2,000 – Thank You!

Several months ago, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ reached 1,000 subscribers, and today I am moved to share with you today that we’re now at over 2,000, even as this blog is nearing its 1st birthday.

Clearly, WordPress encourages its bloggers to actively engage with and accrue new subscribers, notifying us of likes, follows, consecutive days of postings, etc.; and, to my mind, there’s no metric easier for us to highlight than our subscriber counts. Having said that, while I want to mark the growth of this blog, I am not especially interested in my subscriber count, per se.

In this first year of mine on WordPress, I’ve come across blogs with many, many more subscribers than I have. Some blogs have tens of thousands of subscribers; some blogs have even more. It would seem that gaining subscribers is an industry for some, and there are some experienced bloggers out there who accept payment for guidance on how to follow in their footsteps.

Nevertheless, I have noticed something peculiar that many such bloggers with large followings have in common: They boast of high subscriber counts, but their blog posts generate almost no meaningful human interactions. And this is common, even among those who promote themselves as advisors for hire.

As for me, what I have come to most look forward to are the comments that you, my friends, post in response to my poetry and reflections. This is what most drives me. While I am certainly very proud of having reached 2,000 subscribers on ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’, my motivation to create content would drop precipitously and perhaps disappear altogether, if not for all of our lively discussion threads… and it only takes a handful of regular correspondents to leave me feeling fulfilled… feeling as though something significant is transpiring here.

So, to all of you, and especially to those of you who take the time out of your lives to challenge and encourage me, I want to humbly say, “Thank you so much, Friends.”

💝
David


Some thoughts on blogging

Based upon my limited (one year) experience

For those who would like to read on, I am going to share several thoughts about blogging actively and nurturing meaningful human interactions on our blogs:

  • While I don’t prioritize my subscriber count, it does, by virtue of probability, remain very significant. In other words, if increasing numbers of people are exposed to my ideas, it would follow that increasing numbers will be moved to respond with their own ideas;
    • Increasing the visibility of one’s blog is essential for this purpose; and writing compelling content is not enough;
    • One must take the time to interact with other bloggers on their blogs (likes, comments). Really, this is no different than ‘in person’ friendships; why should others be motivated to pay attention to you if you express no interest in them?
    • Also, it requires a great deal of time investment. Is this important enough for you to devote yourself to nurturing such relationships?
  • Having said that, I’ve noticed that the more subscribers a blogger has, the faster his/her subscriber count tends to increase. Likely, this is because having a high subscriber count is a clear signal to others that one’s blog is worth following;
    • I’ve heard it said that people who are in committed romantic relationships are especially attractive to others because their existing relationships are proof of their desirability. Blogging relationships are like that too;
  • Reaching out to and connecting with bloggers who have fewer subscribers than you is a very good idea. First of all, this builds a sense of community for all of us. Second of all, your support for smaller blogs is all the more meaningful to those writers precisely because not many others provide it; and they may very likely be moved to engage with you in substantive discussions;
  • Don’t stretch yourself too thin in reading other blogs and interacting with other bloggers. We are all finite beings, and we must seek reasonable balance. Better to have a few close blogger-friends than many superficial relationships;
  • While interacting with others on their blogs will draw them to yours, only your content will draw them back again. In other words, you must have compelling content. You must have something meaningful to say, and you must be able to convey that well to others. What is your your reason for blogging? What makes your blog uniquely interesting?

Pink, or: Ultraviolet

A haibun

Nearly twenty years ago when I was in my mid-twenties, I drove to the District of Columbia from my parents’ home in New Jersey to meet an online friend of mine in person. This was during the famed National Cherry Blossom Festival, and we walked about together, chatting outside under the hot spring sun, enjoying the fantastic flowers in bloom.

The following day, back at home in New Jersey, I gingerly patted the top of my head and, with much surprise, discovered a painful sunburn. That was when I came to realize that I was balding.

crystal-like pink gleam
majestic sakura sun
ultraviolet

d’Verse

Haibun: Cherry Blossoms

Today at d’Verse, poets were prompted to write haibuns about cherry blossoms. This particular memory of my youth that I’ve shared with you came to my mind immediately.

Mourning my morning minyan

I would like to share an important aspect of my Jewish life with you, which is primarily (but not exclusively) representative of traditionally religious N. American Ashkenazi Jewish communities. This slice of my Jewish culture is known as the Shabbat morning kiddush.

