Thursday, August 11, 2016

Children of BTs and Converts: How They're Really Treated

  I posted the link to this article on this blog's Facebook page yesterday but it was too important not to include a brief post about it here.
   I can only hope that "Children of Baalei Teshuva / Converts / Something to Think About During These 9 Days"goes viral. Parents need to read this. Potential recruits being missionized by ultra-orthodox kiruv professionals need to read this. The frum world needs to read this. People considering an orthodox conversion need to read this.
  In a nutshell, converts are supposed to welcomed into the community. They're not be reminded that they are converts. Baalei teshuvah are also supposedly on a higher level than those who are frum from birth, or FFB, since they supposedly overcame more obstacles and changed their way of life. Regardless, the frum community has always found a way to treat gerim (converts) and BTs (newly religious) with distrust and disdain, allowing and encouraging community members to treat them as if they are second class citizens.
  The children of BTs and gerim often face social and educational hurdles from a community that once pretended to accept their parents in order to convince them to become frum. Kids are often not  accepted into certain schools due to their parents' status as BTs or converts; some children are bullied in the schools that do accept them. Often these children face further social discrimination from orthodox parents who fear that their kids will somehow be negatively influenced by a family that has not always been frum.
  I have written about this before on this blog. I have sent articles and queries to other publications about this phenomenon, and about the issues within kiruv. The frum world doesn't want to hear it and the non-orthodox Jewish world doesn't believe it--not until their children are scooped up by the friendly rabbi on campus and indoctrinated into this lifestyle. Read the article. Share that article and others that shed light on what's really going on in the world of kiruv. Let's work together to educate people about the truth behind deceptive ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach.


  1. It's one thing to imagine that your child who was spirited away by a campus rabbi is somewhat happy in his or her new life surrounded by fellow devotees. It's pretty unbearable for this parent to imagine that same child, after severing relationships with everyone, is not happy after all. There is no place in their old world or their new one. A life truly ruined.

    Broken hearted.

    1. It's not that bad. Normally, when someone gets spirited away by a campus rabbi, it is because something of the contents the campus rabbi has to offer speaks to them. The success rates of kiruv are very low, I suppose far under 10%. That's a sign that it works only with people who really want to be kiruved for one reason or another.

      On the parent's part, it is best to keep an open home and an open heart, not to try and force the children back with rhetoric like "if you go there, you do not have to come home" and to keep interested in what is going on in the child's lives and minds, and, if possible, not to say "I told you so" when disappointment sets in. i.e. not to raise the psychological price invested in the embracing of the frum lifestyle.
      You will see that while the child may continue sporting the outward signs of a frum life, there is a whole evolution going on in their heads and hearts, and hopefully it will come back to something you as a parent can identify with.
      But if the bridges of communication get broken during the first phases, you will never see it...

  2. Do I understand what you're saying, btexperience - it's "not that bad" when a child is spirited away by a campus rabbi? Are you so far removed from reality, and so enmeshed, entangled and brainwashed into believing that the kiruv system is good that you would actually dismiss my family's pain with a ridiculous comment like "it's not that bad?"

    Let me ask you this, is it "not that bad" when frum kids are spirited away or go OTD with or without help from strangers?

    And where does the under 10% "success rate" come from? How do you know that? Are you just throwing numbers around to sound like there are facts to back up your allegation?

    How did you decide that kiruved kids really wanted to be kiruved? This incredulous allegation sounds like you're accusing victims of kiruv in the way that some would accuse rape victims - she dressed provocatively & was begging for it.

    Broken hearted

    1. On the contrary, I am trying to give solace to heartbroken parents.

      My perspective is one of a child who was "spirited away" by a "Campus rabbi".

      Parents should trust themselves and their children. They should trust themselves and their education, that they gave what is essential to their children and that it will not just go away because of a campus rabbi. they should trust the children that they will still keep their moral compass, even when they do not chose exactly their parent's path.

      And yes, I would say exactly the same thing to heartbroken frum parents whose children went OTD: keep the relationship with the child intact, don't allow religious differences to destroy your relationship.

      And yes, those two situations are more similar than you might think at first glance.

