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.