Monday, August 25, 2014

Blog Hopping

When my friend and colleague, Rabbi Yair Robinson, invited me to this "Blog Hop," I was just relieved to discover that this was a viral social media thing that wouldn't require me to dump a bucket of ice water on my head (at least, I don't think I have to do that)...I'm still not entirely sure what the Blog Hop does entail, so I'm going to post this, and if someone wants to correct me, perhaps I'll edit later.

I was given the following questions to answer, so that's where I'm going to begin:

1. What am I writing or working on? 

Right now, I'm working on my sermons for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  I'll be delivering a total of four, and I tend to plan them out fairly meticulously, as opposed to most other times of the year, when I often speak from notes or outlines.  The broad topics of my sermons are: Social justice, The audacity of prayer, Religious freedom, and Israel.

I'm also working on some other writing pertaining to my congregation, including notes for a sermon for this Shabbat and a charge to a Bat Mitzvah; a family workbook for B'nai Mitzvah students; a program for Selichot.

As for this blog, it's taken on many forms since I first began it back in March of 2012 in order to participate in #BlogExodus.  Sometimes I post for that endeavor, or for #BlogElul; other times a post reflections on the weekly Torah portion, and on occasion I comment on current events as they relate to the Jewish world.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre? 

Well, if there's a genre of blogs written by rabbis serving small midwestern communities and striving to make connections between popular culture, current events, and Jewish teaching, (I guess there was such a genre until my friend and colleague Eric Siroka made his recent cross-country move) then I guess I stand out from others in that class by being the only one whose personal muse is Cookie Monster.  Honestly, I think that every writer brings his/her own perspective to the table.  I try to write things that are meaningful to me, or help me make sense of the world, and if others find wisdom or comfort in my words, then that's a nice fringe benefit.

3. Why do I write what I write

I have always enjoyed writing.  Sometimes others have enjoyed my writing.  True story: when I was a senior at Northwestern University completing an English major, I thought that I would pursue graduate work in creative writing.  I created a portfolio of about a dozen pieces of poetry (and some prose) that were sort of nonsensical humorous pieces somewhat akin to Shel Silverstein's work.  I asked my very proper professors- one of whom taught 18th century British literature and the other who taught the plays of Shaw and Shakespeare- to review my work and serve as references.  I later learned (when I was not accepted to any of the programs to which I had applied) that neither of them had been able to appreciate any of the whimsy and humor in my work.  That's when I determined that my writing would be shaped by my thoughts and interests, not by someone else's opinions of what I should write (I guess my epiphany was somewhat like Morales' in A Chorus Line).

I like to dabble with poetry (a bit more serious than what was in that early portfolio).  For most of the 11 years of my rabbinate, I've written our congregation's Purim shpiels which help me to exercise my more humorous side.  I write to express myself, and hopefully to educate others, or at least give them food for thought.

4. How does my writing process work? 

It depends what I'm writing.  But one way that I've challenged myself a bit is that usually by Wednesday of each week, I post my Friday night sermon title on the Temple's Facebook page.  That certainly isn't a binding commitment, but it makes me think pretty far in advance so that I have at least a loose idea of what I want to say.  Sometimes, I get to Torah study a bit early on Shabbat mornings and take a few minutes to flip through the parsha for the following week, to see if there's a verse, phrase, or idea that stands out.  I also try to keep an eye open for current events (whether "hard news" or cute human-interest stories) that might provide a jumping-off point for a sermon.  And lastly, I sometimes will explore the feature on Wikipedia that tells what happened on a particular date in history.  Is it the anniversary of the lunar landing or the Beatles invasion or the debut of MTV?  Perhaps that can be woven into a sermon or newsletter article in some manner.

So I guess this is the point at which I nominate others.  I'm not positive who among this group is still actively blogging, but I'll give it a shot: Micah Streiffer, Eric Siroka, and Seth Goldstein, you're up...

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