Although I’ve been frum for about six years now I often think about my path into Judaism. In many ways the baal teshuva journey defined me, as it did others.
More often though, I wonder what the subtle difference is between my becoming and staying frum compared with my peers who went through similar experiences but either didn’t become frum or left the fold after. This joining, coming, going, growing, falling, is often a topic I discuss with them, and something that drives my own growth as I often try to break their misconceptions and test mine.
I think one of the most important elements for creating long term committed baalei teshuva is transparency.
Giving unaffiliated Jews transparency is key to success. This comes to life in a variety of ways.
- The greatest show of respect you can give people is to not treat them as though they’re stupid. Show them that you know that they know that you are trying to get them to become more observant, or at the very least to marry Jewish. Trust me, they know already – and often it’s the reason they don’t start the journey in the first place – so give them that transparency. There are enough anti-kiruv blogs out there that they won’t need to search for if you tell it how it is. And please don’t forget to tell them why you do it! It’s not for the millions in profit!
- Changing your whole life around isn’t easy. Nor is changing your circle of friends (generally), moving location (generally), listening to different music (generally), and down to changing the way you cut your nails! Don’t pretend it’s all a piece of cake. This only causes disdain longer term and I often hear discussion of how “ripped off”’ people feel because no one ever said “this affects everything you are and everything you know. It’s a life perspective.” You don’t need to frighten people with detail or make them feel it’s all too hard, but a Jewish lifestyle is all encompassing so, be transparent.
- Similar to above, once you become frum your problems don’t just disappear and life will still have hurdles. What Judaism does is provide an incredible framework for you to deal with them but in no way is it some magic elixir. I remember hearing frum female speakers selling Judaism like it’s an antidote to a virus. After some time of being frum, reality sets in and the bumps and hurdles throw off the path those that were sold the benefits without the disclaimer.
- Frum Jews come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s OK! It took me years to work out who is who and to navigate all the diverse groups within Judaism. I am still learning! What kiruv groups do often is try to teach their own hashkafa without seeing what the individual actually needs. That’s so anti – Jewish! Mishlei says to teach each according to their needs. Don’t be afraid to let go of a student to direct them to another frum group. It will only help them connect better. We’re all made different and approach life differently. Be transparent that there are alternatives! All it will do is create greater ahavas Yisrael later on.
- Most importantly, Hashem is transparent. He is visible in every moment of our lives and circumstances. The most important connection you can give is to help them feel Hashem in their lives and inside them, part of them. My best memories of becoming frum are those Shabbos tables where the host asked each guest to share something miraculous in their lives. A great ice breaker and so powerful in connecting the individual to Hashem’s hashgacha pratis.
To be transparent, to give people disclaimers and a sense of reality brings out healthier and better adjusted baalei teshuva in the long term. It isn’t easy to balance the “sales pitch” with this but having worked in advertising for many years, quite frankly not including this should be illegal. The negativity it creates and the bad word of mouth it spreads are far worse for the individual and kiruv in general. Just be real.
Laura is a marketing consultant balancing the worlds of high-tech and Judaism. Her blog baalteshuvajourney.com aims to inspire and bring ahavas yisrael to the baal teshuva community, encouraging us to enjoy the journey of personal growth through simcha, emunah and seeing Hashem’s beauty in everything around us. She has recently moved from Australia to Jerusalem to find her beshert.