Tag Archives: baal teshuvah

Rabbi Fink Is Right

24 May

What if some woman would write into us from Yemen about how upset she is at the media’s portrayal of the state of Muslim women, and how wonderful this Muslim lifestyle is, and how she can leave whenever she wants, and how beautiful the Koran’s view of women is and how all her friends are so happy etc, and she just fails to mention that she and her friends are Americans with enough education, means and outside ties to leave whenever they want, and the country really has no way of stopping them because they’re American citizens?

I wonder if the baalei tshuva talking about the XOJane Chaya article can see how much of an outrage that would cause among Arabic women who left Muslim countries to live in America and who are trying to raise awareness of the abuse they and their sisters and mothers are going through. And how they would respond to things like “I’m sorry you went through that, but that’s not how REAL Islam is supposed to be like.” Fuck you, that’s EXACTLY how real Islam is in most Arab countries, whether you live it or not. How dare you cover up someone else’s pain because it interferes with the image of your beautiful kumbaya lifestyle.

Before the Cold War, socialists in England during Lenin and Stalin’s reign, when millions of people were being slaughtered in Russia,  did whatever they could to stop the reports of the mass starvations and killings happening in Russia from being published. Not because they were under any threat from Stalin. This was the 1930’s, England was the most powerful country on Earth. They did it entirely to save a Utopian idea. They willingly sacrificed millions of Russian people to save an idea that had never worked outside of the drawing board. If you think for a moment that that’s what God wants, I really don’t know what to say.

Do research. Look at the facts on the ground and report them accurately. Don’t ignore other people or fake that you know how other people live to promote your own vision.


Rabbi Fink’s excellent article: http://finkorswim.com/2012/05/22/dear-chaya/



I’m not a lost soul.

3 Apr

One thing baalei teshuva and kiruv-minded people ask me when I mention I’m not so enthusiastic about Hashem (so basically, online) is why I don’t approach it another way. Sometimes, the chassidic minded will quote me the story of what a certain Rebbe told an apikores one time: “The God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.” Why don’t I find God on my own?

These people don’t realize the difference between me and them. I’m not lost or whatever else. I have always had a relationship with God and I’m purposely avoiding him. No matter what I learn, or read, or believe intellectually, no matter how spiritual or scientific or agnostic or atheistic I think in my rational mind, in my core being, I KNOW God. And I know he’s a jerk.

I’ve pretended otherwise, and tried look at him some other nice way, but that’s never REAL God. That will always be superficial, a fiction I’ll always know I created in my own imagination. Real God is the one I’ve been with my entire life, the one I’ve shared every moment with since as far back as I can remember

Real God doesn’t care how I feel or if I love other people or take care of the environment or some other bullshit. Real God gave an old man a book of commandments a long time ago, and he expects me to follow them or he’ll kill me. Sof davar hakol nishma es haelokim yirah vi’es mitzvosav shmor ki ze kol ha’adam. That’s what Real God says to me.

Stranger In A Strange Land

26 Oct

By Gutman Braun

“Life is what happens while you’re busy doing other things.”

OK, so it might not be profound, but there is some truth to it – and that was the bumper-sticker that greeted me the day that I arrived in the goldeneh Los Angeles to start my new life.

That was twenty years ago; I’ve started new lives a number of times since then – and I suspect that I have a number of new lives to begin in my future. It’s all so fleeting, all so fast. Occasionally I stop to look around, as I will attempt to do now. While I do so, I cannot help but recall the words of the great Robert Frost, z”l:

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep”

My overdeveloped sense of responsibility drives me on mercilessly, and I’ve never did have the chance to find that elusive inner peace. Perhaps work and family responsibilities didn’t really allow for the requisite singularity of purpose to experiment and search properly (which is, without a doubt, both a blessing and curse) – but it wasn’t because I hadn’t wanted to sort it all out; in fact that’s the very thing that I’ve sought as far back as I can remember.

I arrived all those years ago in Southern California, a refugee from Borough Park, full of excitement, hope and dreams. Of course, I was not the first new-arrival in the Southland with such emotions – the problem was that while I desperately hoped for a future saturated with self-understanding, and I consistently hoped beyond hope that I’d find it, the present seldom offered a taste of that promise. As a result, my identity has always been complex, and I’ve continued to endlessly wonder who I really am.

So much has happened in this past couple decades, and along the way I have thought myself to be many different people. I have considered numerous “truths” to be compelling – as I have morphed from mindset to mindset. None of them brought me peace of mind for any length of time– truth and falsehood tend to be relative terms, and relative to me they seem to play musical chairs.

You see, there is a special galus that those like me experience – and those like me are the bnei u’bnos ba’alei-tshuvah. If one is born and raised on the holy streets of Williamsburg, Borough Park, Monsey, Kiryas Joel (why isn’t that spelled with a Y?), New Square (shouldn’t that something like New Skvere or Skwere?), or what-have-you, as a part of one of the many Frumme Kreizin and with the ever-present and palpable Heimishe European refugee culture, there are a number of certainties. Community, culture and ancestry provide you with a sense of conviction, assurance and clarity in your identity, beginning with your formative years. Without a doubt, Heimishe Yidden may maintain a curiosity and maybe even a jealousy of those living outside the enclave, but, vi-nisht-vi, the secular world is fremd – you knew who you were from the day that you first saw your babeh bentchen lecht or came to cheder with your tatteh un zeideh wrapped in a Talis. But for people like me, it’s far more complicated.

You see, we were never so sure altogether. If you think that you received mixed-messages, we received them in spades. I’m not only talking about the friye or goyishe cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles (which shouldn’t be considered as trivial) – I’m talking about far deeper and subtler messages. Confusion becomes a way of life: On the one hand, we share many Heimishe experiences – we participated in same yeshivos, schools, shuls, yomim-tovim, minhagim, halachos, languages, etc – but on the other hand, from the earliest ages, we heard of things that we were told are shtusim or worse. Well, well, tatteh un mameh, if they are shtusim at best, why are you talking about them? Nu, dertzeil takeh vegen yener Paul Newman, Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan. Nu, zog shoin, what were the different points of debate between Freud and Jung? When you quote or mention Hemingway or Joyce, Chandler or Stout, Kerouac or Kafka, don’t you think we’ll be curious? If that secular world is so bankrupt, why do you refer to it with such interest and nostalgia? You don’t think younger minds take notice?

I know the answers, of course; but knowing the reasons doesn’t help. I also know that the individual Ba’alei Tshuvah are sincere, and they takeh believe that the world they left was inferior – and they may even be right – but the next generation suffers from a severely uncertain identity as a result. Moreover, we notice that our parents (and therefore, by extension, us) don’t really fit in here. Elteren tayireh, as a friend of mine once said, “You tend to beep when you’re supposed to bop.” We know we’re foreigners – we know that the other kids’ moms and dads aren’t civil-war-buffs. We know that we don’t belong in the secular world, but we also don’t really belong here. We know. Mir zenen cultural yesomim; we don’t really belong anywhere.

Vos tzu tohn? I don’t know. I’ve tried this and I’ve tried that – and numerous variations of both – and I doubt I’ll ever really solve it. In the meantime, “Like sands through an hourglass, so does the world turn;” as I grow older, I come to know less and less. I used to think, at various times, that I had a mehalach – but I stand today completely without a clue. To quote (the alleged novi-shekker) Robert Zimmerman, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” – I think it’s time to start again; maybe this time I’ll get it right?

(Editor’s note: This is a great piece. But if the yiddish is throwing you for a loop, ask in the comments, and I’ll try to translate. Or Gutman can if he wants. Hint, hint.)