fans · Hispanics/Latinos · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · writing

There is such a thing as too open

I’ve always been a very open, outgoing person. In so many ways, this has led me to connect deeply to so many people. I think people are often surprised by how much they’re willing to share with me, even readers who feel that I have already shared so much with them.

Early on, I made the mistake of making my private Facebook profile open to the public. (At least I had a choice, many writers are now being told by publishers and agents that they MUST do this.) Any reader or fan who requested was quickly allowed an extra kind of an all-access pass, even more access than the blog gave them.
But after many incidents, especially where one “fan” accused me via Facebook chat of not really being Hispanic because Spanish was not my first language…among other awful things, I decided that I had been too open. So open that now I felt violated. Making inside jokes amongst your friends is kind of impossible on Facebook when it’s open to friends who won’t even talk to you in public, family who doesn’t even like you, coworkers who never liked you and so on and so on. There were times where Facebook so-called friends wrote awful things on my private profile and never explained them away with “If you knew me in person or if we knew each other better, then…” but I realized it was too late for that.
When a writing teacher suggested it, I joined Twitter to network and connect with Jews (especially converts and Jews of color), Latinos, writers, and chronic pain sufferers all over. I’ve been able to use Twitter to connect with like-minded people who are interested in the same things and keep me updated on related topics. Often, I can just scroll through Twitter and get writing ideas. But there have been times when Twitter has turned against me, when “fans” have secretly been people who wanted to pick fights with me all day or send me pornography or G-d knows what else.
I do envy bloggers who have a more readers, more comments because of an open policy on their blogs about who can comment on their page but I do not envy the way they have to constantly moderate them. Very few of the Jewish bloggers I know are in the same position I am, as a leader in the Jewish community (not just because of the rabbi’s wife thing) but also as someone who helps many converts and newly observant Jew find their way in the Jewish community. So many of the comments I have moderated and deleted were not just personal attacks but reflected a kind of Jewish anti-Semitism that I didn’t feel my readers needed to find here on my blog. There are so many other places, Jewish and not, online that they can find that. I want this blog to be a safer space.
But I think as someone who writes about their private life, I also need to make myself a safe space far away from my public persona. I think people think that I write about everything on my blog and my articles, that I talk about all the little details of my life in my speaking engagements but I don’t. There are actually times when someone has asked me about a specific topic and I’ve said, I don’t talk about work on Shabbat because what goes on in my blog, fan page, Twitter and speaking engagements is indeed work.
Most rabbis and wives are unbelievably careful about what they say about their personal lives because like any other public figures, they have to be. So what happens when a rabbi’s wife makes her bread and butter by sharing intimate details about her personal life? Well, the hope is that people realize that like with a memoir, my public persona is only letting them see through a window into my house…but never into the whole house because I must protect my friends and family and myself from the, sometimes, ugly scrutiny of people who do not truly care about our emotional well-being.
Every now and again, someone from my “work life” has transitioned into a friend “outside work” after much work, more work probably than we would have done if we’d just met in person and very quickly gotten to know each other. I hope that the kind readers and fans who I turn away from my private Facebook profile understand that it has nothing to do them personally, it has everything to do with me discovering that there is such a thing as being too open. Even for me.

9 thoughts on “There is such a thing as too open

  1. Aliza, I totally agree with you!!! As a fellow blogger I also grapple with how open I should be. Shame on those people who have attacked you!!!! You are doing such an amazing work and your vulnerability in your very unique Jewminicana situation makes you so special. I pray that you find the balance you need between private and public but that you continue to share your very unique experience. The world needs to hear it!!!!

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  2. As a regular reader of your blog (and one of your fans on FB), I just want to voice my support of your statements in this post.

    We live in a age when many public figures are shown in very intimate ways. This often creates that we “know” these figures in some kind of intimate way when in truth we do not. Even among people we have actually met we only know a part of the person, a “glimpse through the window”.

    You are so generous with sharing your experiences with your readers. You certainly have every right set boundaries.

    I only hope that you continue to share your unique voice with readers. My world is certainly richer for having your writing in it!

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  3. Aliza, I have had to do the same. There are people who had hurt feelings, but I don't need 1000 FB friends! My private FB page is MINE. I want to feel comfortable sharing pix of the kids, deeper thoughts and more private things than i share on twitter or the blog.

    keeping it all separate works better for you, and for me, and that's the important thing.

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  4. I used to blog a few years ago, but learned the hard way what happens when you are “too” open. However as a writer (or how I'd like to fancy myself), I question this idea of being “too” open. From a private perspective, I agree; everyone needs a safe space. At the same time, I would hate to have you feel “curbed” because of other people's reactions. I think the key with blogging is you are expressing YOUR opinions. And in general, the people who will be reading your blog want to hear your opinions and if they don't like it well…tough. I'm projecting a bit, but I think instead of being so offended by other people's opinions, American society should learn to grow up and thicker skin.

