Readers of the world, stamp your feet in protest, raise your voices in loud, tempestuous clamor. You have been accused of a most severe thing, by those who pass judgment with knowing glances and somber, wise noddings of their heads. Your crime, you ask? Apathy toward demanding good writing.
Your face blanches; your heart is momentarily stilled. Or not. Perhaps a brief detour from the melodrama is warranted at this point, in the form of, well, some context. At a recent meeting of some various and sundry writers, one particularly skilled writer raised the point that in the Jewish world, writing is a notoriously under-paid profession. If this is news to you, kind reader, I apologize for possibly shattering any entrancing illusions you may have held...of multi-millionaire frum writers, cavorting in their summer homes on eight-figure salaries, occasionally deigning to pluck the keys of their computers to weave together an article or two. :-)
In the course of the conversation, one writer posited her stalwart theory--nay, flaming indictment--which I alluded to at the beginning of this post, namely that the reason why frum writers are, on a whole, woefully underpaid, is because their readers do not demand excellence. Thus, those who employ the services of these writers are not pressured to raise the bar by hiring only cream-of-the-crop, highly talented writers who could then demand top-dollar for their work. This is her theory; I present it to you, gentle reader, and await your opinion.
Is this really true? Is the public willing to acquiesce to whatever comes their way rather than demand what it truly deserves? And do you think this has any connection whatsoever to the compensation of frum writers?
Poked around a little bit and came across this article, which I found interesting but vague. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2512105.stm. The end of the piece offers another link to a further study which supposedly determines whether or not homeopathy has any scientifically proven, research-based validity.
One caveat, though:
Y'know how they say "Those who have the facts, pound the facts; those who don't, pound the table!"? Well, this James Randi fellow seems to be hovering right on the border, perhaps leaning more to the pounding the table side, so take it with a grain of salt--or an entire shaker, if you'd like.
My intent is not to be a homeopathy basher or a staunch proponent of Western medicine either. It's just to think. I think, therefore I am. I think.
One bright sunny day, about three months ago, I woke up with a stye in my eye. A weepy, creepy, swollen, sullen stye (Okay, the alliteration may be getting too much here, but I'm having fun! :-)) had invaded my upper lid. I tried warm compresses. I tried cotton balls dipped in pre-boiled water. I tried analyzing it, picking it, and leaving it alone. I went to one doctor and tried one medicated cream. I went to another doctor and tried a second medicated cream. I went to an eye doctor who told me it would go away on it's own. I tried oral antibiotics. I took a compassionate woman's interesting advice and rubbed a gold ring on the stye. It would not go away.
That was a long time ago. Today, the stye and I have made peace with each other. We are here for the long haul. I have prayed for the stye to leave. I have visualized myself stye-free. I have complained and kvetched and raged. Nothing seems to be working.
So yesterday I decided to give my stye one last shot. I posted to our community's email list, asking for a recommendation on an eye doctor who could help banish my stye. The answers I received were quite eye-opening (sorry!). I will print three of them, anonymously, here:
1. "My daughter had a chronic stye when she was little and the cause was allergies. When the allergies were treated, the stye went away. Initially we treated the stye by taking her diet down to a very basic one and then slowly adding foods into it again. There are many ways that an allergy can manifest itself. Our daughter had the stye condition and she also would sweat heavily during naps - a sign of an allergy. She also had more traditional signs of allergy such as redness around the mouth with certain foods, runny nose with no cold, irritability. She was then treated by a homeopathic for her allergies and has not had a stye since."
2. "I have a little experience with styes as I am a general pediatrician. Both internal and external styes can be treated with warm compresses, placed off and on for about 15 minutes at a time approximately four times per day. The best method for warm compresses are to brew a hot cup of tea (the flavor doesn't matter) and then place the hot tea bag over the eye. For some reason the tea bag does not cool off as quickly as a washcloth. If, despite continued treatment with warm compresses, the stye hardens into a chalazion (similar to a hard cyst) and does not reduce in size within a month, you should be referred to an ophthalmologist for consideration of incision and curettage (removal) or steroid shot."
3. "Stye infections - esp chronic are one of the many things we heal as CLASSICAL HOMEOPATHS."
East meets West. Alternative meets Conventional. Homeopathy, meet Medicine. How do you do? Growing up in a family of straight-laced Western medicine people, I have such mixed feelings and ambivalence about alternative medicine. Homeopathy? What's that?! Yet sometimes I wonder: maybe I'm being close-minded and, what's more, maybe I'm limiting myself by not stepping out of my comfort zone.
There are some people who look askance at the Western medical approach. A neighbor was horrified when she heard I vaccinated my family against seasonal flu. "Don't you know that flu is wonderful for the body?" she exclaimed. "It detoxes the body. I would never give my children flu shots!"
Isn't it so great that there are so many different types of people that inhabit the planet? Always so much to ponder! Meanwhile, Eye am really not sure what to do with my ocular pal. I think I'll name him Stymied. :-)
I had a blogpost here but took it down because I was worried that my venting might somehow get back to the person involved. (Thanks for your comment, Bikores. I had to take that down also--sorry!) I guess I could turn this incident and the implementation of my decision to take down the post into a lesson for life. Words are really powerful and we have zero license to use them to hurt other people. Even when we're upset. Ya get that, Riva? :-)
While I'm already on the subject of words and their power and being careful not to hurt other people through words, I just want to raise one issue that I've been giving some thought to. The dangers that the internet presents are well-discussed and very apparent, yet there's one angle that may be overlooked. That angle is anonymity. There's nothing so new about anonymously expressing opinions--people have been doing it way before technology evolved. But now, anonymous opinions are broadcast to the (sometimes unsuspecting) public faster than you can say "Click" and the writer need take no responsibility for ensuring that his/her words have been carefully weighed and measured. After all, she's not Leah Goldstein of Monsey, NY; she's shoegirl67 or TheMomma. He can mouth off about who he hates and why and still show his face at minyan the next morning, because no one would ever dream that BlueWolf is really Chaim Shmerel Hirsch.
There is, unfortunately, lots and lots of very bitter, poisonous, negative words circulating on the internet--some of it is downright hateful invective. These words are, sadly, being posted by people who, in their "real" lives, may be careful to adhere to the laws of proper speech and who would never come up to someone in the street and say the horrible things they feel perfectly comfortable typing onto their computer screen. Aside from the plain chillul Hashem (desecrating the sanctity of G-d's Name by behaving improperly, which leads others to denigrate Torah Jews and, a priori, their Creator, G-d) of Torah Jews penning words of this kind, there's also a question here about what kind of affect such diatribe has on its perpetrator. One's words, whether spoken or written, have a profound effect on one's soul and mind. Do we really want to internalize that vindictive, cutting comment we just posted on someone's blog (No, folks, this is not personal. Thank goodness, it seems only gentle, noble readers post comments on THIS blog. If anything, my frustration with posters is that people don't comment ENOUGH!)?
Maybe this "anonymity breeds contempt" phenomenon would make for a good psychological or sociological study. BIs there some kind of catharsis at work here? Some kind of Walter Mitty Meets the Web? The shy girl who never opens her mouth in real life is suddenly a big-shot know-it-all in the "kosher" chatroom, earning respect for her brash opinions. Is this okay? Is it wrong? Can it be fixed?
I think a good litmus test of whether something should or shouldn't be said is whether one is willing to say it without hiding behind a pseudonym. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
Let me begin this post with some very heartfelt, very dramatic words: Our Kollel years were the best ones of my life. (For the uninitiated, Kollel is a yeshivah where married men study for varying amounts of time; they study Torah and Talmud and may work to earn rabbinic ordination.) My husband and I embraced a kollel lifestyle right after our wedding and it was pure, absolute bliss. He learned all day; I worked to support us and felt privileged to do so. I am not being corny or kitschy; I really, wholly, and completely loved every minute of his full-time Torah learning. I feel like Kollel learning is such a noble, incredible pursuit and that it sustains the entire universe. Now, for those of you who may be wondering if there is some foreshadowing or preface going on here, you are highly astute.
Recently, a comment was made to me thusly: "Why are your serial stories bashing Kollel?" My head jerked up; my heart leapt into my throat. I was taken aback, really, especially in light of the above paragraph. When I finally gathered my wits to attempt to respond to the accusation, I first pointed out that Green Fences was definitely nowhere within the category of "kollel bashing". If anything, Green Fences showed the beauty and importance of kollel, which one Batya Sternheim attempted to deny. In Shattered Glass, my current serialized story, the protagonist, Betzalel Myers, does learn in Kollel, and perhaps that is what prompted the specious comment about my "kollel-bashing". Firstly, to extrapolate from one fictional story which centers on a man who happens to be learning in Kollel, the assumption that the author is a wanton, shameless "kollel-basher" seems not only ridiculous, but downright rude. Secondly, and this is much more interesting, I realized that as a writer, I am faced with a curious Kollel konundrum.
You see, the yeshivah/chareidi world today has a grey area when it comes to Kollel learning vs. working. This is the feisty fodder for many a discussion and even a serial story (think Black and White by Dov Haller and, er, Green Fences, by Riva Pomerantz :-)). While we all agree that learning Torah in Kollel is a most worthy pursuit, we also must acknowledge that not everyone is capable of this occupation and also, that we need mechanchim (teachers), rabbonim (rabbis), and countless other Torah Jews to fill other roles and serve as other professionals within our communities. My husband Joel, for example, is a school psychologist and cognitive-behavioral therapist. In his capacity, he helps countless people in our community who are struggling with very difficult, real issues. Yes, he cherishes his Kollel days, but now he is performing his avodas Hashem (service of G-d) in this venue.
I have often commented on the enormous, inexplicable power of fiction--to effect change, to provoke thought, and to spark discussion. More so than articles, workshops, and lectures, fiction has this uncanny ability to get through to people, most likely because it is non-threatening, interesting, and entertaining. I use fiction as a tool, a vehicle for an important message (in case you're wondering if there's any mind control going on in my work :-)). When it comes to writing serialized stories in frum magazines such as Mishpacha, the writer, when creating a plot, comes smack up against a huge, steel door. That door is the Kollel Konundrum. Essentially, since fiction is so powerful, and since our community is so highly attuned to nuance, and since the subject of Kollel vs. Working is so alive and conflicted, a writer who chooses a plot where the protagonist is working might be misconstrued as espousing working as a preferred occupation, which would be a slight against Kollel, which would be definitely not okay. Whew, long sentence. Therefore, choosing a character who is learning in Kollel, aside from immediately creating reader rapport because most of our readers identify strongly with a Kollel lifestyle (at least at one point in their lives), is also an endorsement of Kollel. Does that mean that by creating a character who is in Kollel and who is struggling, I am attempting to malign Kollel or suggest, chas v'shalom, that Betzalel's story is pretty typical or indicative of widespread problems within the Kollel community? Of course not! Betzalel's issues ARE, unfortunately, widespread within our community at-large, but certainly not specifically a Kollel problem. Betzalel could have just as easily been an accountant with a night chavrusah (Torah study partner) and the rest of Shattered Glass could have stayed exactly the same. But given the sensitivity of the Kollel vs. working issue, I opted to steer clear of it. Apparently, however, it's difficult to side-step.
What are your thoughts?
Galus (Exile) is tough and terrible, with hester panim (G-d's concealment of Himself and His ways) getting more and more brutal by the day. I want to just process one small idea here, one precious thought, something that is really burning within me. This post, as you will notice, has a more serious tone than usual, and that's because the topic is one of dire importance. I feel that, by far, today's generation is faced with the deepest, blackest curtain of indecision and confusion, compounded endlessly by thousands of splintered, false voices that distract us from Truth and Light. In this darkest part of night, how are we to know which way to go? How do we avoid getting lost? How can we steer clear of the tragic state that the Mesillas Yesharim (An eighteen-century classic by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, entitled The Path of the Just) calls "ke'iver be'afeila", like a blind man in a thick darkness, which connotes a far deeper level of inability to see?
The answer is surprisingly simple. It's turning to our talmidei chachamim (Torah Sages, or rabbis). It is so vital that each one of us take to heart the injunction of "Asei lecha Rav"--make for yourself a Rav (rabbi). No one can afford to be unanchored, and especially when the winds are so turbulent and the sea is so choppy. Today, we cannot be alone. Each of us needs a torch to light the night; someone who understands us and can guide us; someone we can trust to have the Torah wisdom and insight to carry us forward.
It is my fervent hope and blessing to you, dear reader, that you, too, can find a Rav or Rebbetzin (female spiritual guide) to light your path, like a wonderful torch illuminating the dark, intense night.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.