A Message To Baal Teshuvas Upset With The Off The Derech Memoir Trend

Warning to the secular crowd: this one might be a bit confusing unless you’re aware of the different types of people I’m referring to.

I’ve seen the baal teshuvas quietly mumbling their complaints.

One here, he says, look at these off the derech folks.  They’re writing all these memoirs.  Writing articles for the New York Times.  Getting the word out about their experiences.

It’s not fair, the baal teshuva mutters.  It’s not fair that their story is being told and that everyone is listening.

Yes, I’ve seen the baalei teshuva complaining.

Not just them, of course.  Plenty of orthodox folks have gotten upset about it.  They feel like the stories have been taken out of context, that they’re painted to make all orthodox Jews look bad, that the world is only interested in affirming its own beliefs.

They might be right.

But the truth is that the off the derech, the people who have gone through the pain and trauma of leaving their community, have a right to tell their story.  And as a writer, I could argue they even have the obligation.

Our stories matter.  Our stories are the way we can take the trials and tribulations of our lives and give them meaning.  Share that meaning.  Bring out something real from all the confusion that life throws our way.

That’s what it means to write a memoir, or write for the New York Times.

I’m sure there are some people who have an axe to grind.  But, at the end of the day, what’s being done is a sharing of stories.  A sharing of experiences.  For someone going through so much change, it’s not surprising they would want to share it with the world.  To feel less alone.  To feel sympathy.  To feel understood.

And then the baal teshuva mutters some more.  He mutters, “Fine, let them tell their stories.  But what about us?  Why aren’t we in the New York Times?  Why are we only on Chabad.org and Aish.com?  Why isn’t anyone listening to us?”

Ah, my baal teshuva friend, now we are on to a real question.

Because I know what that muttering baal teshuva is thinking when he has those thoughts.  He’s thinking, “The world has it out for us!  They don’t care what the Jews think, what people that left the secular world think.  They just want to hear reaffirmations of the disdain they have for the orthodox world.”

I understand why the baal teshuva may feel that way.  I’ve had my own outbursts of anger against the press.  Against a world that sometimes seem bent on misappropriating our lives.

But I have to disagree with the baal teshuva’s assertions.  I have to disagree that there is some conspiracy going on to only bring out the anti-orthodox of the world.

I’ll tell you two simple reasons that the off the derech voices are being heard and that the baal teshuva voices aren’t:

1. The off the derech are telling their stories.

2. The baalei teshuva are not.

There are many reasons that this is so.  The off the derech are going from a community of tznius, of modesty, to a world of tell-alls, of revealing personal triumphs and tribulations.  They have reduced their restrictions.

And, of course, they want their story to be heard, to be understood.  For their own reasons, whether for activism or for simple, human reasons.

And the baalei teshuva, they’ve gone the opposite direction.  To them, their life shouldn’t be defined by the world they left behind.  They did things that might even be “inappropriate” to share with the world.

Mitzvas like honoring parents might scare them from revealing some of their past.

There are so many reasons, and I’m sure that for every baal teshuva the answers are unique.

But the end result is the same.  The baal teshuvas are not telling their stories.

I believe with all my heart that the fact that off the derech memoirs, articles, etc have become successful is because G-d wants to wake us baal teshuvas up.  He wants to point out how easily we could also get our stories out.  He wants to point out how important it is to publicize our adventures, our ups and downs.

Because stories, as I said, are the fabric of the universe.  And our stories matter.  They are important.  People want and need to connect with our stories.

And perhaps, in a different world, you could hide your story, go about being a holy Jew and life would be peachy and dandy.

But this is not that world.  This is a world on the edge of Moshiach and there need to strong voices that bridge the gap between the world of Galut and Geula.

The Rebbe once said that although it used to be a virtuous thing for us to hide the fact that we have given charity, we should now publicize it.  Because it will cause the world to give more charity as well.

Making things public isn’t always a bad thing.  If it spreads holiness.  If it makes the world a more refined place.  Even if that means taking risks, doing things that don’t seem normal.

Baal teshuvas need to tell their stories.  They need to get them out there.  Into the New York Times.  Into memoirs.  Blog posts.  Movies.  Television.  Whatever.  Out there.

A few months ago, I gave up on a memoir I was working on.  A memoir about how I became religious.  I just felt too overwhelmed with work and my other writing.

