Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Baal Tshuva Experience - Part III

Roll back a few years. Let's have a look at Norman. Norman was a promising student, but he saw a life ahead of him that made him shudder. He is somewhat a loner, but not pathologically so. It seems that people are just not interested in his main interests. He is fascinated by Jewish history and Israel, he has a warm feeling about Judaism from his grandparents, but his family never kept anything. He hooked up with a Rabbi on campus, who is cool and seems surprisingly modern so he goes to synagogue and classes occasionally. The Rabbi insists on calling him by his Hebrew name Noam, which he finds a little annoying but quaint.

Norman grows a bit more mature and finds himself disinterested in hanging around with "kids" or going to bars to drink, pick up chicks for meaningless encounters, or just hanging around and watching a ball game. He decides to search for meaning in life, and who is ready with the answers? You got it. He attends more, and voila, he is getting hooked. A half ton of kugel and several gallons of chicken soup later, he is keeping kosher, keeping shabos and spending his free time at the student center / Chabad house. He dons yarmulke and tzitzis, and is that 5 o'clock shadow?

The Rabbi suggests that he take a little detour from his studies. Noam's burnout is all over that, so he decides to go to yeshiva or a discovery program associated with or in the midst of some heavily Orthodox community for a semester to "clear his head". He is still bothered by the questions of Torah / Science and fantasy stories that the Orthodox seem to believe, but he is drawn to the ethical pursuits, the promise of mystical secrets, the meaning of life, and the family and community warmth. He fears that he never would have been happy just caught up in the legal profession rat race anyway, where most of the people are workaholic balls of tension, bouncing between marraiges and life pursuits.

Noam's talent in law school translates well to yeshiva. He shows promise.

Fast forward, Noam is now in a shul with his 7 kids. He is happy enough doing mitzvos and teaching his children how important it is that they daven from the sidur with intense kavana and do the mitzvos with great love. He tells them that their grandparents love them, though we cannot get together too much because "they lived in hard times and never got to go to Jewish school like you. So they do not keep kosher etc." He has made the necessary accomodations at work to keep a good job, where he does not work Shabbos and Yom Tov, does not shake hands with women, and is not required to go to lunch with clients or anyone else. He hasn't a penny to save and he has just taken another large loan to pay for tuition this year.

It is worth it to him though. He is having mesiras nefesh and he enjoys his frum family. Until something goes very very wrong.


  • Absolutely wonderful series of posts (this is awfully familiar).

    By Blogger Hayim, at 3:18 AM  

  • btw, i mentioned your blog in my last post.

    By Blogger Hayim, at 11:02 AM  

  • you are stuck in the 70's when chabad houses focused on campus and shipped them off to Crown Heights so you had many more people with these issues. Today most chabad houses are building communities and many of the people are staying in the community. in matter of fact many of the campus shluchim in the past had shifted to the community focus although now because of the dearth of shlichus jobs and because of the Rohr largess there more moving out to campus again. There is more of a natural growth and the connection stays between the shlaich and the BT. The shliach has to serve the BT today afterwards even more than before. Look at worcester MA or other such places where the rabbi/shliach stays connected. When a BT moves into a Lubavitcher community without family and support systems it is very difficult. However to say what you are experiencing is the norm for the Chabad BT experience is simply untrue TODAY. In matter of fact the gnawing feeling many shluchim have is that they are not doing enough to make the BT's into Black hatters and they are making MO BT's although this allows the community to grow in a cohesive manner it does not create more shluchim or even lubavitchers. That is the more cynical view but in a practical sense someone who has a family and a job it is not easy to get them to make the sort of absolute inward and outward transformation that a college kid was able to make. When you deal with families (which 90% of shluchim today do)you go very slowlyyyyyy you don't want to cause havoc in the marriage because marriage is important....(and of course if you stick your nose in someone will be turned off and you need to keep everyone happy).
    I also want to take issue with the sugar daddy issue ......but I will save that for another time..

    By Blogger Mehallel, at 4:30 PM  

  • MM

    If you follow the series, you will see that we are discussing the kiruv business in general, from the BT, FFB and KP viewpoints, not Chabad, or even the campus vs. the family. The issue at hand is why so many BTs end up off the derech. I am giving a case prevalent in the 80s and 90s when Chabad, Aish etc. where peddling kiruv wares to BTs, a frightening percentage of whom are now off the derech.

    As for the SD issue, oooooh, I am sooooo, don't get me started. ;) (And I am not implying that all SDs are bad, as you will see.)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 5:30 PM  

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