Dear Dr. Yael,
I’m stunned by the courage the brave baalat teshuva has shown (Dear Dr. Yael 9-2).
Unfortunately, in some communities people can be very small-minded and, if they see someone who is not an exact replica of themselves, they can act cold, distant and unwelcoming.
Your writer said one thing that I thought was amazing: “I’m here to stay.” I love that; I love that she has the smart attitude of someone who is really connected to Hashem, and acknowledges that no one person or community will change her commitment to and love for Hashem and His Torah. As Shlomo HaMelech says in Shir HaShirim, “Mayim rabim lo yachul lechabot et ahava, Many waters wouldn’t be able to extinguish the love.” In this case, the waters are the negative vibes that she is receiving from the very people who are supposed to welcome her with open arms – those who are frum from birth and who are supposed to be her role models.
Can I say directly to the writer: Yes, baalei teshuva are on a higher madreiga, level, than even tzadikim gemurim. And yes, it is sad that the people you have come in contact with do not seem to have processed or accepted the message of Chazal. But as long as you do, as long as you internalize that you are special and that Hashem treasures you, life may be challenging, but the light of Torah and Yiddishkeit will shine in you. Always remember that your strength and courage comes from Him.
I agree with Dr. Respler’s advice that you move away from any community where people do not appreciate your specialness and the commitment you have made.
I wish you tremendous hatzlacha in all of your endeavors and daven that Hashem grant you a Shana Tova, a year filled with bracha. Please feel free to get in touch with me at any time; I would love to be part of your support system.
Leshana tova ticatevu,
Thank you for your beautiful letter. Reading your letter to our writer made me realize that we both overlooked one very important point: being dan le’kaf zechus. It is essential in all of our dealings that we try to give others the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps those who have been ignoring our original writer or acting in a manner that appears rude are really just quiet and shy. It’s possible that they are insecure and do not know how to make new friends. If this is so, then they are not ignoring this young woman because they think she is unimportant, rather, they may be uncomfortable with themselves, which may cause them to seem aloof and uncaring.
While I still think it may be a good idea for this woman to start anew in a more friendly and accepting neighborhood, it may also be good for her to speak to a local rav or rebbetzin about what she is experiencing. Maybe within this same community there is a more open and inviting shul.
In general, most people are self-focused and need to be reminded that there are new people in shul or on the block. Sometimes it is up to us to be the one to greet the other with a big smile and nice “Good Shabbos” as a way of opening a conversation.
Another point of note to the original writer: It seems you wrote your letter after Tisha B’Av. Many people keep the minhag of not greeting others – especially strangers – as a sign of aveilus. So, again, what you saw as rude may just have been people keeping the custom of the day. You could have taken the opportunity to say, “I hope you have a meaningful fast.” I would think that most people would be hard-pressed not to respond to that.
As we continue through Chodesh Elul let us make a concerted effort to make sure that others feel welcome in our shuls and communities. May our efforts in ahavas Yisroel bring Moshiach b’meheira b’yameinu!Dr. Yael Respler