The BT

The BT

“I’m a baalat teshuva…”

I plonked that piece of information down in the middle of an innocuous conversation with Tsofia’s Ganenet Rivki, and I was genuinely surprised to witness Rivki’s genuine surprise. “Really?” she questioned, “I had heard that there are people like that and had read some articles about them, but until now I never actually KNEW a baal teshuva. That is incredible!”

I love Ganenet Rivki. She is a member of Nachlaot’s secluded Yerushalmi community. Even though I live a very different lifestyle than my Yerushalmi neighbors, that doesn’t lessen the deep affection for and even kinship I feel with them.

And one of the things I find the most fascinating about Rivki and her Yerushalmi friends and family is that they are living the same life that their parents lived and grandparents lived and great-great-great grandparents lived.

For them, it seems, nothing has really changed.

The same day I surprised Rivki, my parents arrived from Baltimore with some mail for me from the Friends School Office of Alumni Affairs.

One letter contained a list of my 87 high school classmates, and their current addresses. I haven’t really been in touch with any of my Friends classmates since college. But I did spend 9 years of my life with most of them. And I still feel somewhat connected in spirit with them, even if not in reality (or even Facebook)…

So I went through the class list, name by name. And it was pretty surprising for me to see the extent to which there were no surprises…

The vast majority of my classmates have remained in the Northeast US. And the vast majority of that vast majority have remained in Maryland.

Some of my classmates were even sending their own children to Friends.

For some reason, it surprised me to realize that my classmates were continuing to live the same life, more or less, as we lived then. The same culture, the same values, the same everything.

For them, it seems, nothing has really changed.

And here I am in Jerusalem, married to an Orthodox rabbi, raising Hebrew-speaking children, completely immersed in a Jewish way of life. My life could almost not be more different than it was…

But the truth is that I, in my own way, have also stayed the same. Just like Rivki. And just like my classmates.

Staring at me now is a photograph I hung behind my computer of myself at the age of 3. In the photo, I am standing next to my cousin and staring at the camera with soft brown eyes.

And looking at that photo, there is nothing that separates me from that girl I once was.

Even though today I look different and feel different and believe different things than I once did, that still small voice within me called Chana Jenny is the same as it always was. That still small voice is me.

And in that way, for me too, I guess, even though everything has changed, nothing has really changed. Deep down.

Image courtesy of J. Nathan Mathias

When I tell people that I attended a Quaker school, most people think that that means that I grew up among the Amish. For clarification, here’s a 4-minute promotional video about the school I attended from 4th grade until graduation.


  1. So true and so beautifully written.

  2. wow there are tens (hundreds?) of thousands of bal tshuva. i am really surprised that there are frum yidden who think its a rare exotic phenomenon. not to put her down i am sure she is a very special woman but sounds very out of touch.

    • ganenet rivki actually DOES know quite a few baalei teshuva, but I guess she doesn’t realize it since her assumption is that everyone is FFB.

  3. Your school looks ideal. There should be more of them and every child should be provided such a warm open environment to learn in.

    • it’s an ideal school for someone who isn’t Jewish. But for a Jewish kid, as I assume you understand, it starves the neshama. I did learn a ton there though, it really shaped who I am in many ways.

  4. I also sometimes think “nothing has really changed, deep down” – but it makes me sad

  5. we all strive to accomplish something in life. we are born into a certain family, with particular strengths and weaknesses, with personality traits, and those all influence who we end up becoming. the best gift i could give my children is to the ability to harness the strengths and gifts to create a meaningful and productive life.
    it is not sad, as long as you try to become the best person you were meant to be.

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