Rockland Jewish Reporter article about Jewish Bloggers

I, as well as many other bloggers were mentioned in the latest Jewish newspaper article to focus on the Jewish Blogging Community – the article originally appeared in the Rockland Jewish Reporter and I have copied and pasted it into my blog.

Orthodox and Opinionated: Jewish Bloggers sort issues, ideas in “public diaries”

By Lauren Mikalov

Since he was born, with his yarmulke and hanging tsitses, Heshy Fried has followed all of the holidays, prayers and rituals that are expected of him. But two years ago, he started having some fun with his observance, putting his quirky thoughts about Judaism to computer screen, for the world to see.

Like all bloggers, Fried, 27, writes under a blogger name; it is “frumsatire.” His web traffic on jewcy.com evokes support, sympathy, to scathing responses from other Jews, on the empty space left underneath each post for comments.

“I can’t believe you are making fun of Orthodoxy,'” he recounts, when asked what his typical reader response can be. “‘You are bringing Jews down, you anti-Semite.’ I’ve been called an anti-Semite, a racist, and every name in the book.'”

Still keeping the faith, Fried disagrees with his readers’ remarks, but he is hitting more than a few chords. With 3,000 visitors daily (the computer keeps track of the traffic) Fried makes the computer his megaphone, and is earning an income-from doing standup comedy as an offshoot of his writing, to selling ad space on his blogs. His most recent topics range anywhere from the quality of French fries in Monsey, to being mistaken for a baal teshuvah (newly religious) during the most recent Simchat Torah services, also in Monsey.  Unlike most bloggers, though, who hide in an anonymous veil, with no photos and under a nom de plume, Fried, who once resided in Rockland County but recently moved to Far Rockaway, has become something of an online star. He is so open that he includes his phone number in his personal info. While this puts him in the minority, Fried, who was born and has remained a “Conservadox” Jew, is in good company. And although there is no official count, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of religious Jewish bloggers venting in the “J-Blogosphere” world, discussing, in brutal honesty their views on the world and religion. In fact, visiting the Jewish & Israeli Blog Network’s website, sifting through all of the posts and learning about each blogger, can provide hours of reading material from highly opinionated Jews.

Writing publicly about one’s private thoughts about anything at all: family matters, politics, relationships, or even the daily trials of life have been around since the internet has become commonplace. The J-blogosphere (a term used for bloggers with a Jewish slant) exposes oneself anonymously to an unlimited audience-and gives some Orthodox writers the freedom to vent, which they could not do so publicly in their community without repercussion, under the anonymous veil. At the same time, they are also able to engage in a lively dialogue, as most blogsites have spaces for readers to leave their remarks.

Is blog writing going against Orthodox Judaism? After all, in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, such as enclaves in Lakewood and Jerusalem, the use of a computer has been banned entirely. The possibility of banning computers was brought up by some rabbis in Monsey about three years ago. However,”Abandoning Eden” a 27-year old blogger was brought up ultra-Orthodox in Bergen County, is not certain that there is a contradiction.

“I don’t think it necessarily (is), but it can,” she responded.  “For instance, it can be very easy to write ‘loshon hara’ (evil tongue, or gossip) on a blog, because it seems very anonymous, and no one will know it is you. It is also easy to harass other bloggers, which doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do in general, although I don’t know if there’s a particular Jewish law against that…sinas chinam (senseless hatred) maybe?”

Rabbi Chaim Zvi Ehrenreich, of Chabad of Chestnut Ridge, follows monseychabad.blogspot.com, and crownheights.info, both mostly used to post messages and local news. However, he has had his “fair share” of encounters with the negative type of religious Jews people who are writing the opinionated blogs anonymously, he said.

“These represent a small minority of the next generation,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Orthodox community at large has not yet found a comprehensive way to deal with this issue. It is very often the case that these youngsters were never given a joyous Jewish experience. They were indoctrinated as to what they can’t do, while not being given a full appreciation of the beauty of what Yiddishkeit has to offer on the positive side.”

