For those of you who are in the middle of the finding-myself process and wondering where to turn next, here are a few things I wish I’d known before I became a Baal Teshuvah;
1. There will definitely be conflicts with your family.
No matter how supportive or loving they are, there will be times when you enter into conflict with them. Maybe it’s a disagreement over kosher or tznius, maybe someone will accidentally cause offence… The possibilities are endless. And in all likelihood, your parents aren’t going to be mad about the people you start associating with (if you go down the Charedi, usually Chabad route, that is). Black hats and long skirts seem to strike fear into the heart of every mother (and father). They’re probably worried about losing you. Sometimes, all this can be worked around- they’re your family, after all!- but other times, the conflicts can’t be resolved. This might mean them cutting contact, you moving out, or just lots of angry arguments. Try your hardest to maintain shalom bayis (peace in the home)- but remember, nothing should come between you and Hashem!
2. Sometimes you will really, really miss your old life
This wasn’t a particularly big issue for me. Although I sometimes envy my old lifestyle, and I very occasionally wish I hadn’t had to give up certain foods/clothes/activities, I’m normally very content with my Orthodox lifestyle, and I love swapping Saturday morning shopping trips for Shul, and short dresses for tzenua skirts. I hear that I’m lucky in this aspect, because it’s rare for people to have no regrets whatsoever. But overall, I don’t. However, as the title says- very occasionally, I really, really miss my old life. It hits hard, like homesickness. And I never lived in a immoral, modern or goyishe way (chas v’sholom), so I expect others will feel it more. I’m just grateful that I love leading a Torah lifestyle so, so much!
3. I promise, you will need to buy a new wardrobe
Now, I was always a modest dresser- by western standards, at least. I used to wear tops with high necks, and long trousers or maxi skirts. But when I became a BT, that all changed. High necks weren’t enough- I needed long sleeves, too. Trousers were a no-go, and seeing as I’d be wearing skirts 24/7, maxi skirts weren’t enough to live off. It took a long time to find long enough dresses and skirts, and tzenua tops which didn’t clash. Then there’s the whole business of summer clothing! Even if you dress pretty “Jewishly” or modestly, when you become Orthodox, you’ll need Shabbes clothes (for example). You’ll need to start covering your collarbone, when in Western culture, a top an inch or two lower than that is modest. Chances are, you’ll invest in “shells” and cardigans. If you’re male, I reckon the same thing applies, because not yet observant men don’t tend to have rekels hanging in their closets, and lots of communities expect the black jacket/hat combo. In fact, I’d say it’s even harder for men, since if you get “serious”, you’ll be wearing the same outfit 6 days a week with a slight variation for Shabbes.
4. Shabbes is going to be unbelievably beautiful- and unbelievably hard
Shabbes is such a beautiful experience, nothing in the secular world compares. Not at all. The beautiful melodies, the awe inspiring Shul services, the finery… It’s wonderful and very authentic. But then there’s something else. The Shabbes laws. The traditions are one thing, but keeping Shabbes is another. What will probably happen to you is, you’ll experience a beautiful, traditional Shabbes, still find yourself unable to start keeping all the laws, and feel unbearably guilty. Don’t worry. It’s really hard to start keeping Shabbes, but after experiencing it’s beauty several times, you will find yourself just doing it. It becomes a habit. Enjoy the beauty of the day, and your observance will reach new heights without you realising it- but that guilty, “what am I doing wrong?” moment is certainly unpleasant.
5. At some point, you’re going to feel different from the people around you
Hopefully not too often! This isn’t so much of an issue if you, like many Baalei Teshuva, become Chabad. Chabad specialises in BT issues, and you’re probably not going to feel out of place very regularly. But still, the fact remains that looking around you, you are going to feel like you stick out, because you didn’t grow up going to cheder, or playing draydels, and because your family don’t understand Halacha or minhag. That’s normal, but very unpleasant. All I can really say is that no matter what you feel you’re lacking in Jewish background, make up for it with mitzvot!
I hope you enjoyed this post, and that maybe it will help someone somewhere. If you have any comments or suggestions, please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a reply!