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  5. Erin, I think everyone should remember that I am different position, in a position where my husband could either be passed over for a job or lose his job because of something I write. Words have power. And I'm not talking figuratively. Whenever I bring up this issue about writing or speaking with people who are not in the rabbinic inner-circle, someone says “Oh, but…” and they can't really hear me when I explain the costs of what I do, not just the emotional toll but the financial ones.

    I know rabbis (but not rabbi's wives) who are very public about their opinions but I also know they're willing to pay the price of those decisions. We all make our beds and then we lie in them.

    Think about how much you know about the private lives of rabbi's wives in your community. Usually, not very much. But what you DO now, even with the most down-to-earth, open, awesome rabbis and wives has been thought over and discussed constantly. We are public figures whether we want to be or not.

    I already feel curbed. I think any writer with a conscious feels curbed. You always, especially when writing about people in your life, have to decide whether or not the story is so important enough that it needs to be told, whatever the cost. I have friends that I have lost because of the pieces I've written…and the pieces I haven't.

    Perhaps, in the early stages, I was more thoughtless but since my naivety has affected the lives of people around me, friends, family, friends of friends, trust me, every time you read something on this blog, I have weighed the cost. And not always in a way people have liked or appreciated.

    There has always the issue of my family, my husband's family, my close friends. Ever noticed that so many memoirists wait until their parents die to publish them? I have figured out ways to protect my famliy and still write about them but there are some issues you can't even write yourself around. It's not just about growing up and developing a thicker skin. Just because my skin is thick, it doesn't mean that the private citizens in my life should have to be.

    Oh, thick skin. Oh yes, blogging has given me thicker skin. I'll give you that. But as for thicker skin, I wish people in this country would shut the hell up about all the nasty, hateful things they want to say about other people while using the First Amendment to cover themselves. My G-d, it's really becoming just impossible.

    I think many Americans are in no danger of growing up and the impossibly thick skin they've developed makes it impossible for them to be sensitive to others. There are things that should not be written or said aloud. Often, I write about the things that happen when things are said aloud because of insensitivity. Honestly, many Jews of color and converts who finally get the cojones to tell someone they were “insensitive,” have heard back “you're too sensitive, you have to develop thicker skin.”

    This is not a response to your personal feelings, as you said, you felt you were projecting, this is a response about the topic you brought into the mix.

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  6. I rarely blog, but my Facebook page is mostly public. I have been told in the past that I should be open about the fact that I am a convert, that both my parents were alcoholics, that I experienced a few different kinds of abuse, that I come from a liberal background, that I think it's okay for women to wear pants so long as they are loose, etc. After all, I wouldn't want to hurt my children's future shidduch opportunities, would I? Or my husband's chances of getting a rabbinical job? He has discarded that idea for the moment, but now he works at Arutz Sheva, the religious zionist radio station in here in Beit El. His reputation is quickly getting shinier, God bless him, to the point that he might soon be asked to do his own show. They (the radio station) has already written an article about him, and Tamar Yonah has interviewed him. More public by the moment, eh? However, we find that as time passes, we care less and less about dumb negative comments. Maybe the support we already get acts as a kind of cushion against the negativity. Also, we may have an advantage over people- like your husband- who are still waiting to get their foot in the door, so to speak, in that we have been part of the local (religious Zionist) network for some time now, so we are already like family. Unfortunately, not everyone is so blessed
    May God grant your husband a foot in the rabbinical door and shield you and your loved ones from all negativity…

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  7. Daniel, how is that a weird concept?

    I'll give you an example.

    Do you want to know how many Dominican converts have come up to me after finding out I converted to Judaism and said, aren't you glad you left those backwards, awful people?

    Do you want to know how many Dominicans who haven't converted, who don't know I converted, think that because I am “properly Americanized”, I will agree with their statement that it's so nice to meet another Dominican who isn't “dumb-in-a-can”?

    (Yes, some of it is just classism in the cases above.)

    I didn't reinvent the wheel for that loathsome term I used. It was just an easy, too pat way to say something I've heard a great deal many Jews say, usually in stupid news articles attacking Jews who aren't acting the way they want them to act. “You aren't Jewish.” Well, you're not very Jewish for calling them “not Jewish” because you don't like them, especially when “You aren't Jewish” from people like you, just makes them feel good about themselves since they definitely don't want to be associated with Jewish like you. Follow?

    I've heard several anusim (the PC term for descendants of Jews forceably converted to Christianity as a result of the Spanish Inquisition” have the following conversation:

    “So, you're family had strange customs?”

    Uh-huh. Covering the mirrors after a death. Lighting candles. Stranger things.

    “How did they feel about Jews?”

    Hated them. Really hated them. Didn't even want to say they were associated with them in any way even when I unearthed proof that we were descended from Jews.

    “Oh, then they were DEFINITELY Jewish.”

    There are reasons for why this stuff happens and I don't necessarily blame folks entirely for perpetuating the hate that they see many in the dominant community dish out on their particular minority.

    But they don't even have to bother with making us hate ourselves when all we do is hate on each other.

    I'm sure you heard the same argument used when minorities turn on each other in the media.

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