Most people are aware of the struggles that can come with being a BT (Baal Teshuvah) in an FFB (Frum From Birth) world; it’s spoken about, and we can all agree that we have notable differences, as well as notable similarities. That being said, I wanted to take a minute to talk about something that is NOT often spoken of: being a BT amongst BTs.
Just shy of five years ago, I took the plunge into this amazing and crazy world of frumkeit and chassidishkeit. I went to an incredible seminary (Machon L’Yahadus), met influential people, and truly came into myself. It’s taken every second of these past five years to become comfortable with who I am in the frum world.
As I was growing in my frumkeit, I always felt like FFBs had a level of admiration for this young and learning BT; they would be interested in my story and where I came from, and would help me to get to where I wanted to be with no judgment. While I was different than them, there was a mutual understanding that we came from differing backgrounds and bases of knowledge. What ended up being more interesting was how I saw and experienced BTs interacting with each other.
I can’t say that my experience speaks for everyone, but for me, there was this underlying competition of who can be the shtarkest the fastest? It could be that I was 18 and so enchanted by everything that I felt the need to compete against myself to learn more, but I also felt it was an unspoken goal amongst us all—to be the one with the greatest knowledge. A little competition is healthy, pushing yourself to learn more Torah is healthy, but what isn’t healthy is the feeling that you’re inadequate if you’re not at the same place as someone else.
As BTs, there is a natural yearning for truth and wholeness, but we try so hard to get there that we forget to let ourselves breath for a second and enjoy the view from where we are before continuing on the journey. This isn’t a race; there is no medal. The reward is in the work and in the learning.
I write this because I hit a wall at one point. The feeling of inadequacy weighed too heavily on me and I had to step back, reevaluate, and get some much-needed chizzuk from my best friend before I continued on. I write this because I wish someone would have told me these things as I was beginning my journey into frumkeit; to help me recognize that my growth is incredible and uniquely mine. As long as a person is continuing on this path, he/she is going up and growing, just as much as anyone else.
As BTs, we need to support one another, not criticize or think that we know more than someone else because we’ve been here longer or did x,y, or z. We all have the same end goal—serving Hashem to the best of our abilities—and that looks different for everyone. As we learn, there are 70 ways to the Torah. Just because your way looks different than someone else’s doesn’t make it wrong.
I was the girl in seminary who wanted to know everything. I was a BT in a BT world, and the need to push myself did not do me any good. I realize now that it’s okay that I don’t know it all—maybe one day I will, but not today. I am content in the fact that I need to ask questions to others, and that I am not perfect. My frumkeit is my own, and nobody else’s.
This message can be universal—I know that more than just BTs need to understand this, so to anyone who needs to hear this:
Grow. Learn. Aspire to be the best you possible.