But I’m making a decision right now, a hachlata, that I will begin writing it again starting Sunday of next week.

Who will join me?  Who will help me?  Who will tell their stories?

Who will bring Geula?





64 responses to “A Message To Baal Teshuvas Upset With The Off The Derech Memoir Trend”

  1. Miss Worldwide Avatar
    Miss Worldwide

    Meee! I’m with you 100%! I’ve been writing a comics about my teshuva process, and I was thinking of getting it published (very discouraging…), but I’m now wondering if I should just make a blog first… You’re absolutely right, it HAS to get out there!!!

    1. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
      Malka Hellinger Forshner

      YES! do the blog…….that’s the step I’ve been wanting to take, and this is all very inspiring…..

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    First of all, I think everyone should learn Hebrew so they can understand the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh. But if you want to get heard in the world you have to speak a Language the world can understand without extensive googling – just a tip 🙂


    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      It also helps not to leave vague comments. What are you referring to exactly?

      1. Anonymous Avatar

        Sorry if I was unclear Elad. I mean you’re using hebrew or jiddish words like “Geula” and for us who are not speaking neither hebrew nor jiddish that makess it very difficult to understand.


        1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

          I totally understand. I try to make my stuff accessible in general, but this particular piece is kind of focused on one particular audience, so I took some liberties. But maybe I should provide some definitions. Thanks for the tip 🙂

          1. Anonymous Avatar

            Yes, that would be so great and helpful! Thanks!

  3. Joseph Katz Avatar
    Joseph Katz

    Elad, let’s not fool ourselves. The times wouldn’t publish a story about a Ba’al Teshuvah and his journey to rediscover his roots. It doesn’t sell papers. They look for tabloid-esque feature stories. A formerly religious Jew writing the “inside story on Jewish sex life” or “Hasidic Sexism” is what they dream for. That’s not to say that your premise isn’t correct. They should get out and tell their stories. Be ambassadors for our nation. However, saying that the definitive reason is because the ex-religious are simply more out there, is patently false – even misleading.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      t’s not at all. I don’t know one baal teshuva that has sincerely tried to get their story in the papers. Your attitude is exactly what I’m disagreeing with. It’s the opposite of empowered, the opposite of strength.

      There are many reasons our stories aren’t told, but refusing to empower ourselves to tell them is the biggest.

    2. Rebecca K. Avatar
      Rebecca K.

      I’m going to answer this question as a frum writer who has written material both for the Chareidi press and for the mainstream Jewish one.

      There are some “secular” papers/sites/publishers that will publish material from the perspective of happily Orthodox Jews. However, part of the lack of success thus far in this area despite a large number of frum Jews who write is the style such material must be written in is very, very different from what you would see on Orthodox websites or in Chareidi magazines.

      If you want to publish about your life experience as a frum Jew and people who are not frum to willingly read it, the best thing to do is not attempt to write persuasively. Don’t write an article or essay, “This is what I did, and so should you.” That’s prescriptive writing.

      Write descriptively. Pick a small facet of your life, an event that was a turning point or something that was meaningful for you. It could even be fiction, but set in a community that works like the one you treasure.

      Now, write from the heart. Write like you are telling the story to a dear friend who is sharing a tea with you on a long Shabbos afternoon in July and you are in no rush.

      If you take this descriptive approach, your heartfelt words will touch the hearts of others. There are frum writers who are seeing success in the wider world, and it’s because they are taking that approach (Ruchama King Feuerman, Rochelle Krich, and others).

      1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

        YES. This exactly. Well said.

        1. Rebecca K. Avatar
          Rebecca K.

          I’m blushing. 🙂

          1. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
            Malka Hellinger Forshner

            Yes, indeed, well said, and great advice! And why does Tova say you’re a great writer? What have you written? and where can I read it?

          2. Rebecca K. Avatar
            Rebecca K.

            My work has appeared (and Tova’s, too!) on Tablet, and I am a regular both in Hamodia and Binah group magazines.

            (And now I’m blushing so hard that I’m crawling under my desk…)

          3. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
            Malka Hellinger Forshner

            OK, what’s Tablet” ? And as far as Binah and Hamodia go, I was an avid fan, when I lived in Brooklyn and then North Miami Beach, but A) we can’t get them here in Ft Myers (and the subscription doesn’t necessarily get to you before Shabbos) and B) I found that without those magazines, I spend more time learning Torah….Some of their articles are either “learning” or thought-provoking………and some not…Hope you’re comfy under your desk!

