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Being a Blogging Rabbi
the Velveteen Rabbi journey
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Beyond Walls, Summer 2015
When I began...
● in early 1999 there were about
23 weblogs
● by 2003 there were a few
thousand
● Velveteen Rabbi began in...
As of 2013...
Now in 2015...
Is blogging over?
How do Facebook, Twitter,
etc, change the landscape?
What makes blogging still
worthwhile...
Why I began
● small town life
● yearned to be talking
about religion
● not yet in rabbinic school (and wasn’t sure I ever ...
External processing
“How do I know
what I think until I
see what I say?”
-- E. M. Forster
Origins
Postcard by cartoonist Jennifer Berman
(jenniferberman.com)
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
J...
The original page design
The early days
“The realm of godblogs feels surprisingly like my
sweet little New England town — if random
conversations i...
Relationships
Reciprocal
commenting
led to
relationships
and every so
often we met
other
bloggers in
person.
Facing Impermanence (April 2005)
I felt strangely calm throughout. It
was strange, seeing a body with
no soul in it; stran...
“When can I…”
Rites of Passage
I handed the big, thick envelope to the postal worker, paid the Express Mail
fees, said a shehecheyanu, a...
TIME
List of the top 25
blogs on the internet
(in their opinion.)
Some were already
well-known:
MetaFilter,
Huffington Pos...
Here’s what they said
about VR.
Changes: rabbinic school blogging
Outsider Insider
Deeper immersion in tradition, text, prayer
Conduit for sharing what I ...
Interface of spiritual + personal
2006: strokes. Posted about my medical journey.
2009: miscarriage.
Free downloadable cha...
Torah commentary
● the challenge: writing weekly divrei Torah
● “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.”
● how pros...
Subject matter
● What I write about has shifted over time
● Initially I was afraid to share poems;
then that changed
● Tor...
Life changes led to blog changes
● Ordination
● Parenthood
● Becoming a congregational (pulpit) rabbi
All of these (to som...
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'...
Now running & playing...
Beginnings
I brought my son with me to the synagogue on the evening when I was slated
to sign the brit (covenant) between ...
Motherhood poems
● Weekly for a year
● Parallel to Torah poem practice
● Helped me stay connected with my sense
of myself ...
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 f...
Boundaries
● what I can and can’t write about
● CPE (hospital chaplaincy year) and beyond
● preserving the privacy of thos...
Spiritual life in the open: role models
One of my
great role
models for
living spiritual
life “in the
open” -- Rabbi
Phyll...
Spiritual life in the open (June 2014)
Stories are always interconnected. I can't tell the story of my life without at lea...
Who reads Velveteen Rabbi?
● a few thousand email subscribers; others who find me in other ways
● a woman with agoraphobia...
Tenth Blogiversary
I remember hearing, at the end of my MFA journey at Bennington, that many
MFA grads are no longer writi...
Here’s
what VR
looks like as
of this
summer.
(The tagline
changed
after my
smicha in
2011.)
Who is my Torah for?
My Torah is for anyone who is thirsty.
Anyone who's thirsty for connection, for
community, for God. A...
Challenges and gifts
Once something is online it’s persistent.
Getting replies to posts from 10+ years ago.
Bumping up aga...
Lessons learned
People crave authenticity.
Readers value vulnerability - but
just the right amount.
(Don’t overshare for t...
Lessons learned, part 2
Someone is always wrong on the
internet.
Also someone is always capable of
surprising unkindness.
...
Shadow side
When my sister told me one of her clients had read
about my niece’s bat mitzvah on my blog.
Risk that people m...
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 F...
Blog: the gift that keeps on giving
See Me:
Elul poems
new in 2015
Toward Sinai:
Omer poems
coming in 2016
Why blog (now)
Writing is a spiritual practice. Regular writing
keeps me spiritually honest with myself.
There’s value in ...
Gifts from my years of blogging
● lifelong friendships
● literary relationships
(other poets, writers, artists)
● my publi...
Does my blog help my synagogue?
Small town; limited number of
Jews; limited potential
membership.
Sometimes people come to...
Balancing my roles
I was a blogger before I became a rabbi (and a writer before I became a
blogger.)
My congregation knew ...
Also, blogging can be...
● a way of connecting with
congregants
● a way of adding my voice to
public discourse
● a way of ...
How to blog
● Sign up with Wordpress or
Blogger
● Start writing
● Experiment
● Read other blogs & leave
comments
How to build readership
● Find other blogs which feed you; comment there regularly. As you build
relationships with those ...
But remember...
Quality, not quantity.
If you reach the one person who spiritually needs your post, that may matter
more t...
Any questions?
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/
http://velveteenrabbi.com
rbarenblat@gmail.com...
Kenyon talk   blogging as a rabbi
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Kenyon talk blogging as a rabbi

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On blogging as a rabbi -- the Velveteen Rabbi story -- upsides and downsides of blogging as a clergyperson -- spiritual life in the open -- and more.