      The problem is that in both situations parents tend to throw away the child with the bathwater: in their attempt to bring the child back to their path, they often resort to moral extortion which in turn is harmful to their relationship with their child.

  3. That's quite an "original" line of moralizing, btexperience. You parrot the kiruv sales pitch verbatim and your rabbi must be proud of you.

    You ignore the basic problem here. Kiruv is fundamentally wrong. Parents do not send their children to college with the knowledge that rabbis regard them as commodities available for conversion into fundamentalist ultra orthodox sects.

    You can try to justify what you do, but you will never convince a family whose child was taken away that kiruv is anything less than evil.

    I don't know why you assume that parents close the doors of communication. It's just as likely to be a kiruved child who, at the encouragement of their kiruv rabbi, distances themselves from their non-religious family.

    Broken hearted

    1. I don't parrot the kiruv sales pitch, because no kiruv rabbi would say that it is completely legitimate for orthodox children to leave orthodoxy.

      However, this is my conviction: I decided not to practice the same religion or non-religion as my parents, so why should my children not be allowed to choose a different religious path than me?

      In my personal experience, I first had the desire to intensify my "jewish experience", and "kiruv workers" where there to help me. I did it alone first, I learned on my own, I tried to fulfill religious commandments to the best of my ability. And then I met "kiruv workers" who would help me, get me invitations with religious families, etc.

      When I look around at what chabad does, I suppose that less than 10% (I would even say not more than 1%) of all the people who go occasionally or even regularly to friday evening meals become religious.
      I have a good friend who had been attending chabad Friday evening meals for students for a few years now, and she has no intention of becoming religious. Same goes for her friends who attend the same Friday evening meals. It is mix of students from modern-orthodox homes who stay modern orthodox and are happy to have a place to be on fr. evening, Others come from completely irreligious homes. They come to the Friday evening meal and go on with their normal life on saturday. And then there is the odd chozer bitshuva who takes it all seriously but does not really fit in, because he puts too much effort into all this religious stuff...

      I also have a few friends who went to chabad day schools, so they were really, really strongly exposed to kiruv efforts. Some of them became religious while they were at that school, but stopped as soon as they left.

      Therefore, I think that the success rates of kiruv, in the sense that a person who did not keep shabbat starts keeping shabbat and sticks to it long term, are very, very low.

      My parents also had the impression that I was "taken from them", but I know that it is not true, because I was the one looking for the religion, no-one forced it on me.

      My parents did close the doors of communication, much in the way many orthodox parents do when they want to put all their weight into the balance to keep their children from abandoning religion.

      How did they do it? They told me: You can't stay with us and keep kosher. So I had to move out. They told me "No kosher food will cross this threshold", so I could not eat with them. They said they would not eat at my place if I did not eat at their place. they categorically refused to participate in any kind of religious celebration or ceremony at my house: no kiddush, no festive meals, etc.

      But most importantly, they were so busy denigrating religion and religious people every time I met them, that they never had an occasion to see how my religious stance evolved over time. It just did not interest them.

      So if you think that your child fell prey to a strange cult, here is what specialist cult fighters recommend:

      1) Try and keep a good relationship with the child, Show them you are always there for them.

      2) Avoid denigrating the cult leaders, because it just plays into the cult's game of "us" vs. "them" (good cult world vs bad outside world)

      3) Don't give the child money that will end up within the cult. If you want to support the child, pay certain bills for them, make very personalised gifts, but don't give cash and say no to any financial demand.

      I would add:
      4) Don't try to convince your child that their views are wrong.

      5) Don't make your child pay a psychological price for cult adherence, because the higher the psychological price they pay, the less likely they are to abandon it.
      My parents told me: it's either us or shabbat, it's either us or kashrut. So I am not very likely to abandon shabbat or kashrut for other reasons, because the price I paid - losing the good graces of my parents - is higher than anything money could pay.

  4. "I don't parrot the kiruv sales pitch, because no kiruv rabbi would say that it is completely legitimate for orthodox children to leave orthodoxy."

    As a matter of fact the kiruv worker who got my child said just that to me, in writing! They harp on the idea that this is a choice. I don't believe for a minute this is a choice. There is peer pressure, love bombing, financial assistance and the constant ogling and attention given to new recruits. As kids becomes deeper enmeshed fewer resources are needed to cement their "choice."

