A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
http://cut-the-knot.org/ ~ Not for sale
In 1996, Papa launched his pioneering mathematics website, and, from the very beginning, he refused to put any advertisements on it that he did not explicitly approve of. He also refused to sell his massive site and cede control of its direction, even though he received lucrative offers to do so.
Not only was Papa not in it for the money, but he also took pride in his own vision for mathematics education. He believed profoundly in the inherent beauty of mathematics and self-confidently trusted in his personal ability to convey it. Simply put, ‘Cut The Knot’ was Papa’s identity to those who did not know him in person; and it was the deeply personal culmination of his life’s work.
https://skepticskaddish.com/ ~ Not for sale?
As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, WordPress strongly pushes its bloggers towards monetizing their blogs. The following link is featured centrally on every WordPress blogger’s backend:
Clicking on this link provides bloggers with a list of ways to profit from their websites (depending upon their payment plans):
- Collect payments
- Accept one-time and recurring credit card payments for physical products, services, memberships, subscriptions, and donations.
- Collect payments for content
- Create paid subscription options to share premium content like text, images, video, and any other content on your website.
- Collect PayPal payments
- Accept credit card payments via PayPal for physical products, services, donations, or support of your creative work.
- Accept donations & tips
- Collect donations, tips, and contributions for your creative pursuits, organization, or whatever your website is about.
- Send paid email newsletters
- Share premium content with paying subscribers automatically through email.
- Earn ad revenue
- Make money each time someone visits your site by displaying advertisements on all your posts and pages.
But, really, none of these appeal to me, which is why I’ve been thinking back to Papa and his website recently. Ad revenue, tips, payments for content… I feel that any of these would fundamentally change the nature of the Skeptic’s Kaddish in ways that would detract from this organic outlet of mine. The notion of my poetry becoming the basis for transactional exchanges discomfits me.
It’s not that I’m an idealist… it’s just that I’ve come to value my relationships and exchanges with other writers to the point that I can’t imagine monetizing them. I love receiving your feedback and getting to know you – that is a most precious reward.
‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ ~ The book?
When I established this blog more than one year ago, I had no intention of launching a poetry blog.
At the time, which was not long after I had completed my year of mourning of Papa, I was considering the possibility of writing a book about that most traditional of Jewish experiences, but I did not know how to go about it.
Many people [have] suggested that I publish the ‘Skeptic’s kaddish’ as a book, and while I’ve been giving this serious consideration, it… I feel…
Firstly, I don’t feel done with this journey, even with the close of the first chapter. Secondly, my personal kaddish odyssey assumed the format of a blog rather naturally, with all the advantages and disadvantages that offers. How would one include embedded YouTube videos and lists of hypertext in a bound volume, I wonder?
Lastly, my vision for a book includes a section that I’ve only begun working on – an ethical will.-Me, ‘Chapter next’, Apr. 30, 2020
Today, I still fantasize about writing a book, but I am less certain than ever before about its direction and substance. In addition to all of my earlier considerations, I am now drawn to writing poetry more than I could ever have expected… and how does one tie that into a book about the mourner’s kaddish?
In truth, I know the answer to that question – writing poetry has actually become a central component of my grieving process; maintaining this very website with Papa’s photo at its top has become part of my grieving process; my reflections upon my faith, identity, and parenting experiences have become part of my grieving process.
But the problem, you see, is that one has to read my blog regularly in order to follow the developments of my grief journey. It evolves every day – from poem to poem – from thought to thought – from experience to experience… Anything that I could write about it in a book would become irrelevant as soon as it was penned; and most of it is subtly tucked away between the lines of my blog posts. Essentially, it’s actually my creative process itself that continues to heal me, more so than my content. How could I even begin to describe that?
In theory, this blog would be the perfect platform for me to launch and promote a book… but I remain too awash in abstract, entangled emotions… healing but ever lost… with nothing but mirages of a horizon before me.
The truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose, it will defend itself.–Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)
Jewish tradition: mourning in community
Papa died in July of 2018. I started blogging about my journey of mourning (i.e. kaddish) that August. That year was very intensive for me; I produced a great deal of content based upon numerous readings; research; reflections; recollections; conversations; and, yes, prayer. The kaddish, after all, is a prayer.
I have written so much about kaddish that I won’t belabor the following point; I will simply spell it out: traditionally, the kaddish doxology is only recited among other Jews in a prayer quorum of ten adults. In other words, upon losing a loved one, those Jews who are inclined towards tradition will [at least attempt to] attend prayer services at a synagogue on a daily basis so that they can recite kaddish in memory and honor of their deceased loved ones.
My kaddish year ended in the summer of 2019. The global pandemic began less than one year later. By coincidence, I launched this blog at around at that time.
COVID-19 & kaddish
Even after I completed my year of mourning; even after I had recited my final kaddish; even after I had stopped researching and blogging about my experience of Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop.
I conducted Google searches on kaddish every day; I continued looking for other kaddish bloggers; I continued thinking about Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop myself. That is, to a large extent, why I decided to create this blog – I desperately needed some sort of outlet.