      2. Tova Ross Avatar
        Tova Ross

        Great insight from a great writer.

    3. 2close2detroit Avatar

      even if it would sell papers, they wouldnt do it–they are much more interested in printing all the news that fits their slant, than all the news thats fit to print.

  4. Princess Lea Avatar
    Princess Lea

    I have been reading the books of Brene Brown, and she advocates telling our stories in order to connect with others by sharing our vulnerabilities and making others realize “Oh! It’s not just me!”

    I am FFB, and I concur that it is important for baalei teshuva to tell their stories as inspiration. It isn’t shameful. If anything, it could help bring others closer.

    I would add that it is also vital for FFBs to tell their stories, to make others realize that their faith is not something that was foisted upon them, but something they re-affirm, every day, with devotion and clarity.

    It’s not about the mainstream media publishing it. It should be told in our communities. We should all be telling our stories. But that would also require that we are prepared to hear them as well without judgement.

  5. Laura Swift Avatar
    Laura Swift

    I definitely will! Proud ba’alas teshuva and I’m 17 years old. Started when I was 15. Message me at laurajanetswift@yahoo.co.uk for more info 🙂

  6. rivka Avatar

    I Am not sure I agree, I don’t think people need to make a life out of what they left behind. If they are so happy they wont need to go around spreading hate. Though its is always nice to hear of people or are happy with the life they chose, with respect and understanding towards the life they left behind.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      G-d forbid that it should be done with hate. The focus wouldn’t be on what was “wrong” before, just the story of transformation and growth they went through, with a positive ending.

  7. Wolfgang Davidson Avatar
    Wolfgang Davidson

    I just made the decision to write my story.

  8. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
    Malka Hellinger Forshner

    So, first of all, have you read “Painting Zayde’s Dream”? It’s a wonderfully woven account of one BT’s journey, Miriam Karp, published by Poppy Seed Press. Second of all, yes, many BT’s who want to write their stories are concerned about kibud av v’em…and some are worried about their children (and their children’s shidduchim) Know what I mean…..

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      I know what you mean. I was warned before I got married that all my writing might hurt my shidduch chances.

      First woman I dated I got married to. Just saying.

      1. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
        Malka Hellinger Forshner

        Not talking about my shiddach……….talking about my children’s ….it’s one thing to put myself on the line, but someone else?

  9. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
    Malka Hellinger Forshner

    (oops, spelled the title wrong, Miriam spells it “Zaidy”)

  10. Jeff Neckonoff Avatar
    Jeff Neckonoff

    I’ll join you.
    Here’s my story:

    1. gematria770 Avatar

      This starts with a long list of dry facts, and it is not a very compelling read. I started skimming after half a page and gave up completely after a page and a half.

      1. Jeff Neckonoff Avatar
        Jeff Neckonoff

        Sorry I didn’t appeal to your E News and Perez Hilton tastes.

        1. gematria770 Avatar

          I’m trying to give you constructive feedback. I’m not sure what E news and ms. Hilton have to do with this.

          1. Jeff Neckonoff Avatar
            Jeff Neckonoff

            #1: One does not offer constructive criticism in a public forum
            #2: E News and Perez Hilton (he’s a male by the way) use journalism and writing to appeal to lower base instincts /yetzer hara in order to excite and manipulate the reader/watcher emotionally.

            How sad that you are not able to understand something written with intelligence and thoughtfulness.
            Perhaps you should stick to reading People Magazine.

          2. gematria770 Avatar

            If you were to exercise this purported intelligence and think a little, you might realize that if you want someone to read your life history, you might wish to take a moment or two (preferably in the first paragraph) to clarify why, of roughly seven billion such stories, yours is the one a reader should spend their time on.

          3. Jeff Neckonoff Avatar
            Jeff Neckonoff

            Thanks so much for your positive feedback.
            Yours is the one and only complaint I’ve had since I created the page in 2001.
            Seems you’re just a serial kvetch.

            Plus, not every human being has a blog or Web page so your seven billion # is way off, by the way.

            Have a good Shabbos.

