What a year. Almost impossible to believe.
The truth is, as a blogger, I’m usually not a fan of these retrospective “end of the year, let’s get free hits” posts. But this year was so special that I felt like it deserved a look backwards.
Here are a few things that happened to me this year:
- Moved across the world (from Israel to New York).
- Left my job.
- Started a new job. Left that one too.
- Started a new job. So far so good.
- Wrote a blog post that was so dangerous and controversial I had to change my name on it, take down Pop Chassid for a week, and learn a bit of humility.
- Blog exploded.
That last one is kind of why I’m writing this, despite all the other craziness. I want to take the fans of this blog on a little behind the scenes look at what happened behind some of the bigger blog posts of the year, and to understand why they came about and how they effected my life.
The Matisyahu Preface: December, 2011
It was the December of 2011, just before the holiday season. I was living in Israel, working at a company called Swifto. For months, I had been nursing a grudge against some people I had trusted as my mentors in spirituality. See, I had come all the way to Israel to study, sold all my things, sacrificed so much so I could grow in my Judaism. But I just felt lost. Upset. Disillusioned.
And then Matisyahu shaved his beard.
I remember that time when we all saw the tweet. No explanation, no reasoning. Just two disturbing pictures of a gaunt-looking Matisyahu with no beard. Most people worried about his health. Was he suicidal? Why did he look so sick in the picture?
Soon, the details slowly emerged as Matisyahu became forthcoming.
And right after that, the judgments came pouring in.
I was set alight. All my grudges, everything I had seen that disillusioned me, was now coming out in the way some in the religious community attacked and maligned Matisyahu. I was sickened by it. I saw a disturbed guy trying to figure out his life, and the people who had benefited so greatly from him now turning on him.
And so I lashed out in an article on the Jerusalem Post. Just let out all my emotions about everything I had seen happening in the religious community come out in this piece decrying the negative reaction to Matisyahu’s action.
It was the first time I had written something somewhat popular. People wrote me emails thanking me for the piece and it was shared quite a bit.
For someone who was struggling with all this disullusionment, this was a huge moment. I saw that others felt the way that I did. I saw that my writing could move people in ways that didn’t just have to fit into a nice formula the way Pop Chassid did at the time.
The seed for the new Pop Chassid was planted.
The Lull And The Reawakening: January to May
Sometimes, as creators, we struggle for a while to find our identity, to find out who we are, and to find out the effect we want to make on the world.
For months after that article, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I wrote a few articles here and there, but nothing felt as genuine or as real as that piece about Matisyahu. What could I do?
As I spent 3 hours communiting each way to Herzliya from Jerusalem every day, I struggled to bring out some sort of inner truth, some sort of reality that I could write about. But I was too stressed, too overwhelmed by living in Israel, by the commute, by being poor, by a beautiful new daughter.
And so I slowly came to the conclusion that Pop Chassid had to be no more.
Even after I moved back to the States in March, I was pretty sure that Pop Chassid had reached its last days.
In April, I announced that I would be taking it down. I tried to delete the Facebook page, but Facebook requires that you wait thirty days before a page gets permanently deleted. The social media equivalent of the Brady Law, I guess.
And so I patiently waited to kill Pop Chassid.
Then something happened. Chaya Kurtz, a friend of mine and my wife’s, who also lived in Crown Heights after moving from Israel, posted an article that made shockwaves throughout the blogosphere. It was called “What Women’s Media Needs to Know about Chassidic Women” and it rocked everyone’s world.
The subject of the article was that Hassidic women didn’t need the world to defend them. They didn’t need to be saved, and they didn’t need to be put into an imaginary box of oppression that so many outside observers wished they could be in, if only to save them.
It was a beautiful piece of writing, and it was being shared perhaps more than any other article on the subject had been up to that moment.
And, of course, some people couldn’t handle that. Soon, people like Deborah Feldman, and every other person bitter about their experience within Hassidic Judaism (or just anyone that had an axe to grind) came out of the woodwork to take down Chaya. The comments came as a flood, and soon threatened to mar Chaya’s message.
I remember that moment vividly, because I had struggled with my own disillusionment within the community (nothing like some of these people had struggled with, to be fair) and I had worked my butt off to figure out how to deal with it, how to still find my niche and place within that world and embrace it.
And now, here were all these people who, for reasons legitimate and illegitimate, were pissed off at Chaya just for being proud of who she was. And speaking the truth, incidentally. I couldn’t stand it.
When Eli Fink published his “Dear Chaya” piece, I was about to head out to work. I had noticed that a friend of mine had posted it on his Facebook wall, and I figured I’d check it out.
I had never been so upset by a blog post in my life. All of the cynicism, the paternalism, seemed to be rolled up in this blog post by Fink. I remember how I fumed. I wanted to scream at the computer, maybe throw it against the wall.
In that moment, after months of not writing, I sat my butt down and got to work. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
In fifteen minutes I had placed all my thoughts onto Pop Chassid (since there was nowhere else to publish it) and left for work.
To this day, “On Respecting Chaya” is my most popular and shared blog post on Pop Chassid. It voiced something many were feeling and happened to be published at a time when a lot of people wanted to hear out all sides of this debate.
It also saved Pop Chassid.
I had suddenly found my voice. Chaya had inspired it and Eli Fink had helped me refine it (thanks, Eli!). I cancelled my Facebook page deleting process and set to work on my new goal: unapologetic Judaism.