Obsessed with kaddish as I was, you can guess what I first thought of when all of the shuls (synagogues) were shuttered due to COVID-19. I immediately thought:
- “Oh no – those poor mourners!” and:
- “Thank God I completed my year of kaddish recitations before the pandemic hit – I would have been so lost that year without the structure of Jewish tradition. What would I have written about without reciting kaddish? What would I have reflected upon? Whom would I have exchanged my doubts with?”
You see, as much I made my traditional year of kaddish a uniquely personalized spiritual expedition (and, at that, one that embraced my theological skepticism), it wouldn’t have been much of a journey without the traditional Jewish framework that has served us for centuries. Sure, I went beyond the demands of Jewish tradition… but it was always-always dependably present in my daily life, ever beckoning for my reactions to its expectations.
COVID-19 upended human lives in sundry ways all around the world. For Jewish mourners, one of the greatest fatalities of the pandemic was the opportunity to recite the mourner’s kaddish for their loved ones. Synagogues were closed, prayer quorums were limited in number of attendees, and many Jewish mourners were left without their communities – and without their kaddish.
Alternatives to traditional kaddish
The pandemic forced people to get creative, and various alternatives to traditional kaddish recitation were proposed by various Jewish leaders and communities. Of course, different denominations took different approaches, as was to be expected.
The religiously liberal Jewish denominations generally accepted the idea that prayer services could be conducted online, rather than in person, and their religious authorities ruled that a virtual prayer quorum would suffice for the purposes of permitting mourners to recite kaddish. In the Orthodox world, opinions were divided, with most communities rejecting the religious validity of online prayer quorums.
Given my fascination and deep investment in the concept of kaddish, read everything that I could find on the subject; and I came across an article written by a young Orthodox rabbi who works at Brandeis University. Rabbi Seth Winberg published an opinion piece in the JTA, in which he suggested that Jewish tradition had long provided alternatives for kaddish in the absence of a minyan (prayer quorum):
Our ancestors created legitimate substitutions for Kaddish when a minyan wasn’t available, or when someone arrived late to shul, by using biblical verses with words similar to Kaddish — and we would do well to avail ourselves of those solutions now.– Rabbi Seth Winberg, March 25, 2020
Rabbi Winberg wrote of “a modified version of the traditional prayer” which could be recited “privately at home,” and, curious, I reached out to him, requesting a copy of that 12th-13th century text, which he ever so kindly provided to me.
This prayer is very little known, or, at least, it certainly was before the pandemic broke out (and probably still is). In fact, I haven’t seen it included in a single Jewish prayerbook.
Anniversaries of Papa’s death
Last summer, when it came time for the 2nd anniversary of Papa’s death, Israel had entered its 2nd lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 1st lockdown, I remember hoping that we would come out of it in time for me to host a kiddush (refreshments after prayer services on Shabbat) in Papa’s honor. Naively, I never expected another lockdown.
To me, at that time, the shuttering of our synagogue was a temporary measure. To my mind, the dissolution of my Shabbat prayer community was also temporary. Thus, despite the 2nd lockdown, I invited my acquaintances and friends from my formerly existent prayer community to a kiddush in the park after services – back then, I was still relating to our weekly prayer quorum as merely having lapsed, rather than being gone.
Today, based upon Israel’s current reality, it seems possible that my Shabbat prayer community will gradually reconstitute itself, but most of its members have yet to return. The attendance and camaraderie today are shadows of what they once were. Israel’s situation is improving, but the way back to “normalcy” will be slow and long. Things will likely never be what they once were.
In any case, while I allow myself some optimism for the future, my Shabbat community does not currently exist as it did once. And, unlike last year, I don’t particularly want to host a kiddush in the park for a community that hasn’t been part of my life for more than a year. That feels unnatural to me.
“Kaddish for an individual”
Papa certainly wouldn’t have cared about me reciting kaddish for him on his yahrzeit. If anything, as I’ve said, he would have appreciated the idea of his loved ones enjoying themselves in his memory.-Me, ‘More skeptic than kaddish’, July 19, 2020
Last year, I somewhat accidentally missed reciting kaddish on the anniversary of Papa’s death. This year, I may do so deliberately. As I wrote last year, my practical Papa would not have cared. Perhaps we’ll mark his passing at a local waffle café that our daughter loves, just as we did last year. Afterwards, I’ll probably light a candle.
In terms of reciting kaddish, I may recite the prayer that Rabbi Winberg introduced me to – the kaddish for the individual. Technically, that prayer was designed for circumstances in which one is not able to join a full prayer quorum (which is traditionally required for kaddish recitation), but I can use it for my own purposes without breaking with Jewish tradition.