  11. Dani Gottesman Avatar
    Dani Gottesman


  12. daniel.saunders Avatar

    You are right that we should try to get our stories out there, but I’m not sure that it is for everyone, for a variety of reasons. I feel that I couldn’t tell my story, at least not directly, mostly for the reasons you say. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want my privacy (I’m very interested in Peshischa-Kotzk ideas of extreme privacy at the moment). My experience blogging indicates that I can’t engage people in lengthy prose.

    But more than this, my teshuva was so slow and organic that it sort of crept up on me over a decade or so without the interesting or even miraculous events that enliven other BT memoirs. I’ve been trying for years, but I still can’t even get a hold on it myself, can’t isolate my teenage thought processes to understand why I made each decision I made, let alone relate it to other people in an interesting way. Nor can I think of a single really interesting or amusing anecdote in my move to greater frumkeit. And I wonder if other BTs are in the same situation.

    It would be interesting to see if I could get a poem out of my experience, or more likely, someone’s experience; maybe I’ll try one day.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      I agree that it’s not for everyone. We all have our own strengths and abilities that should be used uniquely. But it’s for a lot more people than are currently doing it.

      1. daniel.saunders Avatar

        Yeah, I didn’t mean that comment to sound as negative as it came across. Sorry about that. To make up for it, here’s a poem I wrote last year about a BT (feel free to delete if it’s too long and off topic). It’s not exactly my story, but I’m in there, somewhere.

        At Prayer

        “Once there was a Master of Prayer…” – The Master of Prayer, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

        Hear O Israel,
        The Lord is our God
        The Lord is One…

        I am but a novice of prayer.
        I come to draw close to You with a whisper,
        To pour out my life’s blood like water,
        To replace the sacrifices
        By setting my soul aflame.
        But I stutter and stumble
        And I break my teeth on the words.

        Blessed are You, Lord,
        Our God and the God of our forefathers…

        Our forefathers knew how to pray
        But we, the children,
        Once lost and half found,
        Have forgotten.
        We must be told when to stand
        And when to sit,
        When to listen
        And when to respond,
        When to bow
        And when to stand erect.
        Oh, to be one of those Jews of old
        Who could just dive in
        And praise His Creator!

        Magnified and sanctified may His great name

        Perhaps I seem a strange old man
        Who slips in at the back of the shul
        And never talks
        And never gestures in prayer
        Or sways and shokels
        Up and down like a lulav
        But stands still,
        Still, like the pillars of the Temple,
        Yachin and Boaz,
        And whispers,
        And whispers,
        And whispers…

    2. Tova Ross Avatar
      Tova Ross

      I love your pen name.

      1. daniel.saunders Avatar

        Thanks, but it’s actually my real name! (Yes, I have read the book too.)

  13. Tova Ross Avatar
    Tova Ross

    I think the most important element in any story (aside from good writing, of course) is honesty. If the reader feels hoodwinked or BSed, or like he’s receiving a glossed-over version of a journey, he feels cheated. Disinterested. And writing honestly is very tough, because the truth isn’t always so pretty. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but many BTs – excluding you, of course – end up writing stories that seem too pretty and glossy and thus, the kind of happy stories that get published on Aish.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      I totally, 100% agree. I think the how is just as important as actually DOING it.

    2. Rebecca K. Avatar
      Rebecca K.

      I actually like a lot of stuff on Aish.com (I have to admit that I know a lot of people who write from them because they are my teachers or neighbors or friends or whatever so I’m kinda biased), but I think it’s a different market. The person who goes to the Aish site, or Chabad.org, is already interested in Judaism. They are looking for guidance, advice, information, inspiration. This is a different type of writing. It’s still honest, by the way, but it’s different. And it’s not going to appeal to a reader who “stumbles upon” an article in a mainstream venue that happens to be by someone who is Jewish.

  14. anonymouse Avatar

    This is not a very accurate view of the situation. People want to see something interesting. Alan Veingard is out telling his story, and people like it because it is unique. People going off the derech from very orthodox and extremely insular communities is not as common as you would think because there is a lot of pressure to stay within the fold… a mother committed suicide a couple of months ago after leaving one of these communities. She could not see her kids and she had no family or friends to go to.

    You want to tell your story, go ahead. You want in in the NY Times? It better be interesting.

    1. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
      Malka Hellinger Forshner

      People listen Shlomo Veingrad because he was a famous football player, otherwise, I think he wouldn’t get any crowd……nothing personal, just that is what gets him noticed, like on college campuses………..

