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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:09 pm

So I'm unsure where to put this topic but here goes. Most people who know me online or offline know I'm not afraid to share my opinions. (No secret here, right?) Here's my experience lately. Throughout my conversion journey, the members of my synagogue community were thrilled when I blogged about all the amazing aspects of that journey, right up to and through conversion.

However, since converting in May and continuing to blog about my journey, as will probably sound familiar to most people here, there have been times that I haven't been as happy with my new Jewish life. Taking a new-Jewish look at what I learned in my conversion studies vs. what I see in my synagogue community, often I feel surprised, or left out, or confused about the things many born Jews don't know about their own faith, or about the way we worship and comport ourselves within the sanctuary.

As a blogger, I explore my experience and write about it on my blog--both positive and negative experiences and lessons, etc. That applies to my Jewish journey. But now, whenever I question my Jewish journey or write a post that isn't as ebulliently thrilled as some that came before, some members of my community a.) take it personally, b.) complain to our Rabbi (and not to me--totally not cool, mind you), or c.) shout me down/call me a bad Jew/tell me my blog reflects badly on my shul. Or all three.

It feels clearly like whenever my life experience as a Jew-by-Choice doesn't match up with the life experience of born Jews, I'm supposed to keep quiet about it. Right now, I'm being shouted down on my own Facebook page for posting a link to a blog post I wrote about how hard large b'nai mitzvah crowds can make it to feel welcome at Shabbat Shacharit services. One member, our former office manager, told me publicly that the point of the services is for the kid and family, not to be "my" or anyone else's worship opportunity and that if I don't like it I can explore "other ways to worship (on) Shabbat."

Meanwhile, when a recent blog post of mine goes national tomorrow on InterfaithFamily, I'm sure he and everyone else will have--as usual--a totally different opinion than today.

So my question to the JBC bloggers out there is how do you deal with this when it comes up? Does it come up? How often? Who's right, for that matter? I know I cannot in good conscience not talk about the totality of my Jewish experience on my blog. How about you?
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:13 pm

I do not share my blog with my Jewish community, friends or family. There are only a few good friends who know about it and only two that I know of have ever read it (neither of them are Jewish). I don't share it for the precise reason you are mentioning now. I want to be able to say what I want to say without someone looking at me in the face the next day and going off on me or complaining to my Rabbi as if she doesn't have enough to deal with already. So, I've just remained anonymous. I don't tell people I run a forum for converts either. I just told my Rabbi and then wasn't so sure I should have done so but honestly she's so busy she may just forget about it.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:22 pm

I'll be honest with you, if my community knew I had a blog I wouldn't discuss my shul even if I wasn't sure they were reading it. It could lead to hurt feelings and tension.
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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:27 pm

I am very careful about what I publish - I always use pseudonyms for the rabbis I am referring to, no matter what I am discussing - for example my recent conversion post referring to my beit din had letters selected for the rabbis at random, i.e. Rabbi G, so that it's harder to guess who I am referring to.

Though if someone stumbled across my blog from my shul, I'm sure they wouldn't find any gory details. I don't blog about anything particular concerning my shul or the people in it. It's far from perfect, but I think there's a limit to what you can say without hurting people unintentionally. I wouldn't want to do that.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:41 pm

Michael, I took a look at your facebook page to see what was being said. It looks like it's gotten quite out of hand.
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:56 pm

Dena, I agree. My original post was not an attack on my shul, either. But one member decided he needed to "school" me about the "meaning" of Shabbat morning services in public on my Facebook page and, you know, BOOM. Everything blew up.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:12 am

I could see where it would hurt some feelings. Did you really resign from the Brotherhood?
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:20 am

Yes, I did. The President of the Brotherhood was apoplectic about it, and pretty much ordered my partner and I to come to dinner over the weekend with him and his wife for debriefing and hugs.
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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:22 am

Michael, do you mind if I add you on Facebook? I'm very intrigued by this issue. I can see how the post could be seen as an attack, but I think it was very honest of you.
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:32 am

Samantha, no, I don't mind. Please feel free.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:27 am

Michael,

It probably won't make you feel any better, but the harsh comments may not have anything to do with your being a convert. I've seen such vicious attacks of Jews who are "Frum from birth" by other Jews, that there are some online sites such as Ha'aretz where I try very hard to avoid reading the comments.

There was an article that I wrote that was quoted by a blogger who writes an opinion column for an online Jewish publication. And some nasty person made a lot of assumptions that weren't even true and wrote some very mean comments aimed at me....well actually, I suppose not really me, but rather the strawman built up to attack. But I remember how wounded I felt. So think I understand some of what you are feeling. (I didn't look up the comments you are referring to. As I noted above, I'd rather not see the kind of comments that would make you feel so hurt.)

Now perhaps you understand why some user's groups of various sorts (including those for converts) are private.

