I’ve long felt that it takes tougher skin than mine to surrender one’s name and face to a public discourse limited by inflamed emotions and finite keystrokes, but ideas of this era must take a stand online.-Me, Times of Israel, Nov. 2014
By November of 2014, I had already been effectively offline for several years.
I had moved to Israel in the autumn of 2009 and decided to remain here in 2010, which was among the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make. On the one hand, my heart was already in Israel (as was the woman I wanted to marry); on the other hand, my entire life and almost everything and everyone I had ever known was in the USA. For all intents and purposes, I was only Israeli on paper (having been born here).
Starting my adult life over from scratch sent me into a crisis, and the distance between me and my former self felt untraversable. I saw friends from across the ocean updating their Facebook statuses and posting photographs of their families, even as I felt myself growing more and more distant from them. The seven-hour (or more) time difference between us made speaking regularly by phone impractical, and I knew that it would be years (if at all) that I would ever see most of them again.
Whereas once there had been human relationships, there were now, at best, occasional; impersonal; two-dimensional updates… from people who were no longer part of my daily, weekly, or even monthly life. Despite this, I found myself grasping at snippets of information, imagining that I was still among my friends in the USA, while even most of my friends living nearby in Jerusalem were leaving (or had left already) to make their lives elsewhere.
Eventually, this became too painful; I removed myself from Facebook entirely and cut off all communication with everyone but my immediate family in the USA. I had to face my loneliness in Israel.
It was in that context that I took a deep breath and published my first blog post on the Times of Israel, more than five years after moving away from the United State of America.
Blogging about kaddish
Several years later, in 2018, my father died very suddenly and unexpectedly. As per Jewish tradition, I decided to recite the mourner’s kaddish for him every day for one year. I was the only one who would have even considered doing this, as my family is almost entirely secular; attending synagogue prayer services isn’t something that most members of my family ever do.
Upon committing myself to this project, I quickly came to feel that merely going through the motions of religious practice was neither [sufficiently] meaningful for me, nor doing [much] honor to Papa, given that he had little to no respect for rote religious observance.
Despite my great anxiety, I instinctively turned back to writing on the Times of Israel, given my experience several years prior. I decided to turn my kaddish experience into a personalized research and writing project, in a way that would make it meaningful for myself. The more I wrote, the more I came to feel that Papa would have appreciated my endeavor.
Hitting the ‘publish’ button, particularly for the first several kaddish blog posts was incredibly difficult for me. I so very vividly remember the sensation of my fingers trembling as I held the cursor over the little blue button on my computer screen, but, thankfully, I managed to click it and share my journey publicly on the Times of Israel.
Gradually, sharing those intimate thoughts and memories became easier, as I published post after subsequent post; but I know I wouldn’t have had the strength to publish that first kaddish post if it hadn’t been for my reluctant resurfacing on the Internet several years earlier. It would never have occurred to me.
Blogging instead of Facebook
Today, I remain inactive on Facebook, and I have no desire to revive my social network from my past life. I’ve turned a page, and there is no going back.
Facebook once worked for me as an extension of relationships in my life, but in their absence, it only distracted me from forming new human connections.
Blogging on WordPress, on the other hand, is a much more meaningful way of connecting with people than social networks allow. Those with whom I interact most often on this platform are not posting brief status updates and posed smiles – their blogs serve as extensions of their messy lives.
Of course, there are tons of things that we don’t share; and I will freely admit that I deliberately smiled for the selfie that I posted atop the Skeptic’s Kaddish (sshh don’t tell anyone!)… but, still, blogging lends itself to substantive interactions. This online network seems to me infinitely better suited for developing actual relationships, rather than the mere semblance of them.