Now in 2015...
Is blogging over?
How do Facebook, Twitter,
etc, change the landscape?
What makes blogging still
worthwhile as a form and a
Why I began
● small town life
● yearned to be talking
● not yet in rabbinic school (and wasn’t sure I ever would be) -- but
I desperately wanted to connect with God, tradition, community
“How do I know
what I think until I
see what I say?”
-- E. M. Forster
Postcard by cartoonist Jennifer Berman
From my very first post… (Oct. 2003)
Let's get one thing straight from the get-go: I'm not a rabbi. I'm just an ordinary
Jew, where by "ordinary" I mean "passionate, idiosyncratic, and more than a
little unOrthodox." I might throw "involved, excited, sometimes frustrated,
always committed, and by turns deeply reverent and completely irreverent" into
the mix, too...
The early days
“The realm of godblogs feels surprisingly like my
sweet little New England town — if random
conversations in my town included discussing
Leviticus with a minister and a Quaker half-Jews, or
trading prayer techniques across denominational
-- “Blog is My Copilot,” Bitch, Oct. 2004
and every so
often we met
Facing Impermanence (April 2005)
I felt strangely calm throughout. It
was strange, seeing a body with
no soul in it; stranger still to wash
her, an act that seemed
impossibly intimate; but I was
okay. I felt an outpouring of
tenderness, occasionally giving in
to the impulse to stroke her hair or her arm, thinking, "it's okay, dear. We're
here. You're okay."
Rites of Passage
I handed the big, thick envelope to the postal worker, paid the Express Mail
fees, said a shehecheyanu, and went directly to a congregant's home; her
father had passed away and Jeff is on vacation, so pastoral care and the
funeral were my responsibility. I couldn't help finding meaning in the confluence
of events -- it seemed like the Universe was saying, “You want to be a rabbi?
Okay: start growing into it now.”…
List of the top 25
blogs on the internet
(in their opinion.)
Some were already
Changes: rabbinic school blogging
Deeper immersion in tradition, text, prayer
Conduit for sharing what I was learning
Interface of spiritual + personal
2006: strokes. Posted about my medical journey.
Free downloadable chapbook
of miscarriage poems, Through.
A fellow blogger/artist made a limited
Writing as a path toward healing.
● the challenge: writing weekly divrei Torah
● “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.”
● how prose shifted to poetry
● two years+ of this weekly discipline
● the best poem for each portion became 70 faces
● What I write about has shifted over time
● Initially I was afraid to share poems;
then that changed
● Torah and poetry are now my top subjects
● also spiritual life, Hasidut (mystical
Life changes led to blog changes
● Becoming a congregational (pulpit) rabbi
All of these (to some extent)
changed what I write and how I write about it.
Scenes from my smicha (Jan. 2011)
Someone murmurs "lean back," and I do. I can feel Reb Laura's hands on me,
and Reb Sami's, and the weight of the va'ad and the other teachers standing
with them all clustered together holding us up. Are they leaning on us, or are
we leaning on them? I close my eyes; the world feels too luminous. It's like the
period when I was birthing Drew; the doctor invited me to look in the mirror and
see him emerging, but all I could do was close my eyes and go inside to be
present to what was unfolding...
I brought my son with me to the synagogue on the evening when I was slated
to sign the brit (covenant) between me and the congregation. He skipped
around gleefully, found a calculator and held it up to his ear, tore up a piece of
paper with great gusto, and successfully begged to hold and jingle the giant
keyring which the president of the synagogue board was wearing on her belt. I
fed him supper in a high chair there as I chatted with the president of the board.
When he started to melt down, I signed the contract and then I took him home
for story time and bed…
(July 11, 2011)
● Weekly for a year
● Parallel to Torah poem practice
● Helped me stay connected with my sense
of myself as a poet and writer
● Led to my second book
When I look back now, I can’t believe it took me so long to recognize the
postpartum depression for what it was. Sure, I felt hopeless and overwhelmed
and I cried a lot, but I was a new mother, sleeping in 45-minute increments;
surely that was how every mother of a newborn felt? My old life was over and
would never come back; I just needed to accept that, or possibly to grieve it for
a while. But the grieving didn’t end, and the acceptance didn’t come…
● what I can and can’t write about
● CPE (hospital chaplaincy year) and beyond
● preserving the privacy of those whom I serve (and also my family)
Spiritual life in the open: role models
One of my
life “in the
open” -- Rabbi
Spiritual life in the open (June 2014)
Stories are always interconnected. I can't tell the story of my life without at least
touching on a lot of other people's stories: my parents, my grandparents, my
teachers, my spouse and child, my friends. I'm tremendously grateful for that. I
have a sense for how fortunate I am to have a life which is so rich in
connections. And sometimes those connections mean I need to think about
what I write and how I share. Not everyone favors the spiritual practice of living
one's life in the wide-open. And not every story is mine to tell, even if it impacts
my story in a profound way…
Who reads Velveteen Rabbi?