      1. anonymouse Avatar

        Point is the story is interesting, and he speaks at other venues as well.
        The story should be interesting, of the derech people expose something unknown about a community like the lack of support and other social issues.

        There may still be a bias but it comes down to selling an interesting story.

  15. David Wallace Avatar
    David Wallace

    I find this to be very thought provoking. I agree that to an extent the off-the-derech writers perhaps gain more of an audience due to confirmation bias, and perhaps mixed with a curiosity of what it is like ‘behind the scenes.’ This particular confirmation bias seems to be a two way street, on the one hand saying, ” Orthodox Judaism is old- fashioned,” and on the other hand it may be saying and confirming, ” The secular world is Truth- with a capital T.” – Both of which the secular world can agree with, and appreciate.

    Were a Baal Teshuva to write their story, it would also need to be in a language that the world could both appreciate and understand. A Baal Teshuva, especially in the early phases of return, will often have a more pessimistic view of the secular world, and may come across as a more fundamental, shunning the secular world and values, and modernity. Once, and if, said Baal Teshuva makes it past this more fundamentalist mindset, they are often a bit out of touch with the world, and a bit too far removed to communicate effectively.

    But I think furthermore, Judaism has not yet set that precedent for that sort of ‘dialogue’ with the outside world. It is true, we have seen Maimonides in his Guide for the perplexed, use Aristotelian philosophy to communicate Jewish Principles to defend his faith against his contemporaries. We have seen R Breuer use Kant’s philosophy to justify Judaism to his German neighbors, etc…

    Throughout history, we have repeatedly seen Jews use outside philosophies to communicate with the outside world, but it has been for defense- not so much to tell our story, to communicate. I don’t think that a Baal Teshuva could simply write his story, and gain appreciation and recognition in the New York Times. It would need to encompass a broader perspective than just ‘their journey back,’ and represent more than just what Judaism has to offer for Jews.

  16. David Magerman Avatar
    David Magerman

    It’s possible that some people from secular backgrounds are intimidated about sharing their non-secular experiences with the secular world. I recall that when I started becoming more outwardly observant, I shared some of my religious and spiritual views with my colleagues at work (a hyper-intellectual financial company), and I got a lot of insulting and denigrating reactions, mostly from the Jews in the company. People whose respect I valued thought my newly acquired views were backward, ignorant, and contrary to what they thought intelligent people believed.

    It makes sense that religious people who dive into the secular world are happy to share their secular-leaning views with “the choir”. It’s more challenging and intimidating for baal teshuvas to present views to a secular community that they know from their own experience will not be well-received and probably will be attacked in a denigrating way.

  17. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
    Malka Hellinger Forshner

    So, all you BT writers………can we do some kind of on-line writer’s workshop? Seriously, I think it could be very powerful, supportive, safe, and productive! And perhaps publish an anthology of our collective writings…….how ’bout that?!

    1. Rebecca K. Avatar
      Rebecca K.

      Personally, I think that it’s more important to get solid writing skills than that they should be specifically for this purpose. There are a number of writing teachers out there who give courses, some of them via Skype or conference call. I think that Ruchama King Feuerman is one of them. I’m not sure what level writer she teaches, though, because her last ad was for those writers with some experience already. She has a website–you could check there. If you’re in Florida, you could also look for a writing class local to you. Get a recommendation first though. Some classes are not effective, others have instructors and students who are more interested in tearing down “the competition” then building better writers. And there are a lot of very, very good writing books out there. Look up ones with 5-star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads and pick a couple that sound good after you read a few reviews. Anyone out there with other suggestions for Malka?

      1. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
        Malka Hellinger Forshner

        Thanks so much for your suggestions…. As far as being “in Florida” — I’m on the west coast, and right now, I’m not really interested in a non-Jewish group. I do have writing experience, but feel rusty and unchallenged…..although my daughter, who is in a Master’s program at Sarah Lawrence for writing has become my writing coach! I’ll also look around for a good writing book, as you suggested…….the best one liner my daughter has given me so far, from one of her professors, is “Just strap yourself in a chair and write it!”

        1. daniel.saunders Avatar

          I’m a very amateur poet rather than a professional writer (though I have had a one or two prose pieces published), but I would say the line from your daughter is very true: just make sure you keep writing no matter what happens, no matter how good you think you are, just write write write write write.