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Kenyon talk blogging as a rabbi

  1. 1. Being a Blogging Rabbi the Velveteen Rabbi journey Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Beyond Walls, Summer 2015
  2. 2. When I began... ● in early 1999 there were about 23 weblogs ● by 2003 there were a few thousand ● Velveteen Rabbi began in Oct. 2003
  3. 3. As of 2013...
  4. 4. Now in 2015... Is blogging over? How do Facebook, Twitter, etc, change the landscape? What makes blogging still worthwhile as a form and a practice?
  5. 5. Why I began ● small town life ● yearned to be talking about religion ● not yet in rabbinic school (and wasn’t sure I ever would be) -- but I desperately wanted to connect with God, tradition, community
  6. 6. External processing “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” -- E. M. Forster
  7. 7. Origins Postcard by cartoonist Jennifer Berman (jenniferberman.com)
  8. 8. 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...
  9. 9. The original page design
  10. 10. 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 lines.” -- “Blog is My Copilot,” Bitch, Oct. 2004
  11. 11. Relationships Reciprocal commenting led to relationships and every so often we met other bloggers in person.
  12. 12. 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."
  13. 13. “When can I…”
  14. 14. 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.”… (September 2005)
  15. 15. TIME List of the top 25 blogs on the internet (in their opinion.) Some were already well-known: MetaFilter, Huffington Post, BoingBoing.
  16. 16. Here’s what they said about VR.
  17. 17. Changes: rabbinic school blogging Outsider Insider Deeper immersion in tradition, text, prayer Conduit for sharing what I was learning
  18. 18. Interface of spiritual + personal 2006: strokes. Posted about my medical journey. 2009: miscarriage. Free downloadable chapbook of miscarriage poems, Through. A fellow blogger/artist made a limited handmade edition. Writing as a path toward healing.
  19. 19. Torah commentary ● 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 (Phoenicia, 2011)
  20. 20. Subject matter ● 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 tradition), liturgy
  21. 21. Life changes led to blog changes ● Ordination ● Parenthood ● Becoming a congregational (pulpit) rabbi All of these (to some extent) changed what I write and how I write about it.
  22. 22. 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...
  23. 23. Now running & playing...
  24. 24. Beginnings 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)
  25. 25. Motherhood poems ● 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 (Phoenicia 2013)
  26. 26. 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… (2013) Postpartum depression
  27. 27. Boundaries ● 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)
  28. 28. Spiritual life in the open: role models One of my great role models for living spiritual life “in the open” -- Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, Rabbi Michael Sommer, parents of Superman Sam z”l.
  29. 29. 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…
  30. 30. 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 pulpit!”) ● 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...
  31. 31. Tenth Blogiversary 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)
  32. 32. Here’s what VR looks like as of this summer. (The tagline changed after my smicha in 2011.)
  33. 33. 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, my inheritance. (February 2013)
  34. 34. 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 online. Meeting some amazing people. Encountering some atrocious trolls.
  35. 35. Lessons learned People crave authenticity. Readers value vulnerability - but just the right amount. (Don’t overshare for the sake of oversharing.) Don’t be afraid to post about what really speaks to you, even if it’s unfashionable.
  36. 36. Lessons learned, part 2 Someone is always wrong on the internet. Also someone is always capable of surprising unkindness. Learn how to moderate your space. Don’t be afraid to delete comments / ban commenters. (Image source: xkcd)
  37. 37. Shadow side 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.
  38. 38. 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)
  39. 39. Blog: the gift that keeps on giving See Me: Elul poems new in 2015 Toward Sinai: Omer poems coming in 2016
  40. 40. 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.
  41. 41. 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.
  42. 42. Does my blog help my synagogue? Small town; limited number of Jews; limited potential membership. 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.)
  43. 43. Balancing my roles I was a blogger before I became a rabbi (and a writer before I became a blogger.) 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.
  44. 44. Also, blogging can be... ● a way of connecting with congregants ● a way of adding my voice to public discourse ● a way of sharing teachings / Torah ● a way of keeping myself honest ● a way of keeping myself mindful / engaged ● a way to respond to public issues, share sermons, be part of the conversation.
  45. 45. How to blog ● Sign up with Wordpress or Blogger ● Start writing ● Experiment ● Read other blogs & leave comments
  46. 46. 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.
  47. 47. But remember... 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.
  48. 48. Any questions? Rabbi Rachel Barenblat http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/ http://velveteenrabbi.com rbarenblat@gmail.com @velveteenrabbi

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