● a few thousand email subscribers; others who find me in other ways
● a woman with agoraphobia in rural Scotland who now calls me “her rabbi”
● expats seeking a haggadah in Niamey, Niger
● an Englishman exploring his Jewish journey
● other clergy (often I get emails saying “my rabbi quoted you from the
● teenagers / bnei mitzvah students
● rural and urban, all ages, all denominations
● people around the world: mostly in English-speaking nations but also in
other nations around the globe
● my congregants; people who are local to my town
● Jews, non-Jews, religious, non-religious...
I remember hearing, at the end of my MFA journey at Bennington, that many
MFA grads are no longer writing by ten years after the completion of their
programs. I'm proud to be able to say that fourteen years after I got my MFA,
I'm still writing poetry regularly -- and still reviewing books regularly -- and still
engaging in the writing life as a daily and weekly practice. This blog has surely
been a big part of that... (Fall, 2013)
looks like as
Who is my Torah for?
My Torah is for anyone who is thirsty.
Anyone who's thirsty for connection, for
community, for God. Anyone who wants to
make their lives holy or to become more
conscious of the holiness in the everyday.
Anyone who wants access to the rich toolbox
of Jewish wisdom and traditions and ideas
which I am blessed to have as my yerusha,
Challenges and gifts
Once something is online it’s persistent.
Getting replies to posts from 10+ years ago.
Bumping up against people with different theologies or modes of interacting
Meeting some amazing people.
Encountering some atrocious trolls.
People crave authenticity.
Readers value vulnerability - but
just the right amount.
(Don’t overshare for the sake of
Don’t be afraid to post about what
really speaks to you, even if it’s
Lessons learned, part 2
Someone is always wrong on the
Also someone is always capable of
Learn how to moderate your
Don’t be afraid to delete comments
/ ban commenters.
(Image source: xkcd)
When my sister told me one of her clients had read
about my niece’s bat mitzvah on my blog.
Risk that people may feel entitled to my story.
Risk that my mother or child might feel exposed.
This is (still) a golden age.
I've heard a people say that the golden era of blogs has passed, giving way to
Twitter and Facebook and instagram and other forms of bite-sized, mobile-
phone-accessible communication. People don't have the patience to read long-
form blog posts anymore, nor to enter into sustained conversations in the
comments sections. Today's internet isn't interested in the substantive or
nuanced -- at least, that's how the conventional wisdom goes. That may be
true, by and large. But some of us are still writing, and still reading, and still
conversing. Maybe long-form blogs are like poetry: not everyone's cup of tea…
but endlessly rewarding for those who choose to take part. (Oct. 2013)
Blog: the gift that keeps on giving
new in 2015
coming in 2016
Why blog (now)
Writing is a spiritual practice. Regular writing
keeps me spiritually honest with myself.
There’s value in living spiritual life in the open
and in modeling that for my readers / congregants.
In life as in prayer leadership -- people won’t “go there” unless I’m willing to
make myself vulnerable and show them the way.
Gifts from my years of blogging
● lifelong friendships
● literary relationships
(other poets, writers, artists)
● my publishers
● in-person connections, often
with people I would never
otherwise have encountered.
Does my blog help my synagogue?
Small town; limited number of
Jews; limited potential
Sometimes people come to the
synagogue because they’re fans
of the blog.
The blog helps me reach
congregants who don’t
necessarily show up often.
(Also those who are homebound
but have internet access.)
Balancing my roles
I was a blogger before I became a rabbi (and a writer before I became a
My congregation knew about my blog before they hired me.
Sometimes people visit our synagogue because they read my blog.
My pulpit is small and local; my blog has a different kind of reach.
Synagogue life takes place in one space and time; the blog persists.
Also, blogging can be...
● a way of connecting with
● a way of adding my voice to
● a way of sharing teachings /
● a way of keeping myself honest
● a way of keeping myself mindful
● a way to respond to public
issues, share sermons, be part
of the conversation.
How to blog
● Sign up with Wordpress or
● Start writing
● Read other blogs & leave
How to build readership
● Find other blogs which feed you; comment there regularly. As you build
relationships with those bloggers, they’ll click through & read you too.
● Put your URL in your email signature.
● Crosspost to Facebook.
● Tweet link more than once, with different teaser quotes.
● Share your blog with your congregation.
● Find your tribe. Ask friends to share your posts from time to time.
● Write a guest post on someone else’s blog, and/or vice versa.
Quality, not quantity.
If you reach the one person who spiritually needs your post, that may matter
more than number of readers or traffic stats.
Balance your desire for readership & reach with a focus on what your soul
needs to write, what you’re called to share.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat