Putting Myself On The Line


At the Tziyun of Rebbe Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, June 2013

This article just published at Tabletmag.com is the most challenging article I’ve ever written.

Yet, it’s about a relatively light topic—Jewish garb. At the time I sent the idea in, it was not my first choice of subject matter. (My other pitches were rejected.)

But writing it turned into quite an emotional experience and it forced me to really examine myself. There are so many levels of artifice, but only one truth.

I knew publishing the piece was an invitation to knee-jerk negativity from readers but I had hoped it would also be an invitation to them to explore another point of view with an open mind.

I’ve thought about this topic deeply and worked hard to convey my personal experience and explain what my choices mean (to me).  Is honesty a bridge or a barrier? I guess it depends.

Nobody’s plain vanilla. We all make decisions, even unconscious ones. But the culture in which we live, offers us the illusion that our choices are the factory default setting. It’s funny that advertising and the general media work hard to convince people who are making totally mainstream choices that they are unique, special, cool.

When we think, see, or even dress differently than others we know and grew up with, we can’t expect to be popular. Being different is perceived as a rejection. And frankly, it is a rejection of the prevailing norm.

The first comment on the article, posted at around seven this morning, was seething. And it bought into a popular myth of why Hasidic Jews dress the way they do.

I published my first piece of writing—a poem—at age nine. Since then, I’ve learned to develop tough skin. But writing a personal essay about deeply held beliefs and submitting it to a magazine where I knew the majority of people would reject it, sounds a bit crazy, even masochistic, even to the real me, the optimist I’ve worked hard to become over the past decade.

What do you think?

I hope you all will give it a chance, and if you have thoughtful comments (even negative ones) that you’ll post them at Tabletmag.com.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t checked out Hasidic Facts page at HealthyJewishCooking.com, now’s the time.

And if you’re the type that eats chocolate for the endorphin rush, try these raw fudgey brownies. I kinda sorta promise they’ll take the edge off.

Good Shabbos!

Chaya Rivka

P.S. Wayne Hoffman, Tablet’s Life and Religion editor, really improved this piece with his keen, and unbiased, editing.

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