----

If I may make a few comments of my own about synagogues:

I understand why you don't like it when your shul is filled up with strangers for bnei mitzvah for children whose families you don't know because they are rarely ever seen in shul except for that simcha. But the desire to have a place for bnei mitzvah may be the only reason that those families have memberships. Let's say there were half the number of those families, so there were half the number of bnei mitzvah-dominated Shabbat services. Would you and the remaining members be willing to pay an additional 50% to cover for the lost membership fees? I'm assuming that your synagogue has a big building large enough to hold the biggest crowds for High Holidays, and a full-time rabbi (or two), and a full-time cantor, and an education director, and office and maintenance staff.....(I'm assuming that the Hebrew school is self-funded, but in reality it is usually subsidized and it should be IMHO. I've seen several shuls "die" when they aren't welcoming to young families so their membership keeps aging and dying off.) Anyway, it all costs a lot of money, and most of that money usually comes from membership fees. So the fact is that your shul probably needs the membership fees of those members. And perhaps lots of members even prefer the party-atmosphere of a bar/bat mitzvah to the lower key style of a "regular" Shabbat service.

The suggestion that you might be happier with another congregation is really not such a bad idea. There are lots of different styles of synagogues and davening communities. One way that might work for you to avoid the bnei mitzvah scene is to join one of the davening communities of younger Jews. They tend to be 20-somethings, but since you don't have kids, you're not completely outside the demographic. There are no bnei mitzvah because the members don't have kids. I have heard about some new prayer groups that have recently started up in Chicago. I'm afraid I don't have details---not my scene---I'm old enough to be the mother of most of the members of those groups and I actually prefer communities with some representation of all the age groups (Admittedly my minyan doesn't have a lot of families with school-age or younger children right now, but it does have quite a few elderly members as a result of a "merger" with the remnant of our "host shul".) Anyway, if you do a Google search or start asking around you can probably find out about these groups.

I will say that I like that the most bnei mitzvah my minyan ever had in a year was 4 or 5 (around 2000 when the children of the founders were coming of age). There are far fewer these days and I think we are going to start having some years with no bnei mitzvah at all because we now have very few families with school age or younger children. But I think it is different from the experience you complain about, Mike, because I always know the family well, and at least half of the attendees even at bnei mitzvah will be minyan regulars. So I do enjoy the bnei mitzvah even though they are different from a typical Shabbat service (but then again the food is better!)

What keeps costs down for my minyan is that we don't have paid staff except for a babysitter, so we all put in a large amount of "sweat equity". I've been on the phone and email a lot for the past two weeks, and my husband has been button-holing people at kiddush because it is my turn to coordinate services this coming Shabbat. I've lined up 12 people to read Torah and Haftarah, lead services, serve as gabbai, and give the D'var Torah. I will still have to draft another Gabbai during services unless someone gets returns a message and volunteers. The skilled members need to read Torah or lead services quite frequently. I can only read relatively short Torah readings, but I try to do so as often as I can manage. One thing to be said for all the work is that it keeps the members in a web of favors and obligations which is good for developing a close and supportive community.

The minyan has no Hebrew school because nearly all of the families send their children to Jewish day school. The few of us who send our kids to public or secular private school have to pay for private Jewish studies, Hebrew, and bnei mitzvah tutoring, which is quite costly. Also the minyan has always davened in somewhat shabby quarters---no impressive spaces with nice carpeting and seats and perhaps beautiful panelling and stained glass windows or large artworks. We also often re-configure a davening space into dining space between services and kiddush, made possible by most able-bodied minyan members being willing to put in labor for furniture moving for a simcha! It's certainly a "no-frills" congregation.

I like my minyan, but it's not for everyone. I've noticed that there have been many single-year members who don't renew after their first "grace period" year. When it comes to having to do their fair share of the work, they realize they aren't willing to do that and probably go join an actual synagogue.
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 1:34 pm

Thanks, Debbie. Actually, I feel a lot better reading your response :-) The straw man that got created on my Facebook page was that I somehow don't want b'nai mitzvah ceremonies in my shul. I do. The point of my original post was that members who aren't part of the family or invitees count, too, and should be made to feel equally welcome. That's why I felt so stunned when it was suggested I daven elsewhere. When someone says, "I just want to feel more included on Shabbat," saying, "Go elsewhere" is a pretty harsh response.

The funny thing is, our one, breakaway under-40 minyan very much wanted me to join them when I first began at my shul last fall. I said no, I wanted to be part of a full-fledged synagogue with a community of all ages. I love being part of that wider community, too. But seeing the prejudices that some of our members have about each other (and me) expressed like this is just sad.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:28 pm

Mike,

Glad to hear you feel better. Being able to give comfort by telling you "you're not the only one that this has happened to" means that something positive came out of my hurtful experience.