    You've developed a nice story about how your parents are to blame for your broken relationship. THEY wouldn't eat with you, THEY wouldn't partake in ceremonies, THEY closed the doors of communication, THEY denigrated religion, THEY didn't have an occasion to see how your religious stance evolved. It's all THEIR fault. The religious group you are a member of is blameless.

    I think the group you are a member of encourages you to eliminate anti-religious people from your life. Even if they are your siblings and parents. They are a threat. They might encourage you to leave. They might influence you. Even worse, they might influence your children. They are embarrassing to be seen in public with. They might drive to your house on a Saturday! Better play it safe & keep them at bay unless they agree to follow the rules & behave as you demand. I have news for you, BTexperience, religions don't do that; cults & cult-like groups do.

    Thank you for reiterating the widely available information about how to deal with family members in cults and cult like groups. This isn't exactly news to me or to the vast majority of parents whose children were recruited into ultra orthodox Judaism.

    Broken Hearted

    1. Thank you for your answer.

      The fact that you do not understand that my parents contributed to breaking off the bridges of communication shows me that what I wrote at the beginning could have been useful to you.

      Perhaps you will understand one day.

  5. If you are able to remove your blinders long enough to see through the haze of your new life, you may one day realize that a well funded, highly organized, well oiled kiruv machine did this TO you. They followed a tried and true method of recruiting and indoctrination. Objectors, like your parents, are systematically removed from BT's lives. Nothing special here, it's how they operate. If you ever decide to leave, I hope your family is there for you.

    Broken Hearted

    1. As I told you, their success rates are very low.

      It is true that there are several factors that can contribute to an alienation between a BT and their parents.

      I suppose that most of them are involuntary on the Kiruv-people's side, but I agree that they do not enough to fight this phenomenon. They do not enough to avoid that BTs will offend their parents in their t'shuva process, because they could get the bigger picture when the BT does not.

      Many things that look like deliberate alienation to you are just ignorance or set views on the kiruv rabbis part.

      e.g. Many kiruv rabbis think that their brand of judaism is the only true brand of judaism, and they do too much to recruit BTs exclusively to their brand of judaism and nothing else.

      In my view, people helping BTs or Gerim should have a broader view of judaism.

  6. I am writing from the perspective of someone who did maintain close family relationships, even when we became more religious.

    My family, in general, always encouraged us to express ourselves and they were always respectful of us as independent adults. This attitude carried over to religious matters. My parents have never seen a failure to agree (on any matter) as a sign of disrespect or reason for confrontation.

    I don't expect anyone else to keep kosher - but I appreciate the fact that they will make a kosher brisket in the "Cindy roasting pan", that there is Wacky Mac when my kids come over and that they were willing to take out from a kosher place in Boca when we visited them in Florida. I appreciate that our siblings will bring items like soft drinks or desserts from a kosher bakery or fresh fruit when they come over for dinner.

    Because....they DO come over for dinner! Last Friday night, we had 25 people (both sets of parents, all siblings plus spouses plus kids) eating dinner, and we're all going to a cottage resort this weekend together. My kids have an amazing relationship with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My mom and sister are pretty much agnostic/atheist. We aren't out to change each other.

    There are also ways in which we are constantly evolving. It's easier to do so when there is no "told ya so". If I chat about something that bugs me at shul, it's just a chat - not some dramatic admission of failure on my part to listen to my parents.

