The Big Idea Is Jewish


Back in September, shortly before I was unwisely pushed out of left my gig managing the online footprint of the National MS Society’s Chicago chapter (seriously, take a look at how outdated their front page is now), I realized something about my own online presence. That is, for the past two years I’ve been trying to do two things at once here: write about Judaism; and write about everything else.

Ever since mid-2010 when I began my Jewish journey, I’ve tried to convey on my blog the meaning I’ve found along the way. Trouble is, for the first five years of my blog I wrote much more widely about my life in Chicago, including opining on civic issues, sometimes even making headlines and helping change happen based on my blog posts.

I’m happy about my older content and it’s all still here and not going anywhere, but things change, including me. I’m still an urbanist, transit lover, and after almost ten years in Chicago (my Windy City decade anniversary arrives early next year) still in love with city life in this specific city. But when you write about your life, you have to be clear why you’re doing it.

I do it because I know the things in which I find meaning have similar meaning for other people. But the things in which we find meaning, the lessons we’re learning, and the challenges we face change over time, as we change. For more than two years, my life has been lived in an increasingly Jewish context. Torn between writing about Judaism and writing about civic issues, a lot of the time I’ve stymied myself into writing nothing on here.

I love that this blog connects with many people, but you can’t connect with everyone and you have to be true to your journey. As I’ve written about Jewish things, I know I’ve gained readers interested in those things and lost readers who missed my past rants on community blogging, City Hall, and the CTA.

That’s OK.

In September, I knew it was finally time to focus. It hit me as I accepted the microphone at Community Media Workshop’s New News conference to ask the same researcher the same question I asked two years before–and got the same answer as before, as well. As I did my best not to give outer voice to the merry-go-round theme that began playing in my head as he and I debated the online news space, I realized I’m a lot more fulfilled by different debates now.

And then (the otherwise kind of overblown) Chicago Ideas Week happened in October. Sitting in the Goodman Theatre and listening to Lilly Ledbetter and Steven Bradberry talk about staying true to your message and to yourself as the only real ways to be true to your community, a light bulb as big as the giant silly prop hanging over the stage (can you say grant money to burn?) went off in my head. Just do it. Just let go off the other stuff and do it.

So I did. I’ve changed the focus of Chicago Carless to be a presentation of my life through the lens of my Jewish journey. Really, there’s no other way that I live my life now, anyway. It’s not much of a lens anymore. I’m a religious Jewish convert and that’s the way it is.

So what does that mean? I have adopted a new tagline, “A Jew-By-Choice Blog About Judaism,” because that’s what my blog is now, and has been for some time. I’ve updated the blog’s navigation to simply and clearly highlights my Jewishly themed content. My pending posts are and will likely remain on exclusively Jewish topics or will take a decidedly Jewish look at secular topics. And I’ve decided to use my Hebrew name as my first name now–Michael Benami–both on this blog and everywhere else I am online.

I regularly get kindly worded email from readers kind enough themselves to read my blog, and for the past two years, a lot of those readers have thanked me for writing about my Jewish journey and helping to inspire theirs. I’m grateful for it. My heart and mind are much more inspired by debates about God than debates about City Hall. When you get right down to it, they’re both never-ending debates.

But in a city like Chicago, there’s a lot better chance of being heard by God.

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What do you think?