As I said: re-frame "go elsewhere" as "consider looking for other Jewish communities that might be a better fit for you". And you don't have to give up your current shul, but rather you might just add in another community that you sometimes visit. The trend among the highly engaged 20-somethings who are involved in the "Independent Minyanim" movement is to participate in many different davening communities at the same time rather than being affiliated with only a single synagogue. Made me feel like I was "trendy" to have been a member of three shuls at the same time a few years ago Laughing (You have to know that I am not at all the "trendy" type.)

It could get tricky with "loyalty" issues, but I would encourage you to go check out that "breakaway under-40 minyan"---maybe it was one of the new minyanim I heard about from a 20-something Jew I was talking to recently.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:29 pm

To be fair to your friends, when I read your post it did sorta sound like you don't want the b'nai mitzvah ceremonies in your shul. I can see where they would take it that way and be a bit thrown off. It may have been your mentioning of things like not being able to find a siddur, a chumash or a seat. I believe you also said something about visitors belonging in the overflow, not regular members. Those things could lead people to believe that you really just don't want anyone else there. Once they misunderstood, it was all downhill from there.

I think it would be normal to feel a little out of place when your shul is full of strangers. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I don't necessarily feel out of place but I feel lonely. Everyone is there with family and I'm alone because I haven't got any Jewish family. I imagine people living in cities without their family feel the same way.

I guess what I am saying is that if you are going to speak about your shul in particular openly you need to make sure you are really communicating what you feel. If people get offended then maybe step back and make sure that it's not a misunderstanding before feeling threatened. You may be butting heads with friends over something that isn't really even the issue. They just think you are saying one thing when you really meant another and now you are hurt because of their comments which were based on something you weren't actually even saying in the first place. You know what I mean?

Also, just as you want to be free to express your thoughts and feelings, others are going to have thoughts and feelings in response. That doesn't mean they are attacking you. We can all be very uh, enthusiastic at times. Wink and Smile

As for the actual issue, for many people one shul may not be enough. We need different things at different times or we may like one thing about shul A (or minyan) and something else about shul B (or minyan). If I were you I'd take Debbie and Chaviva's advice and see if there is something out there that suits you better for Saturday mornings.

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BRNechama

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:42 pm

My community does not know about my current blog. I did have a very distressing conversation with a member of my Beis Din a few years ago. Basically, I had my initial meeting with the Beis Din, and it seemed to go 'ok' (although not as well as I thought). A few days later, I get a call from one of the rabbeim on the Beis Din. He told me that "someone" had found one of my old blogs online. Now, this wasn't a blog that I was regularly updating...but rather had up since 2006. Anyway he began to quote statements that I made on the blog and said that there were some "serious concerns" about them. Well I was speechless & frustrated. I knew for sure that the bulk of what he was quoting was being taken out of context, but I could not properly frame the references right on the spot. When I couldn't explain myself, he basically said that my conversion process and details should not be blogged about. I was upset...and didn't agree (although it wasn't like I was blogging every detail anyway); but I didn't really have the ground to argue or put up a fight.

Today, there are several converts (or future converts, G-d willing) who are blogging about their experience. I'm thankful for their efforts and I'm glad that their rabbis approve of (or at least don't give them grief) their blogs. I do not think that the process of converting to Judaism should be purposely obscured. With that being said, in retrospect I am glad that I was censored from blogging about my conversion...which I feel would be a discouraging tale to other potential converts. I definitely don't want that. I don't want someone to read my words, and then want to turn away from Judaism.

When it comes to blogging, you do have to be careful. I had to learn the hard way that your words can be used as weapons against you...even when you have the best of intentions. The main advice I can give is if you do wish to blog, discuss it with your rabbi. If your blog already exists, let him (or her) see it, and then offer feedback. You definitely don't want to be "found out" like I was. I think that if I was sitting down with them, going through the blog, it would have been much better.

But I never thought about it; it was a non-issue to me back then!
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FaustianSlip

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PostSubject: Re: Bloggers, how does your community react to your posts?   Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:44 am

I work in a profession where blogging can become a major security issue, and I've known of people who were told point blank by higher ups to shut their blogs down or risk losing their jobs. I also have a blog. I haven't encountered any pushback about it, but I also don't talk all that much about work specifics precisely because I don't want to get any nasty feedback from my boss (or his boss) about having blogged something inappropriate. It's a bit of a balancing act, but really, my job isn't that exciting, and I don't think most people want to read tons about it, anyway.

My community back in the States is aware of my blog, at least some of them, and I think it's been generally well-received, though it's a bit different now as I'm not blogging while being an active member of that community, since I'm out of the country. I don't blog exclusively about Jewish issues, though I have gotten some questions from people considering applying for my line of work who are Jewish and trying to see how people make that work (or, in one case, someone who wants to convert!). I mostly blog about traveling I do and occasional religious stuff that crops up. I deliberately stay away from the most personal of personal things, because they're not usually things I'm comfortable sharing with any random who happens upon my blog and because I'm not sure anyone who reads my blog really cares to read that stuff, anyway.

I agree that in some communities (Orthodox in particular, I suspect), blogging your conversion experience could be a very real liability.
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