always related to the fact that you're a BT. Different Hasidic courts have different policies on matters of food.

  2. What can you do? Complain, argue, and debate!
    How else can we understand each other, if no one is willing to talk with full-disclosure?

  3. B"H

    The mistake simply was that my former flatmate started baking and took all her products to the wedding. I would never do so, as I expect the organizers to provide whatever is necessary. Or,at least, I would have asked the people inviting me if I can bring something.

    Still, I found the whole situation very disappointing because it wasn't the only incident where A.'s food was rejected.

    1. Miriam, I believe the issue with A. (I'll call her Alice) is as you described. Alice probably was looking for some sort of confirmation towards her identity instead of actually looking at herself.

      Instead of talking with herself about her own identity, she drowned herself out with duties, goodwill or otherwise, and action. When in reality Alice may have benefited most if she just stepped back and looked at herself in the mirror. I wouldn't necessarily advocate clearing her mind of "everything" rather I would say she needs to meet herself, and then she'll know if she can truly excel and expand upon her identity.

      I wrote once, albeit to myself (journal-ing) "If I'm not comfortable with who I am with myself, then why the hell would I be comfortable (or even myself) around you?

      I think it's important to be who we are with ourselves." I hope Alice finds out who she is, before someone else decides that for her.

      Miriam, isappointment is the best word for this situation.

  4. B"H

    She was definitely not happy with who she was but decided to please others in order to make herself "happy" by "fitting in".

    The danger is that if I am not happy with myself, it will destroy me after a while.

  5. A Lubavitcher wont eat non Lubavitch shechita. Neither will Satmar. Skver takes it to the next level as non Skver shechita chicken actually TREIF's your pots.

    Food is very restricted in these groups and for good reason. I would never eat home cooked anything from someone I did not know. When you have the kind of kashrus controversy like the caterer servering mamash TREIF at presidential functions who would trust anyone?

    B.T. syndrome is curable. Its called working your but off to make up for 15-20 years of education that you missed out on.

    The real issues is that these B.T. friends of yours are doing it wrong. What makes a person a Chasid? Someone is a Chasid because they have a hiskashrus to a Rebbe. If you want to be "accepted" into a group you need to be accepted by the Rebbe. Have yechidus with the Rebbe and tell him that you are taking him as a Rebbe. If he rejects do not give up until he accepts. To try to be accepted by the Chassidim is backwards because unless the Rebbe accepts you they never will.

    Dropping TV,Movies,Secular life, dressing to standard, learning yiddush, lashon kodesh, learning how to learn Torah Gemara Chassidus. All of this is vital but futile unless the Rebbe accepts you.

  6. B"H

    In the past, I got to know quite a number of BTs who went very far in order to get accepted. Mostly in vain but they never admitted it to others.

    I am just glad that I never joined this kind of life and rather remained myself. Once a chassidic woman told me that she prefers talking to me because I am "original". I am neither trying to fit in nor drive everyone nuts with leaving an impression.:-)

    1. I think you put it well from the get go, if you aren't happy with yourself, you will destroy yourself. Then how can you truly be happy with others?

      I think if one allows others to dictate his or her own feelings, then he or she owns neither oneself nor their own feelings.

  7. B"H

    In the Ba'al Teshuva world, you first want to please everyone around you and especially yourself. Becoming frum and entering a whole new society. However, first you have to find out what YOU really want and are able to do. The famous mistake of the Baalei Teshuva is to become frum too fast and squeezing themselves into a different world without thinking too much about themselves and their personal abilities.

  8. Bittul is not destroying yourself, its reforming yourself. Trying to be "your own" unique person isnt always a positive thing. It came come from your ego, from arrogance, and from selfishness. Chassidus is about realizing the only way to truly connect to Hashem is to nulify your will to Hashem's will.

    Its called Kabalos Ol and it is the only way to fulfill your mission in life.

    Conforming to a certain group might not be the right path for you and Hashem wont let you be accepted.

    Famous story of a Talmid Chacham that the Baal Shem Tov said NOT to reveal Chassidus to because it would actually lower him down a spiritual level.

    Not everyone is meant to be an ultra orthodox Jew in mea sharim.

    This is why Chabad Chassidus frowns upon the chitzonius of yiddishkiet.

    During the times of the Rebbe Rashab it was not a compliment to be called a "Chitzoni"

    You must work on your soul before your guf. People want it the other way around.

    LAck of selfconfidence and a yearning for being accepted by others stems from a lack of a strong level of Daas.

  9. B"H

    Each of us has his own strength and character traits. For a strong personality in Yiddishkeit, living a certain life style where one is actually happy, may sound selfish or not frum enough.

    After all those years of struggeling and standing here and there I came to the conclusion that it is extremely important to be a happy person. I am actually quite sick of trying to be so frum and then become frustrated because another part of my life is missing. This also may then sound like the YETZER HA'RAH but let me give you an example:

    In a certain sense, I am a very creative person and I have always missed this kind of creativity anf its lifestyle in the frum world. Except for the Carlebachers maybe but I am definitely not one of them.

    But look at Batei Ungarin: The condition of living there is that you are part of a society. I could maybe live there for two weeks or so but after that, I need other people around me. People with whom I can discuss academic subjects, psychology, astronomy (my greatest hobby) ... things like that. And I haven't found that in the Batei Ungarin where women more concentrate on the kitchen and being a good housewife. :-)