If it wasn’t for my non-observant Russian Jewish friend becoming Orthodox and inadvertently inspiring me while he was trying to explain why he’d done it (because no one in his secular life understood why), I might not be here today. Quite literally, a ba’al teshuva is a convert’s friend.
In fact, it was another ba’al teshuva, a woman, who went to Hebrew classes with me, explained what everything (cholent! gefilte fish! Israeli salad!) was at the big Kiddush after services and told me where to buy my first knee-length skirts (Target). Someone had helped her and she helped me and now I’m helping others. Someone made a bad movie about this called “Pay it forward.”
Sure, I had a lot of help from FFBs (frum-from-birth Jews or “lifers” as the writer below calls them who grew up Orthodox) but many of them didn’t understand, not really, how hard it was to live one way your whole life and then decide to up and change it all because no matter how much you tried, you couldn’t kick the Jewish habit (it’s addictive!). It was the friend who was a ba’al teshuva, the friend who was a convert, who remembered giving up sandwiches in the beginning because Birkat Hamazon, the prayer for after you eat bread, was too long and foreboding at first.