Thank you, for both your honest feedback and your friendship-from-afar
The other day, I went into a store to buy a particular item, and after I’d paid for it at the counter and was about to leave, I heard someone calling after me.
“Rabbi...” I turned around. It was someone behind the counter whom I didn’t know.
“I miss you in the magazine,” he said. I explained that although I would be continuing my association with Mishpacha, I’d no longer be appearing in its opinion section. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll miss you.” I smiled without saying anything, but thought to myself, “Me, too, my friend. Me, too.”
One of the absolute best things about my nearly 12-year run here at the front of the magazine has been the readers. The ability to hear from readers like that one behind the counter and to know, or at least hope, that I’ve made some small difference in someone’s life. Isn’t that what we all hope for in this life we’ve been given to live?
Despite the strangeness of penning a column without knowing who will be reading it, I’ve tried to be open with readers whose names I don’t know and whom I might never meet. I’ve invited you into my life, although as a private sort of person it wasn’t always comfortable to do so.
I’ve taken you back to my childhood, with memories about shuls and schools and summertime at home and in camp. I’ve introduced you to beloved figures in my life like my father and father-in-law, and mentors and good friends whom I’ve lost along the way.
And I’ve shared experiences: encounters with over-zealous TSA agents and humorless traffic cops, eventful trips to the Belorussian tundra and snow-covered Yerushalayim and even more exotic locales, like Milwaukee. I’ve painted word portraits: putting on tefillin in a darkened airplane cabin, explaining Shabbos to a clueless gentile big-firm attorney, translating the Citifield Asifah into hipster-ese.
I’ve even written about what it’s like to bear an off-beat name like Eytan — and still not be the only Eytan Kobre.
Family members have made cameo appearances over the years (Avrumi holds the record, I believe, at three), and friends, too (even Simi from Spruce Street finally made it in). One of those friends could even have been my successor here (maybe…), except that Yaakov, a brilliant, funny, multi-talented psychotherapist, is far too modest to want his name in print.
And, of course, I’ve tried to share something of me, my own inner world and how I see the larger one in which we live. I’ve tried to give you a feeling for what I get excited about, the people I revere and the things I fear for. I’ve been up-front about the times I’ve written things I shouldn’t have and what I’ve tried to do to make it right, and how I’ve tried to relate to very irate readers.
I’VE ALWAYS FELT that one of this column’s strengths was the way we mixed it up on a weekly basis. Opening to this page any given week, a reader might have found any of the following and more: social commentary, biographical and historical vignettes, more and less successful attempts at humor (and we’ll just make believe all that pun-ditry never even happened), hashkafic perspectives, analyses on politics, media and law, critique of anti-Torah movements and media, introductions to hidden treasures of the frum community, personal experiences and reflections, essays on Yamim Tovim, parshah, and other aspects of our lives as Jews.
Regular readers know that there are topic areas we returned to often, because they were important to me, like anything about Jews learning Torah more and better, or were fun to write about, like anything about words and writing.
There were the recurring Text Messages fundamentals. A sampling: That there’s a Jewish way to read the newspaper. That the great challenge to authentic Yiddishkeit these days is soul-hollowing chitzoniyus, and our greatest battle as both Jews and humans is to thwart the technological juggernaut. That it’s better to focus more on hating goyishkeit than goyim, not the other way around. That the Torah worldview and value system is unique, neither right nor left politically. That the ever-thickening frum culture threatens to overwhelm and stifle frum religion.
What a privilege this has all been. To be able to elicit a smile with a snappy turn of phrase or delight the oppressed minority of language lovers by trotting out some recondite word or delicious double entendre. To help a reader clarify fundamentals of Torah outlook or feel confident that he’s thinking straight and it’s the world around him that’s gone haywire.
To say things that may not be easy to say and even harder to hear, yet need to be said and heard — and to find a way to say them that will give them the best chance to be heard and considered. To wield the mighty pen in defense of what is true and innocent — and misunderstood.
But it has very much been a two-way street. I’ve gained much more chizuk from readers’ feedback over the years than I can possibly describe, even keeping a file of the things people have written to me or to the magazine about the column generally or specific pieces. By now it’s quite big, and I read through it sometimes, because it restores my belief in me and in you (and is way less expensive than therapy).
My colleagues here have played a role in the column’s success, too. My personal editor, Mrs. Rachel Ginsberg, in particular has saved me numerous times from the excesses of one of my worst enemies as a writer — me.
If you’ve enjoyed my feature articles in these pages (a collection of which, entitled Greatness, has just been published by Mosaica Press), you may still have the opportunity to do so. And if, like that Yid behind the counter, you miss my column, you can find lots of my past pieces and maybe even some new ones — and a picture of what I look like now as opposed to 12 years ago — on my new, eponymously named website (and no, you won’t find it by searching for “eponymous”).
And now that it’s time to take leave, I’ll do so with two words that can’t go wrong. Thank you, for both your honest feedback and your friendship-from-afar.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 939. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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