  7. Hi all. I've refrained from commenting but I just want to chime in here.
    Looking through forums where BTs and Gerim participate, as well as talking to many OTD BTs and Gerim, I've found that while there are some who have been able to maintain positive family relationships, there are also many who were pressured into becoming overzealous in their religious practice to the point that non-frum family was quickly alienated.
    As a person who was a BT and who did leave that derech, I can say that my own journey didn't alienate my family, but my own journey wasn't typical of the BT experience. However, there are many young people who make a big stink about how what their parents are doing is "wrong" and try to pressure their parents into greater observance, or into changing their own lifestyle to accommodate their changing child. Yes, we who know better should pressure those pushing an irresponsible approach to Judaism to stop doing so. Unfortunately, when kiruv is often both an occupation and a lifestyle choice (think Aish and Chabad, whose kiruv rabbis/shluchim often do this full-time,)irresponsible rabbis are not likely to listen to the rest of us. Pushing people harder (or at all) is more about getting people into yeshivas (profit motivated or prophet motivated?) and selling a lifestyle. The family that gets left behind isn't always being considered, certainly not before teaching chumras and halacha.
    A little bit of an aside, I recall sitting in classes in Jerusalem where well-meaning kiruv rabbis outwardly poked fun at non-orthodox Jewish denominations and Christianity. I recall NOBODY saying anything in defense of other expressions of Judaism. And who were the participants in these classes? People on the BT/Gerim path. To this day, I hate that despite my stomach turning when I heard these things being said, I felt silenced and said nothing. I was much younger then. At this point, I would have questioned these rabbis and called them out. But everyone in those classes was young, and I assume that we all felt that rabbis don't get questioned because they're on a higher madrega than the rest of us, and they must therefore know something we don't. It makes me so sad when I think of how many young people have sat through classes like these, taught by the same teachers. My apologies for going off on a bit of a tangent.

  8. Preach, Bec! Thanks. Because it's true. When I saw kiruv rabbis encourage BT kids to have some sort of a relationship with parents, I also heard with my own two ears the rabbis say that when you keep your parents happy, you are more likely to count on them for financial help. And what woman who gives up a top job to have many, many kids who are enrolled in Orthodox schools won't need a little financial boost from mom and dad?

  9. One has to wonder why two BT's, (who one assumes live profoundly meaningful lives), are spending time at this blog at all.

    We can speculate. Perhaps the kiruv rabbis who pulled them in have moved onto fresh meat and these girls aren't special any more. Maybe the thrill is gone and they're bored, tired, lonely and sad. Perhaps they regret not being allowed to participate in so many activities they see their old friends and family post on Facebook. Maybe they tried the frum life and are over it now, but they're stuck & can't get out. Maybe the realization that their children will never have the advantages in life that they had is sinking in. Are these girls realizing that they burned so many bridges they can't go home again?

    Whatever their reasons for hanging out at this blog, it's apparent that these girls blame everyone but the kiruv system that got them into this mess.

    Yehuda R

    1. Actually no, you CAN'T speculate about real people, and insert your own words because you can't be bothered to ask them directly.

      In my case, I don't specifically identify as BT because my path wasn't the stereotypical one, although I suppose each person's story is unique. I was in my 30s, married with kids, when we announced that we were kashering our kitchen and becoming fully shomer Shabbat, and the process leading up to that had gone on for years. In other words - we were adults, our families treated us like adults, and nobody was surprised. We are not Haredi.

      FWIW, it's been 9 years, we still keep a kosher home and are shomer Shabbat. Like anything else, there are areas where views change over time or new situations arise. I would say that there is slightly less focus on institutions/individual mentors and rules, and slightly more focus on certain core values, plus an appreciation for our particular friends and community.

      There are certain points that Rebecca makes that I agree with. I first read the blog out of curiosity, since I had always seen kiruv as positive. The "higher medraga (level)" language is one thing that I came to reject. Too often, it's used to explain and dismiss differences. At first, I didn't realize that the ideology behind kiruv sees lack of current observance as acceptable for one who is ignorant (the "stolen baby" rule), but doesn't allow for different paths to be recognized as legitimate unless they fit within a recognized Orthodox stream. So, I'd hear that our current school choice was okay "if you're not on that level yet", for example. We realized that we never intended to be on that level, because we didn't necessarily see it as being higher at all, just a different philosophy. [Our kids go to a community Jewish day school, and we see the fact that it welcomes kids from anywhere in the Jewish community as a feature, not a defect.]

      Anyway, I think it's useful to identify stuff like that, and methods that are unethical. I don't think it's productive for parents to reject children and their choices, because they dare to be different.

  10. Well, Cynthia, you didn't choose a haredi path, and perhaps that is why you have a good relationship with your family. I am genuinely happy for you, but realize not all parents get the same result. I've heard the kiruv rabbis encourage monetization of the relationship. That is, ask the parents for donations for school or camp, and they get to sit in assemblies at the school that are specifically designed to recruit/honor the family. Can't do that? Don't want to support that institution? Then, be satisfied with less access to family since you are now dangerous. And pity the poor non-Jewish parents of kids who converted after much study to Orthodoxy. By community standards these people, who mostly just want to be happy and involved grandparents, are really dangerous. You can understand brokenhearted's comments a little more. She is not an isolated example.