  18. Jake Avatar

    This is an excellent article and you list some very on-point reasons for why the mass-media ignores the other side of the story, but you left out a crucial reason which has less to do with Judaism more to do with storytelling in general. The problem is that in the classic story arc, you like to see the protagonist end in a place where you can relate to him. It creates more of a happy ending. Most people don’t want a story which they know will end in unhappiness from the get-go, unless it’s the very rare example of Death of a Salesman or Breaking Bad. Off-the-derech stories are about how someone most Americans can’t relate to have an epiphany and become someone they can. Baal-teshuvah stories are the opposite, so the non-religious Jewish reader (ie, most people) will see this as a car wreck slowly unfolding. Unless the writer has some truly brilliant and universal insights for the public, nobody is going to care.

  19. Shalvi Schachter Avatar
    Shalvi Schachter

    I read this post a few hours ago, and have been thinking about it. I am a writer, a baalas teshuva, and have a very interesting, unusual and complex story to tell. But there are a few problems. I am bound by the Halachos of shmiras halashon. If I leave out the parts that reflect badly on myself, my family, and others, the book will just be boring. If I write under a pen name there will always be someone who makes the connection, and writing about the extreme experiences that I had is unfair to my children, and to others. If I were to write my story, the moral of the story would not be that it’s great to be frum, and it probably would not reflect well on the frum world that I am dedicated to being a prt of. If anything people might think I’m crazy to have experienced the things that I have experienced and remained frum. I have had some very powerful spiritual experiences, but they don’t translate we’ll into writing without sounding evangelical or psychotic. Basically the frumies wouldn’t want to read about my experiences ‘before’, and about the harsh things that happen in the frum world, and the non-frumies wouldn’t get what makes me tick. I would love to write my story, but I just don’t see how I possibly could print and sell it.

    1. isaack Avatar

      Please, before you pass judgement over what is and isn’t acceptable, consult a rav.
      As a writer, you are uniquely positioned to make a difference with your experiences. Yes, people who wish to pry and attempt to make the connection may do so, but you can’t let their desire to uncover slander silence your voice.
      Elad is right. This is a generation with thousands of voices that need to be heard. We can’t engage in self censorship out of fear.
      Silence is consent. Consent to the views of the secular world. Consent to the slander of our religion. Consent to the public perceptions of backwardness, darkness, and bigotry.
      We are so much more. We must not remain silent, but let our unique voices ring out.

      1. Rebecca K. Avatar
        Rebecca K.

        Any Orthodox writer should have a rav. There are some cases in which he may tell you to remain silent, but in some cases it may be considered constructive, helpful and necessary (l’toeles) for you to speak up. Or there are cases in which you can fictionalize or change names (yours and the people in the story) yet still express an inner truth.

        If you have concerns about loshon hara, you can write a meaningful segment of your story that doesn’t include harmful elements. There’s no reason to write a full memoir if you feel no need to do so.

  20. Sasha Avatar

    My father would have the most awesome memoir. He was married to a black woman in the 60s and helped raise her two children, and they had a daughter together. They lived in Compton, and he was the only white man in the neighborhood. He dealt with police brutality and gang violence and was arrested twice for civil rights related “crimes.” His family would have nothing to do with him, not because his wife wasn’t Jewish, but because she was black. Then he ended up divorcing and becoming a baal teshuvah. He still has an excellent relationship with his step children. His daughter, my older sister, is an amazing person who is very respectful and knowledgeable about Judaism. But he never wrote his story because he was afraid of hurting or offending anyone. Perhaps one day I will write it for him.

    1. Alan Levin Avatar
      Alan Levin

      Wow, what a really cool story. I’d love to read more… so why did you dad become a BT? Does that make you FFB and really open minded?

      1. Sasha Avatar

        My dad became a BT after he divorced and reconnected with his family. His older brother had become connected with Chabad, and my father used to go with him to services as a way to spend time together. Then he injured his back at work (he was a probation officer for juvenile delinquents and played football with no gear), so he took off six months and went to yeshiva. I guess I am an FFB, and hopefully open-minded. 🙂

        1. Alan Levin Avatar
          Alan Levin

          Thanks for the fast super answer, that’s a great story. As an ‘African’ Jew who has been through similar situations, I can really relate to your Jewish ‘education’. My best part to the story is that you turned out so great. In my humble opinion we are all suffering from close mindedness in some of our current leadership. I think that through sharing and connecting globally in this way we shall overcome that soon. Hope you have a great Shabbos 🙂

  21. Tuvia Avatar

    I think OTD folks have a tale to tell – and they are willing to tell it. Part of going OTD is to declare your truth, your experiences, your observations.

