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A Baal Teshuva is like an Immigrant, They Both Go through the Same Things (Part One)

The challenges a Baal Teshuva faces are real but they weren’t studied enough in order to provide information that would help them with what can be a difficult process. An Immigrant goes through a similar process adapting a new country, language and culture and there’s a common denominator between them. We will discuss the stages an immigrant goes through on his way to integrating into his new society and use those stages to describe what a Baal Teshuva feels going through similar stages.

Stage one, ‘the great lights’, the sparkle of the culture you are trying to integrate into. An Italian comes to America and learns the language. He wants to know all about American culture and picks up all the slangs and nuances he can. He is enamored with this new culture and wants very badly to integrate into it. This stage will last for a few years and then the next stage will begin.

Stage 2, is the stage of ‘dissonance’ in which memories and past needs resurface and a person starts to wonder what his true identity really is. This experience of being torn between two identities is internally unsettling. The society around him reminds him that despite his efforts at integration he is still different. His kids aren’t accepted in schools or he needs to face acceptance committees to be accepted into a school or neighborhood.

The third stage is the opposition stage in which he is disgusted with the perceived hypocrisy he must put up with in this new society. The ‘have a nice day’ is empty of content and life seems superficial. He begins to long for other immigrants like him from his country that can identify with him and what he is going through. He wants to laugh with them and sing the songs they used to. He is smitten with a wave of nostalgia for what was.
Unfortunately many get stuck in this third stage and don’t move forward to full integration. Someone healthy will move on to stage four.

Stage four is called the stage of balance or equilibrium in which he may take a visit to his old country with his family. Reality will show him it wasn’t all roses in his home country otherwise he’d never had thought to leave. He will discover parts of him that are from the old country and parts of him from the new country and he will seek to balance out who he is now; a newly created combination of old and new that he created for himself and his family. He sees the world as something more complex and not in terms of black and white absolute terms and gets to stage five.

Stage five is the stage of harmony where his newly created self finds its expression with the old and the new harmonizing and complementing each other and assisting him to cope in the new life he and his family forged for themselves from a strong sense of who they are.
This is a model of what happens to immigrants who want to integrate into a new country and society and this model also applies to Baalei Teshuva who actually go through the same thing.

You may argue that it’s not so, Baalei teshuva don’t have that much upheaval? I’ll tell you that I myself moved from Ra’anana to Bnei Brak it’s only a 15 ride. They speak Hebrew in both places and I stayed in the same country. So you’d think it’s all the same, right?  But truth is that coming from Ra’anana to a culture where Torah scholarship is a supreme value and people are very learned and you have Shabbat and character development was a very big change to adjust to and a Baal Teshuva with all his enthusiasm will still go through all 5 stages before becoming really at peace with himself.  


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