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Reflection 2.0

A High Holidays online service that asks probing questions and remembers your answers

Allison Hoffman
September 18, 2009
(Write-in @ Mozart's 1 by stetted / Megan Myers; some rights reserved.)
(Write-in @ Mozart's 1 by stetted / Megan Myers; some rights reserved.)

The High Holidays are about eating, going to services, avoiding services, not eating, and then, yes, eating again. In the midst of all that brisket, we’re meant to repent, atone, and prepare for the year ahead—an activity that easily falls by the wayside.

The internet, thankfully, has spawned a solution: 10Q, at, the brainchild of New Yorker editor Ben Greenman and filmmaker Nicola Behrman. The 10Q program is what the Days of Atonement might look like if they’d been invented today: an automated online system that coughs up a new, open-ended question and sends it out daily by email on each of the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They’re like little missives of conscience from an all-knowing and unknowable source. Responses go into a form on the site, and at the end of Yom Kippur—when, according to the rabbinic texts, the gates of repentance have closed for another year—they vanish into a secure server, only to reappear in their owners’ email inboxes in a year’s time. In other words, it’s a psychological time capsule, in written form. “We’re a low-expectation enterprise,” Greenman explained.

Last year, about 1,000 people participated in the pilot version of the project. This year, 10Q organizers, hoping thousands more sign up, are advertising the project on an electronic billboard in Times Square. (A Facebook app and Twitter stream are also in the works.) Visitors to the site will find questions and prompts that touch on universal human themes—family, career, love, hopes, dreams, regrets—and make no explicit reference to Judaism or the holidays. “We’re trying to attract as broad an audience as possible—it’s bridging the fine line between capturing a Jewish audience, and making Jewish principles relevant to everyone,” said Amelia Klein, program director at Reboot, the nonprofit organization aimed at raising Jewish consciousness among young or unaffiliated Jews that’s funding the 10Q project. Participants will also have the option of sharing their responses publicly, albeit anonymously. Here’s a sample of questions and answers from last year’s batch:

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

“A little over a year-and-a-half ago I ended a relationship with someone whom I loved dearly, but was not in love with.”

“My youngest child got married and since she was pregnant and she and her fiance were living thousands of miles away from everyone, the only family member to be at the marriage was me.”

“My cat of 13 years died suddenly. I grew up with him. He was my constant companion. He really took care of me as much as I took care of him.”

Think about a major milestone that happened with your family in the past year. How has this affected you?

“My older brother and his wife had a second baby. He’s 34, I’m 30. He’s heterosexual and married, I’m gay and single. ”

“My parents were close to getting a divorce because of my dad’s alleged infidelity. It killed me to see my mom so hurt and broken. I promised myself I would never do that to someone I love, yet I find it hard not to stray.”

“My mom realized her marriage is not worth it. My dad doesn’t know it yet. It will affect us soon.”

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

“In roughly the last year, I discovered meditation. I don’t do it enough (if at all), but I recognize when it happens, whether when I’m taking a moment to myself, or exercising on the spin bike.”

“Yes, saying Kaddish for my father. The year was both short and long. I was lonely in missing him; I was together in mourning with my family. I could feel his presence in my life, and in my prayers.”

“I lost God, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in the coming year?

“I want to pursue my own financial well-being. I want to investigate ways to save and invest money that will benefit me the best in the long run of life. I want to investigate what I can do with just $1,000 at age 23.”

“I would choose me as I’m still busy working on my serenity.”

“I want to look into why exactly the Cubs forget how to play baseball in the postseason.”

What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you?

“I have a fear that I will struggle with anxiety and depression my entire life.”

“I fear that I may never feel like any synagogue is ‘home’ ever again.”

“I fear being a burden to my sons in my old age.”

Is there a part of yourself that you want to work on in the coming year?

“My need for mind-numbing distraction. I would like my indulgences to be reading, sleeping, and seeing friends, rather than eating, television, and intoxication.”

“I’ve always had a need for other people very close to me, and I think that’s why I’ve had so little time between relationships. It’s OK to want someone to be there, but I need to be able to take care of myself.”

“I would like to take a deep breath before getting worked up or angry about things—things seem to affect me so deeply these days. I’d like to see them roll off my back a little bit more.”

Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.

Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.