Essentially, the Shabbat morning kiddush is a social phenomenon, which takes place at synagogues (usually) after morning prayer services on Saturdays (the Sabbath). Somebody at the kiddush sanctifies the Sabbath by reciting a blessing over a beverage (usually: wine, grape juice, whiskey) on behalf of those attending and then recites a second blessing over a baked good (usually: a cracker), which is representative of a Sabbath meal. Then everybody eats food together (usually: crackers, herring, fruits, cheeses, nuts, and various desserts) and socializes with friends and new acquaintances.

Incidentally, the Hebrew root of the word ‘kiddush’ is Q-D-Š, meaning “holy” or “separate”. In the summer of 2019, when I sponsored (i.e. provided the food for) my community’s kiddush in my Papa’s memory, I had the following thought:

In theory, the purpose of the kiddush is to sanctify Shabbat, by reciting a blessing over a cup of wine, but on that early morning of Papa’s yahrzeit I saw this communal ritual in a different light.

While the words of kiddush are of lofty, holy intent, perhaps it is the gathering together in community and the sharing of simple, human pleasures that truly sanctifies the Sabbath and sanctifies our loved ones’ yahrzeits. For me, on that morning, and perhaps on every single day that I had recited kaddish throughout the year, it was my community that warmly embraced me.

– Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #50, Aug. 5, 2019

My early morning Sabbath minyan (prayer quorum)

During the year that I was reciting the mourner’s kaddish for my deceased father, I attended morning services every single day at shul (synagogue), as is traditional, but it was the Shabbat (Saturday) morning services that I most loved – because of the kiddush that followed.

I must emphasize that I am not a morning person. If I had my druthers, I would go to bed some time after midnight (after reading the news, writing some poetry, drinking an Irish coffee, etc.) and wake up after 9:00 AM, at the earliest. This is significant to know because my beloved Saturday morning prayer quorum, which I am about to describe to you, meets at 6:45 AM on Saturday mornings; and I would usually be there by no later than 7:00 AM every week. (The kiddush following services would generally begin at 8:30 AM.)

Precisely because morning people are uncommon, my 6:45 AM Shabbat morning minyan (prayer quorum) was an intimate affair. There were, according to my estimate, some thirty regulars, and we had twenty to forty people in attendance weekly at shacharit (morning prayer services). More than half of us would remain for the kiddush after services, but not all of us.

Those of us who regularly partook of the kiddush were of all ages and social classes, and most of us would sponsor the kiddush at least once annually in memory of a departed parent or to celebrate a happy lifecycle event with the community. It was cozy and comforting to see the same small group of familiar faces every week and very socially egalitarian. Men and women of all ages would have friendly, meaningful conversations over whiskey, and while many of us only saw one another for several hours once weekly, we felt ourselves friends. There was a lovely atmosphere of warm camaraderie and community. It was our space.

My Shabbat morning kiddush at shul (synagogue) was a major part of my life.


Kiddush vis-à-vis my religiosity

In many Jewish communities, there is a phenomenon known as ‘JFK’, which stands for ‘Just For Kiddush’. There are a good number of community members who are don’t attend prayer services on Saturday mornings; instead they show up ‘Just For Kiddush’. Some people look down upon this; others don’t mind it; and some embrace any form of community participation.

I have never been a ‘JFK’ Jew; I always felt it incumbent upon myself to attend services before kiddush, largely because the Orthodox Jewish prayer quorum requires ten adult males to be considered a full quorum for the purposes of prayers and rituals. Without ten Jewish adult males, a prayer group cannot, for example, read from the Torah Scroll, which is so very central to Jewish communal life. I have always been the community-oriented sort to take communal responsibility seriously, and I would have felt very self-conscious partaking of the kiddush without having participated in minyan beforehand.

In fact, looking back at it, I was motivated to attend morning services even during weekdays largely because I wanted to help my community form a daily minyan; the community provided me with something very important and special in my life, and I wanted to give back. In all honestly, this feeling of responsibility has always far outweighed my personal desire to pray, but it’s having this sense of community in my life that has been so very, very important to me.

Also, largely because our Saturday morning minyan was so early, and because our intimate little kiddush was privately sponsored by individuals every week (rather than by the entire community), almost nobody came to our early morning kiddush without having first attended the prayer services (even if some people would arrive later than others). In this context, I was not the only one who took communal responsibility seriously – almost everyone did.


COVID-19 maimed my minyan

If you were to ask me what I miss most from before the COVID-19 era, it would undoubtedly be my Shabbat early morning community.

