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Why Baal Teshuvas need to make art

Guest post by Pop Chossid

Baal teshuvas think that because they’re new to the world of yiddishkeit that their words dont’ matter. Or they’re afraid that they’ll say something wrong, something that will turn people away from Judaism or condemn their family so their kids will get a horrible education.

Baal teshuvas are so afraid, so afraid to mess up because they are aware of how fallible they are. They’re aware of how imperfect they are.

And so all those worries, any worries they have about failing, are magnified a hundred times because to fail just on your own is bad enough, but when you fail G-d, fail Judaism, fail your fellow Jew, well, that’s just too much.

And so you, you baal teshuvas who have so much passion, are quiet. You work on your stuff, thinking it needs to be perfected over and over and over until there’s no hint of anything ungodly or controversial or inappropriate. You polish it down until it’s sparkling.

But here’s the thing. When something is polished too much, it loses the rawness that made it beautiful in the first place. The shine replaces the content. The perfection hides the truth.

And, in the end, you either recognize that, and hide the work away, hidden, never to see the light of day, or you put it out there, and you wonder why no one likes it.

Listen to me: it’s time to accept what it means to create something special. To create something real.

Creating truth means accepting that you will fail. Creating something beautiful means accepting that it won’t be perfect.

I remember my wife and I went to speak to this incredible artist she had met in Israel. She wanted advice on how to become a “real” artist.

This artist, Dan Groover, has sold his work all over the world, and is know for the incredible graffiti art he did in Paris. His art is gorgeous and people pay him for it.  But it wasn’t always like that.

Dan Groover

He said to her, “The best advice I can give to you is to just make stuff and sell it as quickly and cheaply as possible. Just get rid of it so that you’ll be forced to continue creating.”

When this artist started off, he graffitied his way through Paris for no money, just because he wanted to. He was in touch with an essential truth: that you can only succeed if you do. If you keep going.  Whether you’re failing or succeeding.

And baal teshuvas need to accept that their work will probably never be completely G-dly, never 100% perfect.

But the only way they’ll get closer to that ideal is if they do. If they create, over and over and over, and get rid of it as soon as possible. Before it’s polished. Before it’s perfect.

My G-d, we have so much beautiful potential, us baal teshuvas. We have the benefits of wordly skills combined with insights into the world few have without experience. And we know Judaism is true.

All we need to do is tap into that potential. And then fail at it. Never reach it.  But always rising, always growing, always learning and improving.

Sure, some people will criticize us when we fail at being perfectly G-dly. Or when our creations aren’t that good.  And sure, lots of people won’t get it at first. And sure, the stuff we put out there might even hurt people.

But damnit, that’s the way the world works. It’s the only way anything was ever made. By taking risks.

I’m ready to make an idiot of myself. I’m ready to fail miserably. Who wants to join me?

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{ 45 comments… add one }
  • yankelyoffen February 11, 2013, 2:33 PM

    One word: Chabad

    • Logic February 11, 2013, 8:25 PM

      One word: Unnecessary.

    • snookie February 12, 2013, 7:04 AM

      one word: annoying chook

      • port yid February 15, 2013, 1:13 PM

        Enough with “one word” its one to many

  • anonymous February 11, 2013, 4:07 PM

    If you’re not FFB, whether you’re a BT or a Ger, or just from a different community, you learn quickly not to stand out. The more you blend in, the easier life is, the more you can simply just “be” and just feel like you are part of the larger whole.

    Standing out in any way, even if it is a good thing, draws attention to all the ways you are different, all the ways you will never be the same. With the hard light of the spotlight on you, you can no longer simply forget that you are different and enjoy that feeling of community anymore. You are foreign and your experiences are foreign and anything that is produced from that foreignness is suspect, first by those around you and, as you learn to be more critical of yourself, by you.

