Keeping Quiet

Some writers would say I’ve officially made it. No, I’m not making a million dollars a year as a freelance writer yet (and word on the street is, I probably never will). But yesterday, while reading the most recent issue of PresentTense magazine, I saw that I got slammed in a Letter to the Editor. That counts for something, right?

The article I’d written was called “The Death of Eco-Kosher,” and it highlighted why I think, despite its good intentions, eco-kosher is actually a troublesome term for health and environmentally-conscious Jews, strictly observant Jews, and those folks who fall into both categories.

My dialogue-partner/the-guy-who-ripped-me-a-new-one, had no particular beef with my argument because, from what I could read in his response, he completely missed the point. He started in about “Contrary to Koenig’s implications, most Jews would not like to see Kashrut elided with a fair-trade eco-agenda” (I didn’t say that – in fact, the word “most” didn’t appear in the article at all), and “Furthermore, many people do not take nearly as kindly as Koenig seems to think to being lectured by ostensibly tolerant liberals on what is and isn’t ethical” (I would absolutely never assume such a thing).

The point is, on the one hand, I’m completely delighted to have someone get so riled up about something I wrote. In a sense, that’s the best compliment to a writer – knowing that someone either cared enough or was provoked enough by your words to actually sit down and pen a response. On the other hand, the way in which this reader responded to me was particularly irksome.

It’s pretty clear to me that he’s got some serious baggage around “liberal Jews,” and depending on where he’s coming from and how he grew up, that’s totally understandable. But his method of making his point was so hostile and obstinate, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those jerky guys (and sometimes girls, but less so) in college who would argue just for the sake of arguing. It also forced me to remember how I would respond to those guys – with flustered silence.

I’m not about to say that stubborn debating and trying to run intellectual circles around one’s opponent (while often not saying much of anything) is an inherently male trait. But I will say that growing up female and in the midwest, I feel like I was explicitly NOT taught how to argue in that way. I was taught how to make a rational point while hearing and acknowledging the other person’s point of view. And while I think that’s the higher road to take in any debate, I find it leaves me ill-equipped to respond in a satisfactory way when situations like this arise.

After some internal debating, I’ve decided not to write in a counter-response to the reader (I suppose I’m writing one by posting this – but I somehow doubt the reader reads a magazine like Lilith!). Ultimately, I don’t think it’s worth my time to argue with someone who can’t hear me. But I’m not entirely at ease with the decision – there’s still a small part of me that wishes I was indeed better at responding in kind to this sort of attack because, in truth, taking the high road often leaves your opponent feeling like he/she won.

To read my original article in PresentTense, click here.

–Leah Koenig