When the pandemic first hit, the prayer services were moved outside, and attendance was limited to a small number of people. Also, one had to sign up in advance in order to attend. In Israel, the summers are hot, and there are plenty of flies buzzing around outside; sitting in the heat with a face mask on was hardly comfortable, but this was something I could have lived with.

What did the most damage to the minyan was the dissolution of our kiddush. At first, there was no kiddush at all. Eventually, a small group of attendees did start holding small kiddushes in the park outside, next to the synagogue, but this was hardly the same. Many of the regulars had stopped coming for services entirely, and even among those who signed up and attended, many were fearful of socializing and sharing food and drink with others. The sense of community I’d had and loved so dearly was gone.

The second anniversary of my Papa’s death was in July 2020, and I decided to send out personal emails to members of my Shabbat kiddush community with an invitation to join me after services at the park for a nice kiddush in memory of my father. I deliberately purchased disposable plastic containers and prepackaged all of the crackers, herring, cheese, etc. in individual servings so that nobody would be worried about COVID. I even made alcoholic hand sanitizer available.

On the whole, the event was successful, and I felt fulfilled. Back then, I naively assumed that COVID-19 would blow over and that my Shabbat community would regroup. For me, last year, hosting my guerrilla kiddush in the park was merely a temporary measure because I never expected the restrictions imposed upon Israeli society to become so protracted.

Even now, with so many Israelis having been vaccinated and ‘green passes’ being made available to those who have received the vaccine or tested negative for COVID-19, and even with infection rates in Israel decreasing, our little early morning Sabbath community has not been allowed back within the walls of our synagogue.

Now, I’m not upset at anyone for this because I get it – the pandemic has killed more than six thousand Israelis, and people are still dying… but the absence of my Shabbat community has left a major hole in my life, and I mourn its absence weekly.

This year, if minyan and kiddush aren’t reconstituted at my shul (synagogue) before Papa’s third yahrzeit (anniversary of death) in July… well… I don’t think I’ll bother with a kiddush.

My community doesn’t actually exist any more. 😞

No one ever becomes a master

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

-Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961), New York Journal, 1961

Shared wisdom

My poet-blogger-friend Suzette posts quotes every day (Suzette’s blog is amazing) and shared Hemingway’s words of wisdom (above) with me in a recent exchange of ours.

I was expressing some frustration with a Welsh-style poem of mine and how it it was refusing to conform to my desires, and this enlightened and humble Hemingway quote was exactly what I needed at that moment…

Thanks, Suzette 🧸

Some of my best friends are anonymous

On the one hand…

When I step back and think about it, the blogosphere seems such a strange realm; and I’m old enough to have grown up without the Internet so I have perspective on this. Still, one need not have been born before the Internet era to be struck be the notable differences between people’s “in person” relationships and “online” relationships.

For example, what would it mean to have an anonymous “in person” friend? Here on WordPress, on the other hand, it’s entirely normal that some of the people that I interact with most regularly are anonymous.

Also, for most who do not blog anonymously, there necessarily exist limits as to what we can comfortably post because our blogs are public. Would we write publicly about difficulties in our romantic relationships, careers, childhoods, etc., given that our loved ones, coworkers, and friends could read those posts?

Indeed, while I certainly believe that meaningful relationships can be birthed, developed, and sustained online, we must consider how much we actually know of our “long distance” friends. given that we have, essentially, no access to their lives other than the glimpses they grant us. What are they like offline? What are we like?


On the other hand…

Speaking personally, I tend to feel disconnected from many of the people I interact with in person, largely because my head is often very much in the clouds. So many others seem to be focused on practical, earthly matters that wear me out.

Despite my skepticism regarding anything supernatural, I find conversations about belief, the history of religion, the sociology of religion, etc., very stimulating. Also, politics – deep political analysis fascinates me. And, of course, poetry – the exploration of the human spirit and reality filtered through the human eye.

In a sense, therefore, when I think about this blog on WordPress, and when I find myself wondering how well it actually reflects who I am despite all that I omit from it, I feel that it actually reflects much of the real me. This is where I thrive, in the realm of words and concepts, which lend themselves to introspection, poetry, and musings. These are the kinds of interactions I wish I could have with people “in person” – I’d love for all of my conversations to be over images and verses.

Really, as I consider this further, I feel that one cannot possibly know me very well today without taking an active interest in my Skeptic’s Kaddish. Here is where I explore life’s meaning.