    1. I am that grandson and you better believe my grandparents are involved we live across the country and now I live in Israel but I usually see them on average 3 weeks a year. I talk to them every Sunday and I'd never dream of criticizing them for their personal adult choices. And personally they are always glad to be there for me give me advice and listen when I have problems. I don't believe they have ever donated a cent to my shul but when they come to pray even though they are a lot less Observant then our Orthodox lifestyle our Rabbi always greets them with a smile and makes inquiries as to how they are doing. It also helps that I went to a MO shul that has a lot of people who don't want to become religious but come because they love our Rabbi and Shul atmosphere and because they and their children will never be disparaged for their level of observance. My modern Orthodox father who grew up in Monsey is best friends in shul with a Liberally observant Jew and a Masorti Israeli expat. In fact they come over for Shabbos all the time they drink booze together. And my fathers friends have other choices. I lived in the Bay Area they had synagogues for every other denomination around. People come because the community I live in was wonderful warm and welcoming.

  11. Thank you for your support, Diana. I am dismissed by kiruv supporters over and over and over again with remarks about how my situation is unique, different, unusual, not what usually happens, the result of problems that already existed, and are almost exclusively MY FAULT. Cynthia reiterated that with her final point "I don't think it's productive for parents to reject children and their choices, because they dare to be different." In fact, parents of BT's are frequently rejected by the BT's, not the other way around. Whether directly or by example, parents are given the ultimatum: fall in line or be cut off.

    Broken Hearted

  12. My turn to shine...

    My Father is a Ger; my mother a BT via Neve Yerushlayim. Back in the very early 80's both of them took the standard Charedi Kiruv path in. Every single horrible thing described in the article is 100% true.

    30 years later, looking back at all of the BT families that we were friendly with while I was growing up, paints a sad picture of painful failure: Virtually no one from my generation emerged unscathed and the absolute majority aren't frum anymore.

    It started with the kids who all went OTD in the 90s after enduring constant bullying in the Charedi school system. For a short while they were running drugs in Har Nof. I haven't heard from them in decades.

    It got worse. There was the kid who was so high he decided to ride the rear bumper of an Egged city bus. He died back in 92. Or the nice Bais Yakkov drop out that gave just about every other 16 year old in Har Nof their first sexual experience.

    And it gets even darker. At some point in the mid 90's some of the BT families finally came to realize that things weren't going well for them. Clueless as they were, they turned to various Askanim who gave useless advise that caused whole families to fracture and collapse.

    So, if you're thinking about becoming a BT, please (please!) think about the following points. It will make your kids happier. It might even save a life or two.

    1. Don't go the Charedi path. The Charedi world can't and won't tolerate you. You'll always be an outsider. You might not think so right now, but trust me: When you try to get your kids into the "right" school you'll find out.

    2. Your Kiruv professional is a sales pro. He's going to lie about the Ultra Orthodox education system and the options it offers your children. Neither you nor your kids every be fully welcome in mainstream Charedi schools

    3. Last but not least, as a BT you're a new immigrant in strange land. Your kids will be native born. You'll be that weird old timer the came over to the US in 1901 and never quite figured it out. Your kids will find their own path. Accept the inevitable and embrace that your kids will be different.

  13. Just for the record...I am a balas teshuva and my husband is a ger. Our son is in an ultra orthodox cheder in Square of Ramat Beit Shemesh bet, of all places! That's about as ultra as Meah Shearim! The rebbes and kids love him! And my husband is very respected in the kollel. So, it's not always that we are rejected. My son is 4 and when his best friends parents went to America for a chassunah they couldn't afford to bring their four boys with them. They have many cousins there but my sons friend wanted to stay with us. His parents were so happy to send him and I hadn't even met the mother in person, and these are not neglectful parents. The father is the secretary in the school and knows my husband. They respect us and trusted us with their son. And my parents still eat crab! And my husbands parents go to church on Xmas!

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