    The BT crowd is constrained – first, they don’t want to harm their own reputation in the community (could be “bad for shidduchim,” “bad for parnussa,” etc.)

    Second, they are in many ways telling a story of uncritically accepting a view and deciding to live it. They have stepped away from critical evaluation, from skepticism about their religion. Often they write in a sense as a tool for kiruv – discussing their growth in ways that would attract others, maybe create some envy in those who haven’t found “the truth,” as they have.

    I am amazed at how boring BT essays are – and how vapid. I find most BTs to be very, very warm and lovely, but also very, very vapid in the way they describe Judaism. Cheerleading is pretty boring to read.

    And to the person who said avoid prescriptive writing? How? The BT is almost welded to the idea that their choices represent the best choices for all Jews. It’s a kind of hostility to respecting the lives, the truths, of others.

    Finally – by all means, write your story. But enable comments! Let people tear you apart, support you, decry you, etc. Writing is not some precious exercise in affirmation. I don’t know if your average BT is ready for the reactions. But let’s all be heard.

    I thought the first part of your essay Pop Chassid, was actually quite good. I was amazed that you would encourage the individuality and perspectives of OTDers who write. I think the charedi world frowns on individuality, and we don’t have to argue the point, the clothes alone scream “conform.”

    But I was impressed with your first several paragraphs – I tend to see BTs as hopelessly incapable of legitimizing or recognizing the decency and reality of those who are just sadly, not just, like, them. I believe 99% of BTs are soul-crushers first class to those who don’t feel the way they do. Deny their very reality in hurtful, tragic ways. That to me is the seamy underbelly of being a total believer – the death of compassion.


  22. Chana Elias Avatar
    Chana Elias

    Thank you for this push.

  23. Bella Bass Avatar
    Bella Bass

    I set out to do just what you are talking about. I wrote a funny, sexy, coming-of-age, baal tchuvah novel for my master’s thesis in creative writing at Bar ilan. I wanted to write a novel that would appeal to secular readers, who would fall in love with the character and accompany her on a journey that led, ultimately, to embracing Torah.

    I found an agent for it right away — a religious, funky and very accomplished literary agent. But it fell flat at publishing houses. It was read to the end — an accomplishment in itself — but when the plot developed to where she decides she’s going to keep SHabbos, and try and end her addiction to her very exciting, non-Jewish boyfriend,..I think there was a cultural discomfort with a character making an active choice to LIMIT herself.

    Maybe I wasn’t successful in showing how the character found her new “limitations” to be a new kind of freedom. But I worried that her getting to that point was the point of disconnect with secular editors. Even though the whole style of the book was funny, nutso, and totally secular.

    The book’s been shelved for years now and I’ve been thinking this may be the year to get to it again. (My character needs a cell phone by now, among other things.) The wild success of the girl-porn books, Shades of Grey, gives me weird hope. Women want that excitement, but they want the security of marriage, too. My character offers a unique inversion of that — she’s got the vulnerability of a single woman, but she embraces security in Torah.

    1. Rooster Avatar

      wow. now I know why my wife wants a divorce.

  24. Jorma Teräs Avatar
    Jorma Teräs

    you fools don’t you know that In the beginning the Big Bang caused the whole Universe and it’s spacetime expand so infinitely fast, much faster than lightspeed, that it caused the whole Universe to travel backwards in time. the Universe travelled so far back, that the Big Bang, that
    created the Universe is billions and billions of years in the future. and the Universe is just catching up to its beginning and end, and
    when the universe arrives at the end/beginning of spacetime it’s collision with itself causes the Big Bang and spacetime will expand
    many times faster than lightspeed to travel back in time and so on to infinity.. Alpha and Omega but no god. The Timetraveling Big Bang also created the one first soul, the Universal Migrator. In the beginning the Universal Migrator divided itself, and each Migrator flied off independently in search of a habitable planet in order to breathe life into it. Like a cell dividing, it spread in all directions Creating trilliillions of souls to live among the stars. that is how the big bang going to happen or happened. deal with it. your culture is a lie.