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For the week ending 10 May 2014 / 10 Iyyar 5774

Reconnecting with Old Friends

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Odelia

Dear Rabbi,

I have been religious now for several years. Lately, I have felt an urge to reconnect with some old friends of mine from before I became religious. I’m not sure why this is, and whether it’s a good thing or not. On the one hand, I feel that I’m in a good place religiously speaking. On the other hand, I’m concerned that I may be influenced in ways which might not be good for me. Do you have any advice that might help me understand why I’m experiencing these feelings and what I should do about meeting up with them?

Dear Odelia,

Let me assure you that it’s perfectly normal and very common for people such as yourself to want to reconnect with old friends sometime after you’ve stabilized your path of religious observance.

A main reason for this is that during the initial stages of becoming religious, most people need to make a break from old places, activities and friends which often hinder one’s teshuva. However, after stabilizing one’s self in a religious lifestyle, most people want and need to make peace with their past in order to bridge that past to their present and future.

For obvious reasons this is often triggered by associations which may include music, the season, or a visit back home.

As long as you feel that your interest in reconnecting is coming from a place of strength and stability – of serene fulfillment in your path — then it’s alright to meet up with certain old friends. Of course this requires discretion. A person who you know to have a strong influence on you, or for whom you have special feelings, and who might thereby draw you into unacceptable scenarios should be avoided.

That being said, you can contact your friends about getting together. Keep in mind that even if they know you’re now religious they probably don’t fully appreciate what that means, and you should spell out in advance in a warm and friendly way how kosher, Shabbat and physical contact are going to have a bearing on your gathering.

Choosing an appropriate setting for the reunion is very important. This is going to depend on who and how many friends are meeting up. But the general rule of thumb is to be sure that if your friends are still living the same basic lifestyle as in the past, you have to be careful to avoid the types of places and activities that would cause them to unwittingly compromise your new values and practices.

As far as the topic of conversation goes, it’s natural to catch up on what everyone’s been doing since you were last in contact, what they’re doing now, and what people’s plans are for the future. Even if some of this involves things which aren’t entirely in keeping with the Torah, that’s okay. Be patient, understanding and non-judgmental. Had you not become religious, you’d probably be much like your friends are now.

Regarding conversation about the path you’ve chosen, use the opportunity to share the beauty of Judaism with others who may not yet appreciate it; but you must avoid appearing in their eyes to be dogmatic or fanatical. Just be the pleasant and non-confrontational “you” that you really are. And be sensitive not to dwell on the subject of Judaism or religion more than people have patience for.

With the right approach and framework, these reunions are usually very beneficial. Even though the old connection may no longer be there, and the get-together is not repeated (which is often the case), your friends get a positive exposure to Judaism, while you gain a greater self-awareness of the progress you’ve made. Also, your being exposed to the relatively fresh perspective of your friends should be a refresher for you, while any challenges that result from your sharing with them should serve as incentive for your further growth.

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