May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Are There BTs Looking to Reach Out in Teaneck/Bergenfield?

In last week’s edition of The Jewish Link, there was a cartoon of a woman asking about a proposed shidduch: “Is he … modern, chassidish, yeshivish, FFB, BT…?”

I want to take a moment and explore what it means to be BT (baal teshuva) or someone from a traditional background continuing to grow in a Modern Orthodox community.

In communities like Passaic, organizations like Partners in Torah (and even a Mussar Vaad that, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to attend on Sundays) are setting up chavrutahs for those wishing to grow, with the by-product of fostering diverse relationships and friendships across the Jewish spectrum of observance. I am not aware of such formal or informal outreach programs in the Teaneck/Bergenfield communities. Chabad of Teaneck and Hackensack may offer such programs, and, of course, Chabad does amazing things for Jewish communal life and hearts in the world. That said, a BT family whose kitchen is not compliant with Chabad standards (in addition to any differences in hashkafic approach) may want to have the option of meeting knowledgeable and giving FFB (frum from birth) neighbors whom they can invite for a Shabbat meal.

A larger question to me, as a proud BT who seeks motivation, community examples and personal kesher with my neighbors to help me keep growing and exchanging mutual overtures of good will, is: Are there other proud “out-of-town” BTs in the community (i.e., those who did not go through the yeshiva and Yeshiva University systems) who would like to implement more resources for continued growth? I have not been successful in identifying such similarly minded individuals through informal inquiries. It makes me wonder: Are any of you folks out there and wishing to connect?

I do not mean just organizing shiurim or reading website material, which, of course, are wonderful resources. I mean small-group opportunities to bond over Jewish learning, through repeat encounters, particularly on Shabbat. A bit of a structured agenda and earnest interest from participants—and maybe a concurrent playgroup to keep small kids’ attention for half an hour (rather than a child-focused playgroup with parents as chaperones making small talk)—could help parents have their kids close while addressing their own needs for substantive discussion around a topic, like the parsha. It would also be an opportunity to pose practical questions about observance that FFBs may not tend to grapple with.

If the small-group model works for industry/business networking, as well as being a timeless Jewish model of chavrutah/one-on-one learning, why not try it for Jewish self-development? The keys to success of such endeavors are: a) keep it personal (including through word-of-mouth, “hey-let’s-come-together” invitations on top of an impersonal/formal announcements), b) put on your humble and curious cap, and c) encourage repeat attendance to foster trust and earnest discussion among attendees.

While there are currently impediments to in-person groups because of COVID, I’d like to know of local initiatives catered to our BT needs, or I would like to start one. For those who have had similar thoughts and are open to meeting Jewish neighbors to learn, discuss and grow together—and any of our esteemed FFB neighbors would be welcome, of course—please contact me.


Juliya Albert, of Bergenfield, can be reached at [email protected].

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