Not for sale(?)

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:

Hooray, money!

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…

unready.

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.

Your father, or: Your faith

A ‘Magnetic Poem’ tanka

Wanna try? Click here.

tiny happy girl
you innocent joyful child
your father loves you
your faith fascinates me so
little blooming soul believes

Notes

  • For this poem, I decided to make use of the ‘Love Set’ on the Magnetic Poetry website;
    • This is only the 2nd time that I’ve used this set;
    • I think this is a brand new set of virtual magnets;
  • I once again opted for a tanka, rather than a haiku;
    • The extra two lines (14 syllables) provide a greater challenge, as well as a larger canvas;
  • This particular poem is a reflection of my love for my six-year-old daughter (obviously, right?);
  • I searched for and found the featured image only after I had written the entire tanka;
    • This is a free stock photo – it is not a photo of my daughter;
      • Back when she was born, we decided to keep photos of her offline.

You think that way because you’re a poet

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…

Tradition: just do it?

Some axioms for life

  • Once an institution comes into existence, its top priority becomes perpetuating its existence;
    • If an institution achieves its stated goals, it will assign itself new goals in order to justify and perpetuate its continued existence;
  • All religions are institutions.

Kaddish: basic logistics

  • There are several different versions of the kaddish prayer (technically, it’s a doxology), but the best known of these is oft called the mourner’s kaddish, which is recited by Jewish mourners after they have lost close relatives;
    • Traditionally, the mourner’s kaddish is recited daily for 30 days following the death of a spouse, sibling, or child; and it is recited daily for twelve (or eleven) Hebrew months following the death of a parent;
    • Traditionally, the mourner’s kaddish is recited at each of the three daily prayer services – morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Traditionally, one may only recite kaddish with a Jewish prayer quorum, which is defined as ten males of age (13 yrs old +) in Orthodox communities and ten humans of age in most non-Orthodox communities;
    • Prayer services with prayer quorums may be held anywhere, but they are most often held at synagogues.

Putting aside the metaphysical

For the purposes of this post, let’s put aside the metaphysical. Let’s put aside the purported effects of living people’s prayers upon their dead loved ones.

While I don’t deny that the supernatural may exist, I believe that all religious traditions and rituals originally developed, first and foremost, as reflections and outgrowths of individual and communal human needs, be they social, spiritual, economic, etc.

From the perspective of the Jewish mourner, our tradition forces us into our communities after we lose our loved ones. After all, the mourner’s kaddish, that doxology that we recite multiple times every day for an extended period of time can only be recited within a Jewish prayer quorum — that is to say: among other Jews.

From the perspective of Jewish communities, for which synagogue life has long been central to their existence, having a regular stream of participants attending communal prayer services is clearly a win. After all, plenty of Jewish people are disinclined to go to shul (synagogue) daily, let alone weekly or monthly. In fact, many daily Jewish prayer quorums are comprised of retirees with no family & work responsibilities; it’s fairly easy to understand why this is so.

Therefore, the tradition of reciting mourner’s kaddish, which compels many of even the most unaffiliated Jews, serves to keep synagogues stocked with congregants. In fact, the experience of reciting mourner’s kaddish (particularly for the duration of an entire year in the case of a deceased parent) is so powerful that many mourners continue attending prayer services long after their allotted kaddish periods have ended.


Tradition: just do it?

It’s fair to say that the more traditional the community, the less personal, creative religious expression is encouraged. The traditional message is, essentially: ‘There is a traditional way of doing things, which has been handed down to us through the many centuries, and it, by definition, meets all of our human needs, if only we commit ourselves to it fully and deeply.’

Nevertheless, it took me one no more than a single month of daily kaddish recitations following Papa’s death before I felt that Jewish tradition wasn’t doing it for me. I needed something more. I needed to feel that it was my kaddish, not simply the kaddish. And that’s when I started my kaddish writing project, which begat this blog.

I don’t think I can entirely qualify how much love, effort, time, and energy went into that project. I remain very proud of it, and I often wonder how the heck I managed to get through those 51 blog posts, which wove my personal kaddish reflections & experiences together with my memories of Papa and with the intensive research that I did throughout the course of that year. Seriously – how the heck did I do manage it?

But from the perspective of organized Jewish community, one might say that my kaddish writing project frustrated one of the primary, practical goals of the mourner kaddish institution. Not only did I find and create my own meaning in mourning, rather than derive it primarily from my communal experience; but, ultimately, I ended up convincing myself even more firmly of my religious skepticism. I went through the motions of tradition but simultaneously set myself apart from it and observed it from the side. Everything I read and wrote that year only served to further convince me of my preconceived beliefs.

After all, which part of my Jewish mourning experience has remained with me to this day? It certainly hasn’t been my synagogue attendance, which is currently non-existent… rather, it’s been my writing, which has evolved into something more than I’d expected and continues to define and shape my identity profoundly.