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Announcing a Design Competition:

Create a cover image for a book about ba’alei teshuva

Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor is finishing her book, Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism (forthcoming, Rutgers University Press), and she is looking to the public to help design the book’s cover. The book is based on research in an east coast community that might be described as Yeshivish Modern (black hat, non-Hasidic) and that includes many FFBs (people who are “frum from birth”) and many BTs (ba’alei teshuva: Orthodox Jews who once were non-observant). The winning cover image will likely be a photograph, but it could be a drawing or painting. Any image must be respectful to BTs and within the bounds of tsnius (modesty) and halacha (Jewish law). Any people pictured must agree to have their image on the cover of a book. To get you started thinking about possible images, here is a description of Becoming Frum:

In the past few decades, the Orthodox Jewish community has seen an influx of newcomers: ba’alei teshuva (BTs), literally ‘those who return’. BTs grow up in non-Orthodox homes and decide as adults to take on strict forms of traditional Jewish observance. But when they join an Orthodox community, they encounter much more than laws and traditions. They find themselves in the midst of a whole new culture, involving matchmakers, homemade brisket and farfel, and Yiddish-influenced grammar.

Becoming Frum shows how BTs adopt many aspects of Orthodox culture, but sometimes in distinctly “BT” ways. Some take on as much as they can as quickly as they can, going beyond the norms of FFBs. Others adapt gradually, making sure to maintain aspects of their pre-Orthodox selves. This yields unique combinations: a black hat worn with trendy sunglasses, gefilte fish prepared with Indian spices, and Hebrew words used in the same sentence as American slang (like “mamish keepin’ it real”). By taking on Orthodox cultural practices in these ways, newcomers are able to integrate into their new community while indicating their in-between status, highlighting their identity not only as Orthodox Jews but also as BTs.

The findings in this book, based on a year of ethnographic and sociolinguistic research, are relevant for other situations of individuals joining new communities, such as medical students becoming doctors or northerners moving to the south. Becoming Frum offers a scholarly and accessible look at the linguistic and cultural process of “becoming” – an entertaining and insightful read for students, scholars, and anyone interested in religious studies, social science, or linguistics.

Assuming approval of the press, the winning cover image will appear on the paperback and electronic versions of the book. The winner will be mentioned as photographer/creator of the cover image and will be given two free copies of the book. No monetary reward is available due to the limited revenues in academic publishing. To submit an entry, please send the following to Sarah Bunin Benor at
  • A high-resolution electronic file of your image
  • Your name and (optional) title of your image, as you would like them to appear in the book
  • If your image is a photograph: Indication that you’ll be able to obtain signed release forms from the photographer and the subject(s) if your image is selected
Any questions can be directed to the same email address. The deadline for submissions is June 12, 2011.

Sarah Bunin Benor is Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. She received a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University in 2004. She has published and lectured widely on sociolinguistics, American Jewish language and culture, and Orthodox Jews. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three daughters.