This is not to say, that the safety of anonymity only results in negative or satirical blog sites. There are as many Orthodox Jewish bloggers who write about how the lifestyle has given them purpose; hundreds throughout the U.S. and Israel write daily about holidays, family and God in a meaningful light.

Jacob Stein of Wesley Hills, with his family

In fact, an Orthodox Jew living with his wife and three children in Wesley Hills, is so positive about his choices, he started www.jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com in 2006 to counteract the negativity he saw on the web. Adopted as an infant by Lutheran parents (his birth parents were also Christians) Stein grew up in New City and attended the local schools. After taking out James Michener’s “The Source,” from the library of Clarkstown North High School he felt captivated by Judaism to such an extent, he converted at 16. It was in March, 1977, he said, that Lee Scott Epple “died” and became Jacob Stein and started attending a yeshiva.

“I do not expect to convert the entire world to Orthodox Judaism but I feel there are a certain number of people in that gray area, perhaps they are Orthodox and thinking of dropping out, or someone who is considering to be Orthodox who has questions, that may read my blog and I will be able to tip the scale in favor of Orthodoxy,” he said. Stein is so open with his staunchly right-wing, no-holding-back viewpoints (that may offend some people who hold more moderate ideas) that he publishes his home address, work address, as well as family photos and videos on his website. “By hiding it would sound as if I’m ashamed of something that I’m writing,” he said. “There are so many anti-Orthodox articles that are posted, you know, I had to do my side. Maybe in some ways my opinions are more credible because if I had been raised Orthodox in New Square they would be dismissed. But no, I wasn’t raised this way. I wanted to do it and I chose it consciously.
“There are a couple of other Orthodox bloggers but I’m more militantly Orthodox perhaps. I’ll put out articles critical of the evolution theory. There are many other people out there who are no shy about critiquing religion, and I’m not shy about critiquing them.”

Allison Jacobs, 29, of New York City, is author of the popular “Jew in the City” blog, which reflects her view of the Orthodox lifestyle as the ultimate way to live. The Columbia graduate was raised in N.J. in a Reform, upper middle class home, and had a comfortable lifestyle.

Alison Jacobs, author of www.jewinthecity.com

“I started asking, ‘why are we here on here on earth, living, alive,’ and that was when I was eight years old,” she said. “My questions were overwhelming.

“At the time I saw Orthodox Jews as so weird. I thought I had nothing in common with these people,” she noted, as she slowly became more and more religious over the years.  Now the mother of three, wearing a wig and highly observant, Jacobs continues to educate others on her life’s purpose. A section of her blog takes questions about religious customs from the public, and she has been producing several videos about Judaism as well.

The J-blogosphere has become so popular, in fact, that Nefesh B’ Nefesh held their second annual convention strictly for Jewish bloggers (anyone who has an active blog and is also Jewish, no matter what their denomination) on Sept. 13 in Jerusalem.
Their conference attracted more than 200 bloggers worldwide (75 percent of them Orthodox, according to Fried, one of the speakers last year) and more than 1,000 who logged into the live telecast. This year’s topics included “How Social Media is Influencing Community” by David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, “Social Media and the Future of the Jewish Community” as well as presentations by popular bloggers such as Benji Lovitt, author of www.whatwarzone.com.

Nefesh B’ Nefesh is an Israeli organization that helps people make aliyah, and the bloggers, who were transported via free charter flights, were asked by the organization to make mention of Israel in one way or another in their writing.

Because it is word of mouth that can get the message out, perhaps better than any advertising campaign, according to Renana Levine, communications manager for Nefesh B’ Nefesh. “Bloggers influence people and each has their own unique leadership. We feel that the Jewish blogger scene is important avenue, we want to bring aliyah, make sure people are talking about it, interested in it, and know where to turn,” she said “There are a great bunch of bloggers. We were in touch with a lot of them and bloggers speak to other bloggers,” Levine said. “The word picks up, and spreads around. We tried to tap into as many Jewish bloggers as possible.” Benjamin Netanyahu, a blogger himself, attended and spoke at the first conference.

