Getting booed at Tablet and my first appearance in The Jewish Press

I had a bad feeling when my editor at Tablet — who I really love — sent me an email telling me that my latest essay there (about how I unintentionally set my hand on fire but believe it was no accident) would run on Tisha B’Av.

Being an Orthodox Jew, I pretty much regard that as the worst day of the year, so I was immediately filled with a sense of foreboding. And it now seems I was right to be, as the “ratings” (based on “likes,” “shares,” and “comments”) have been pretty poor thus far, especially relative to the popularity of my essay on tefillin last month.

And the comments…ugh.

First on Tablet’s FB page, then on the article page, I got comments that weren’t precisely trolling, but certainly by people with a bone to pick. Even a couple of my colleagues didn’t like the essay, as they thought it might make people obsess about why bad things happen to them.

One of my writing friends had warned me that she thought the hashgacha pratis — divine providence on a minute scale — angle would prove to be controversial, and boy was she right. Several people took the concept to task, and mostly they asked the same questions most people ask about the concept. However, one basically said that any G-d who can control all the details of life but allows “little black children” in Africa to be poor or to contract HIV is a racist deity. That’s right: one commenter basically said G-d either isn’t all powerful, or is a big fat racist (and by implication, I must be a big fat racist for believing in an all-powerful deity that lets children of color suffer).

Never mind that many of those children probably believe in G-d and feel His hand helping them, uplifting them, and guiding them throughout their troubles. Or that many poor people are as happy or happier as the people with excess. And never mind that many sick people are as happy and feel G-d’s grace as acutely or more so than well people.

Never mind that many people (the Bobover Rebbe, Rebbitzen Jungreis, Rabbi Lau, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber…) survived the Holocaust, pogroms, and all sorts of horrible experiences with their faith in an all-powerful G-d intact. In this commenter’s mind, hashgacha pratis could only have been invented by people who never suffered deprivation, loss, or hardship.

The only time a comment posted to a Tablet piece has upset me more was when someone trolled my twin sister. Insulting me is one thing. Insulting G-d is quite another. I felt a little calmer after reading the lovely article shared by Erika Dreifus today about how to deal with conflict online. I’m choosing to just walk away from this one.

The whole episode depresses me greatly, as the point of the essay isn’t to push my beliefs on someone else or put down other people, but to reveal a little of the inner workings of my mind and a slice of my personal experience. One of the reasons I write for Tablet and not for Aish.com or Chabad.org (both wonderful websites) is because I don’t want to do prescriptive writing. Personal essays are supposed to be about building empathy and bridging differences, not pointing fingers at other people. But when I write an essay that’s supposed to be uplifting, and people use it to insult my religious beliefs, it’s definitely not what I would call fun.

On a happier note: I was so preoccupied with making Shabbos and child-wrangling last week that I totally forgot to mention that I had my first piece ever published by the folks at The Jewish Press. And then with Tisha B’Av, etc., I didn’t make it to the newsstand to grab a copy. ARGH. Fortunately, it’s now available online, and you can get a look at it on pages 10-11 of the magazine section, which appear on 94 of this August 1st e-Edition.

Anyway, I’ll be busy with writing the serial and kids on vacation and so on, so I probably won’t be posting much over the next couple weeks.

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6 thoughts on “Getting booed at Tablet and my first appearance in The Jewish Press

  1. this is kinda long. I hope you don’t mind. I don’t have your email or I would have sent it privately. Delete or edit as necessary!
    Thanks for having the courage to write about the hot topics! in Judaism to a general reading audience. I don’t have the courage to do this! I have these discussions in my head a lot, but not with real people. shabbat shalom

    the hardest part of being Orthodox Jewish is that there is no comfort zone. You never get a place where you say” I made it, now I can relax”.
    It is a state of being alert to everything. It is a world where everything is happening for a reason, everything has a purpose, nothing ever goes to waste. All the time: what’s this, how do I understand that, what am I supposed to do/not do, now? Where is this leading? Where am I?? There is this constant state of ambiguity.

    There is no word for “fun” in Hebrew. Why? the idea of fun is doing something meaningless to gain pleasure. Something that has no meaning is ‘raah’, reish aiyn hay-because opposite is choosing meaning, or good/G-d. Choosing anything else is to be meaningless, it’s dead.*

    Most of the things we do in life because we want to do them and so they are fun. Making challah is fun, but it’s also meaningful. But there is a kind of fun or pleasure in the modern world (ancient world too-Greece, Rome) where the time just passes and you don’t have anything to show for it. Hanging out. Killing time. Goofing off. I went to Disneyland with my mom the last time I was in the States and this just screamed out me the entire time I was there: it’s cute and distracting and entertaining but it is of ZERO value.