“Kaddish for an Individual” – prayer text
from Sefer Hasidim (12th-13th century Rhineland)
|אָדָם שֶׁהוּא דָּר בַּכְּפָר וְאֵין עִמּוֹ עֲשָׂרָה לוֹמַר דָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה אוֹ בִּמְקוֹם קְהִלָּה וְאִחֵר לָבֹא עַד אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ כְּבָר יְהֵא שְׁמֵי’ רַבָּא יֹאמַר||A person who lives in a village without a prayer quorum or who arrived late after they had already said “may God’s great name…” should instead say:|
|וְעַתָּה יִגְדַּל נָא כֹּחַ אֲדֹנָי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ לֵאמֹר (במדבר יד:יז).||Therefore, I pray, let my Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying (Numbers 14:17):|
|וְהִתְגַּדִּלְתִּי וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתִּי וְנוֹדַעְתִּי לְעֵינֵי גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ (יחזקאל לח:כג).||Thus will I manifest My greatness and My holiness, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 38:23).|
|יְהִי שֵׁם ה’ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם (תהלים קיג:ב).||Let the name of the LORD be blessed now and forever (Psalms 113:2).|
To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.– Aristotle (384–322 BC)
A good nationalism has to depend on a principle of the common people, on myths of a struggling commonality.–Andrew O’Hagan (1968-)
The frame maker’s wife
My wife is avidly into jigsaw puzzle and painting by numbers.
Several weeks ago, she glued several of her completed puzzles unto backing boards; and I brought them to the local frame maker’s shop. Then, last week, it came time for me to pick them up. The frame maker cupped some cardboard around the wire on one of the frames, wrapped them together for me, and advised me to carry them by the wire. I was nearly at the bus stop when the wire broke.
I carried the three frames back to the shop with both hands (which is what I had intended to do originally), and the frame maker replaced the wire. I watched him working with great curiosity. “This is really interesting,” I said, “Most of the time we purchase things when they’re complete, and we have absolutely no idea what went into making them.”
“You think that way because you’re a poet,” responded the frame maker’s wife and requested a link to my website.
Living in poem
I constantly walk around mumbling words under my breath nowadays, attempting to articulate that which I am experiencing. This is something that I have been increasingly becoming aware over the course of the last year, ever since I started writing poetry.
I’ve also started looking more closely at the Jerusalem skies and at local flora. These are things that I never did before; I was usually in such a rush to get somewhere. Just yesterday, I noticed some fuzzy deep red flowers that had fallen from a tree and pointed them out to my six-year-old daughter. As soon as I drew her attention to them, I thought to myself, “Wow; what has happened to me?”
As writing poetry has become a passion, I haven’t only been noticing differences in how I think – I’ve been noticing that my more recent poems feel different to me. It’s difficult to explain, but when I write a poem, I feel that it expresses more than the words within it. It even expresses something more than my intended meaning. My poems are expressing – me. Poems are comprised of words, of course, but what they mean and how they are experienced go far beyond that.
When I a poem feels complete, I often experience a rush of relief – a sense of… it feels so lovely to have expressed myself!
Politics, religion, and…
I follow U.S. and Israeli politics very closely, and I enjoy political conversations with other well-informed people. Also, while I am no expert on religion, let alone Judaism, I enjoy theological discussions with others who are open to considering religious ideas critically from different angles. To a large extent, there is often a great deal of overlap between religion and politics, especially so in Israel, where the Chief Rabbinate is an official organ of the State. Of course, plenty of intelligent people are interested in neither politics, nor religion, but I often find that my conversations with such people on other subjects are relatively short-lived.
Now, this is not to say that I only think about religion and politics. In fact, that’s very much not the case, but at any given moment, I don’t necessarily know what it is that I am thinking about because many of my thoughts seem to defy my comprehension. Such thoughts are more like… impressions, perhaps. More like… sensations. And it’s precisely these sorts of thoughts that I am able to express in my poetry. Sometimes I find that crafting a poem helps me better understand that which is on my mind. Sometimes my poetry doesn’t directly relate to these hazy thoughts, but I am nonetheless left feeling that they had a hand in shaping my verses.
So when my conversations with others inevitably taper off, I often find myself reflecting inwards and mumbling words under my breath. I often find myself longing for my computer keyboard or, at the very least, a pad of paper and writing implement.
I was reminded of this at a recent family gathering for Israel Independence Day. It was terrific to see my cousins, all of whom I love and think of highly, but it didn’t take long for our conversations to die out. It wasn’t for lack of affection or curiosity, but we simply did not have very much to say to one another after hugging and catching up… and, as usual, I quickly found my mind brimming over with words that sought release.
Blogging & identity
Often, I reflect upon how well my blog represents me as a person.
There are many things that I don’t write [about] here at the Skeptic’s Kaddish, where I have full control over the subjects I raise and the comments I respond to. This leads me to feel that there is something inherently artificial about blogging… something… as though… it’s as though I’m fooling myself in a way. After all, this isn’t real life – it’s merely an imaginary realm that I’ve thrown myself into.
On the other hand, I very strongly feel that there is something more true about my poems and reflections here on the Skeptic’s Kaddish than I often have the opportunity to express to others in person. I may be presenting an idealized version of myself online, but it’s also a version that reflects deep feelings and notions of mine, of which I am often unaware or confused by until I run the tips of my fingers across my keyboard…