Love deep, or: Twirling

My first diatelle

I
want to
Nay, need to
Must- simply must
Express love deep for you
Aroused by the depths of our trust
‘Tween ashes and ashes; ‘tween dust and dust
Souls float together above the ground and the sky
We spiraling-twirling through gale and gust
Flowing on respect true and lust
One another - pursue
Together - thrust
As birds do
We two
Fly


I love trying out new forms of poetry, and I just discovered the diatelle form via Linda’s lovely poem ‘Rain’, which you absolutely should read for its vivid imagery and flow. I am so appreciative of d’Verse for introducing me to so many fantastic and supportive poets.

Jewish and normal

I had an unexpected flash of insight the other day regarding the following themes:

  • My Jewish identity
  • Living in Israel
  • Blogging on WordPress

My Jewish identity

While I only encountered Orthodox Judaism and gradually began to adopt a religious lifestyle in college, I have always strongly identified as a Jew. If I were to sort the many facets of my identity out into a hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order.

For several reasons, the many strictures of religious Jewish life have always appealed to me. In part, I feel that I am simply being outwardly true to my core identity by presenting myself as a Jew publicly in the most apparent way possible.

Mind you, I began college more than twenty years ago; and my religious journey has had many ups and downs in the many years since. There were periods when I reverted to a secular lifestyle, and there were periods when I managed to convince myself that the God of the Torah existed and strived to follow His laws to my utmost accordingly.

I have been up, down, and all around on the spectrum of religious Judaism. However, throughout those years during which I turned back towards secularism, I always missed the outward trappings of traditional observance. The personal inconveniences of keeping strictly kosher, keeping Shabbat traditionally, praying thrice daily, etc., never bothered me ~ it was, rather, always a question of the extent to which any of these practices actually mattered.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while I never minded the demands that traditional Judaism made upon my life, I did find myself wishing that my religious lifestyle wouldn’t create such barriers between me and all other human beings on earth who were not attempting to live a traditional Torah lifestyle.


Living in Israel

Not religiously comfortable for all Jews

From a religious perspective, Israel is not necessarily a comfortable place for all Jews to live.

For political and historical reasons, the Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox, rather than heterodox (Conservative, Reform, etc.), and its religious monopoly over Jewish life operates with the full weight of the government behind it. For example, Jewish weddings performed in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate are granted no legal status (and civil marriage does not exist). Also, the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered religious monopoly grants it the exclusive right to certify Israel’s food establishments as “kosher”, unlike everywhere else in the world.

Also, questions of Jewish status are decided by the Chief Rabbinate for religious purposes. This decides whether or not citizens of Israel can get married in Israel at all, where they can be buried when they die, etc., etc. Therefore, Israeli citizens whose mothers are not Jewish, as required by religious law, are considered “not Jewish” by the Chief Rabbinate, and they cannot legally marry Jews in Israel without first undergoing religious conversions under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (even if they are secular).

Religiously comfortable for me

While I 100% oppose these infringements and all others on freedom of religion in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious Jewish life does not much inconvenience me on a personal level because I happen to live an Orthodox lifestyle (my wedding, for example, was conducted through the Chief Rabbinate).

Also, while I have explored and flirted with non-Orthodox religious communities, they do not feel like home to me personally. Therefore, as the vast majority of Israeli synagogues are Orthodox, my religious preferences are not marginalized in most public prayer spaces. Further, even when my commitment to my religious practices vacillates, it is always fluctuating on the spectrum between Jewish secularism and Orthodoxy, both of which are mainstream in Israeli society.

All of this is to say that I feel very at home in Israel from a religious perspective. Kosher food is – and kosher food establishments are – abundant, synagogues are available everywhere, the national holidays are my own religious holidays, etc., etc.

Living here in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) dramatically lowers the religious barriers between me and all the other people around me.


Blogging on WordPress

I have been increasingly enjoying the sense of community that I have discovered here on WordPress.

Bloggers from around the world share with – and are supportive of – one another, and for the first time since moving to Israel I have been feeling significantly less divorced from global society, which is predominantly not Jewish.

The unexpected insight that I had last week is that our virtual WordPress community grants me something not entirely dissimilar from that which living in Israel grants me: a sense of normalcy.

Of course, I am aware this comparison has many flaws. For one, every blogger chooses whom to interact with on their blog and on other people’s blogs. My virtual community is entirely self-selected and filtered according my preferences… and, of course, writing and reading blog posts is a far cry from in-person interactions… but… well…

Here on WordPress, I feel simply human.