Levine believes word got out effectively, as everyone who blogged mentioned going to the conference. This helped bring Nefesh B’ Nefesh to the reader’s consciousness and make many want to explore more about the organization.

What the J-blogosphere has revealed is that even the most religious Jews, following the minutia of their upbringing, are individual thinkers, sometimes even with their own questioning, human frailty and sometimes doubts about it all.

“There’s a whole universe of blogging Orthodox Jews, and we come in every stripe. Angry and heretical, to right wing conservative, to smug and self righteous. At times, I’m probably all of the above, but others may be one or the other,” said Dovbear, a local blogger who refuses to give his real name or residence, married with a family, faithful to his religion and Orthodox lifestyle, who writes under ‘blogspot.com.’ He has written more than 5,000 posts since 1994, attracting thousands of readers.

“Frequently I’ll get posts with over 50, or 100 comments. I don’t know which post has been commented on the most. I post on just about everything, and can almost always expect a good discussion when the subject is abortion, gay rights, Israeli politics, or women in Judaism. But sometimes the simplest post about holiday food gets a lot of attention, while a careful and well-thought theology argument is ignored. Its impossible to predict,” he said.

‘Abandoning Eden’ prefers to keep her real name hidden.

Meanwhile, sometimes the blogger’s writing can lead to a complete departure from the lifestyle the Orthodox Jew was raised in. ‘Abandoning Eden‘ for years has written about how she felt like an outsider in her Orthodox Jewish community. She writes about not relating to the strict lifestyle of her parents, cousins, aunts, and overall distaste for what she felt was the biased nature of a frum (religious) lifestyle. Graduating Bat Torah Academy in 2000, which was then located in Suffern, she is currently earning her doctorate and married her lapsed Catholic fiancé on May 17.

“When I started blogging in 2001 I probably wasn’t very true to myself and would rarely blog about my true feelings when I started,” said Abandoning Eden, who besides attending school in Rockland, also worked after school at a local kosher take-out restaurant in Wesley Hills. “But I found that over time, as I wrote more and more, when I started writing about the things that were very private, and which I thought were perhaps even embarrassing, those were the posts that most resonated with my readers – and they tended to react very well to them, and were very supportive. As a result, over time I’ve gained the confidence to write in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way, where I say what I really think, and don’t worry much about how other people will react.

“I can’t see why sharing one’s experiences would go against Orthodox Judaism. I could see why Orthodox Jews may be intimidated by it, since it could make it easier for people to go “off the derech” (literally, “off the path.” and not being religiously observant anymore) if they have social supports, such as other bloggers who have gone through the same thing and can give them advice. In my opinion that’s a good thing, because I think people have the right to choose what religion and beliefs they follows, and I see no problem with helping someone do what they want to do, and making them feel less lonely in their decisions.”

Hasidic Rebel,” 34, born and raised in Rockland County, grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Chasidic community, though he looked the part, cloaked in his black suit, black hat and payes, admits he never felt comfortable with it. He started his blog in 2003 as an outlet for his frustration from being closed off from the secular world, his disagreement with customs, as well as his disbelief for prayer and Torah stories. After writing out his thoughts, he concluded he could no longer continue his lifestyle as a married father, while pretending to be frum.

“Look, it was traumatic, actually, to decide what I felt. I do not believe in spirituality and I do not believe in religion. The toughest thing was to throw it all away and say, ‘you know what? There is no God. There might not be a greater purpose or force. I do not know where these tales come from, but it is what makes us a nation. I do not believe they actually happened.”

Before leaving the community, he recounted in his blog his trip to the public library with his children (frowned upon in the community) as well as a day spent bowling (another no-no).

“I was trying to juggle this double life,” he said. “After writing, lots of people started commenting right away. I was astounded. I would have been happy with six people reading what I wrote, but in the first week I had 500 readers, and by the second week I had 1,000. It was interesting to see how many people were fascinated by what I had to say.”

Some of the information is inacurate because they interviewed me quite some time ago.

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