By Bracha Goetz – The Jewish Star
We got on board because we were striving for truth, and guess what? We’re still striving! So please, make sure your seat belts stay fastened because we’re sitting beside you now, and we hope to take you right along with us!
It was the most idealistic and dedicated who helped make us the people we have become. After deciding to be observant, however, we all inevitably realized that many frum people were not quite as purely committed as those who had initially inspired us. Varying degrees of disappointment and disillusionment are standard, but what happens after that is critical.
Witnessing “frum” people engage in corrupt behavior can be a deal-breaker for some, especially if the frum-appearing people wield authority in leadership positions. Unsavory business practices, the belittling of legitimate attempts at improvement, and “accepted” practices to cheat government agencies, can all lead to an earnest ba’al teshuva (returnee to observant Judaism) being understandably turned off.
There are prevailing fears related to “change” in Orthodox spheres, for justifiable reasons, but these same fears also prevent essential progress from taking place.
It can be difficult for the voice of a quiet ba’al teshuva with a well-honed refinement to be heard when an arrogant insensitivity prevails. When children in public school seem to have more derech eretz (respect) than those in many day schools, a need for reevaluation is indicated. Worries about reporting “frum” perpetrators who are dangerous to children are another example of how our fears have led to unnecessarily increased problems with disastrous consequences.
Following a shocking experience like being intimidated after making sincere abuse allegations, there may be no viable way to keep the victims or the parents of the victims from leaving the frum community. But the resilience of the neshama (soul) is truly miraculous, and even some of these extraordinarily determined survivors have managed to stick with their frum communities, to work toward significant change.
Baalei teshuva are often especially discerning. After all, we have taken the best from our backgrounds, then sought to incorporate that into the best way of life we’ve ever found. So we are discerning about what’s wrong with the standard frum lifestyle as well, and see no useful reason to ignore significant problems, whitewash, or cover them up.
Baalei teshuva often are used to politeness and friendliness from our previous incarnations. Exemplary friendliness, like greeting newcomers to shul, seems unfortunately to take a back seat in many frum communities. After moving beyond the warm welcome of initial kiruv experiences, a ba’al teshuva may often be stunned by a lack of welcoming encounters thereafter. He may soon end up becoming acclimated to this less-than-sunny style or, hopefully, he may admirably try to upgrade the status quo with an infusion of his own warm ways, if they don’t become overly stifled.
There are many examples of how baalei teshuva, in a steadfast resolve for truth, have already affected frum communities. The demand for upgraded special ed services, more professional therapeutic standards, and even healthier eating patterns have been indefatigably and successfully advocated for by baalei teshuva previously schooled in ways that could substantially benefit the frum lifestyle. “Why acquiesce to children getting junk food and sodas as prizes in school?” baalei teshuva may, not surprisingly, ask. It is not at all easy to ruffle feathers and confront authorities that have become entrenched in some outmoded and harmful habits, but baalei teshuva are often now leading the way, thank G-d.
I guess it all comes down to this: there are some inappropriate behaviors in our frum communities that baalei teshuva may not tolerate as complacently as others, and we are more willing than most to take the initiative to work on constructive change. Whether it’s lax attitudes about yeshiva students smoking, a lack of outrage about perpetrators of abuse, or even just a general lack of ready smiles, we are the ones, more and more, gaining the confidence (and knowledge from the complex “Pilot’s Manual”) to get up there on our soapboxes, and work to clean up some acts.
The vast majority of us are sticking around, and when we come face to face with problems that need work, we don’t have to pretend all is fine and dandy, just as we couldn’t pretend that in our past lifestyles either. We’re sticking around because we’re family now, and when members of our family need help, we feel more committed to them than ever. We are here because we want to help make this extraordinarily worthwhile way of life even healthier, even happier and even more responsible.
We want to thank you for every single difficult effort you have ever made to preserve what’s most meaningful. Thanks to all you did, we were able to transform our lives and regain our heritage. We hope you can see that providing refreshing outlooks, generating renewed enthusiasm, and promoting increased accountability are some of the ways we have to give back to you. This striving for truth is certainly challenging, but that’s just what we have always been deeply yearning for — and we’ve never stopped. So keep those seat belts fastened — tightly. We want to keep soaring, G-d willing. May we have a long and exhilarating journey together.
Bracha Goetz is the Harvard-educated author of ten children’s books, including Aliza in MitzvahLand, What Do You See at Home? and The Invisible Book. To enjoy Bracha’s presentations, you’re welcome to email [email protected]