    You begin to scrutinize your speech patterns, your dress, you censor what references you make to anything that might hint at the life you had before. You do it so that, more and more, you can blend in and simply be. Anything that is uniquely yours to give must be subdued because it is likely that if it is unique to you, it comes from someplace outside Yiddishkeit and it, like that part of your life, is treif. Deeper and deeper you bury anything unique or unusual beneath layers and layers of sameness until you even begin to forget what was underneath. Under all those layers, that spark of difference finally dies and you march lockstep with your bretheren, having paid the price to simply be, to simply blend in to the long line and not be singled out.

    To create art, let alone share it with the Jewish world, goes against that protective instinct. It would be to lay bare all that you are trying so hard to push down and to subdue and to offer it up to all those who might use it to prove how different you are. It takes a brave person to do such a thing…far braver than me.

    • Anonymous February 11, 2013, 6:12 PM

      is there a “like” button?

    • AztecQueen2000 February 11, 2013, 6:51 PM

      Or, you go the other way. While you create the veneer, you come to resent to the community for forcing the change upon you. This distances you from the very community you strived to be a part of. It takes an even stronger person to stay true to Yiddishkeit under these circumstances while staying true to themselves.

    • A. Nuran February 12, 2013, 8:06 PM

      You’ve told the whole truth here

      • GMN February 14, 2013, 5:40 PM

        I can’t relate to life being easier when blending in. I tried blending in and was so consistently unwell that I literally wanted to die. On the other hand when I am myself I do phenomenally well and am very happy to be alive.

  • Micah T February 11, 2013, 5:24 PM

    Thank you Pop Chossid, you have described me to a T. I am, however, not a BT but a ger. In my desire to be perfectly Jewish, I polish and polish (and hide).

  • Shimon doesn't rhyme with Cinnamon February 11, 2013, 6:14 PM

    How dare you not write something funny? I was hoping for a laugh

  • LazyFrumguy February 12, 2013, 2:21 PM

    I was a Drop out from the Jewish High school in my community -I had issues then so I faired better in Public school with it’s 1:30pm dismissal extracurricular activities and an ART DEPARTMENT I fell in love, I stayed after hour and painted (horribly but I was happy I felt like I was into something) I ended up majoring in art while the other kids whent on to Queens or Y.U. I allways stood out as the guy with the yalmukah who went home Friday night and didn’t eat anything. People respected me for that. For 4 years I was happy until I graduated and realized I REALLY was different NOW. I didn’t study to become a Doctor, or business, anything dull but PRACTICAL -I knew I was screwed, Everyone seemed to be comming back from some Frum transformation factory in Israel or getting married. I tried my hand at a small Yeshivah in Queens and liked it.

    I knew I had a choice -They could help me “clean up my image” mint me as a “BT” when ironically I knew more coming in then most of the bochorim did when they came in. I did enjoy the learning it felt good because it gave me a chance to mend the guilt I had for going to public school because I couln’t stop cutting class and davening.
    It would have been great EXCEPT: One day the Rosh Yeshivah gave me “the talk” I needed to wear the uniform, and start becoming a seriose bachur. To me it meant they would own me -They offered to let me live at the yeshivah and my parents would have been happy to get rid of me.

    What did I do? I left teh yeshivah -planned a road trip. Moved out of NY to the midwest, FOUND someone to settle with who was a little bit of a rebel herself, and, whent back to school and got a better job eventually. NOW I make art again. I don’t feel any obligation to make “Jewish art” I see my way of just making ordinary art another take on finding the “sparks” in ordinary things and elevating them. I feel no need to peddle my work to the Frum community which is smaller has less income and less taste. Being different is sometime thrust on you -and when given the chance to fit in, three words: DON’T DO IT, but stay true to your beliefs on your own terms.

  • anon February 14, 2013, 12:57 PM

    People have probably seen this already, but it’s a timely (being Adar) and a great example of what one can do with their talents (art/graphic novel) and still glorify Hashem:


  • Port yid February 15, 2013, 12:58 PM

    Finally a Jew with balls… nice to see they are making a come back

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