    It really hard to be in a place where everything is meaningful. It’s also very humbling. Can you or I ever really imagine that we know what the purpose or meaning of any event happening in the world? But if I can’t understand it or I decide I don’t like it, does that make it worthless, cruel, a waste or unimportant?

    The Holocaust. “Where was G-d? They all died like sheep going to the slaughter”, and on and on. I don’t know about you but I personally live with the results of the Holocaust. Both my husband’s parents wouldn’t be in Israel without it. They wouldn’t have met and married, my husband would never would have been born, I wouldn’t have married him, we wouldn’t have 5 children that keep shabbat, learn in yeshiva, and gave us our grandchildren, B”H. If every person is a universe, we have 23 more universes now.

    My brother died in a car accident when he was 18. I was 20. I stood there at his funeral and wanted to scream “where is G-d now? How can loving G-d kill a mere boy, one with mental health issues to boot and kill him the way he did-crushing him in a metal shell, how does He justify this?”
    My first step to healing happened years later when I realized that my brother’s death wasn’t meaningless. I was already seeing some changes around me in myself and family as a result of his sudden death. Not all good, but it moved things around. It was the day that I realised that it was not only meaningful event, but that I might never, personally, know the true meaning of his death, that I began to heal. I was able to acknowledge that there are somethings that are beyond my ability to see or understand. ( In context: I was that annoying kid who constantly asks, “but, why?”) That it is simple to say ‘I know’ or ‘I understand’. It is very hard to admit that I don’t know or don’t understand and even harder, to know and admit that I might never understand or know something.
    We put a lot of weight on knowing, too. Chazel call the truely wise person, wise and righteous, a ‘roay’ a seer, not a ‘yodayah’. One who can see everything can know and understand. I know I can’t see literally and mentally. I admit I don’t know and don’t understand. The only thing that I am sure of is that everything is meaningful. If it wasn’t meaningful then we should have been created like cows or trees. But we weren’t. We speak and we imagine and we think and we remember. Those abilities are the signature (stamp?, I think I”m translating from Hebrew here) of G-d on the painting of the universe.

    * I got this idea from Rav Berkovitz on Aish audio in the series Jewish Philosophy. I don’t remember which lecture. I think the gist of it was that G-d created the universe with good and bad, bad being only a potential. He didn’t develop it any further, because the lashon is Boray, not Yotzer or Osay.(it’s in scharit a couple of times: brauch yotzre or(light) ve’boray choshek- in the original source he says it’s ‘raah’ but the hazal changed it to ‘darkness’ for the prayers.) It being the freedom of choice we all have at every moment, “before you life and death, therefore choose life” Devarim? I think so.

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    • Thank you SO much Michal for your reply. I was getting so little positive feedback about this article, that I felt very lonely. What you describe experiencing is exactly where I was coming from when I was writing my piece. The first time I started coming to terms about the Shoah was when someone turned to me and said, “If the Holocaust hadn’t happened, my parents would never have met,” so when you described your personal situation, I could completely identify (my husband’s family is the same way not from the Shoah, but from the consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution/pogroms at the beginning of it, which forced two grandparents to move to Canada from Winnepeg and another to leave Buchara when his family’s assets were seized upon the takeover of Uzbekistan…and then Nasser kicked that grandfather and his wife out of Egypt). Thanks again and have a wonderful Shabbos kodesh. You really picked me up.

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  2. I thought your article was a wonderful ‘slice of life’ and I enjoyed it so much. And, it has made me more careful with the candles. Am now following your blog and I look forward to reading your future posts.

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    • So glad you enjoyed the essay. Yeah, the scar has almost disappeared from my hand, but I’m still nervous about candles, too. I’ve been making sure I don’t go to bed until the Shabbos candles are burned out, and putting out the melava malka candles every week. And thanks for following, too!

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  3. I loved the article – how’s your hand doing now? I really admire your choice to write for Tablet and to be so open and clear about your beliefs. I’m still working on that when I write for Kveller, as I become hyper-aware of my Orthodoxy and various stereotypes, real and imagined, loom in my head. Your article gave me chizzuk – thank you!

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    • SO glad you liked the article! My hand is doing SO much better now. If you know what you’re looking for, you just see a hot pink mark. But the stiffness and disfigurement they predicted in the ER totally didn’t come to pass, B”H!

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