At a recent social media conference where I was a panelist, an audience member asked how I measure success for Jew in the City. My response to her was simple: not quitting. I’ve thought of quitting Jew in the City countless times over the years. Because the idea of improving the public perception of Orthodox Jews through the power of new media didn’t begin with a business plan, a marketing plan, or really any plan other than trusting in Hashem. And trusting in Hashem, when things don’t seem to be going your way, is tough.
It sounds cliche, but Jew in the City has never felt like anything short of my destiny: I was a kid plagued by an existential crisis who went on to find incredible meaning in observant Judaism and then discovered a way to marry my love for acting and being creative with my passion for spreading the beauty of Torah to the world. So once I took the plunge and quit my job to pursue Jew in the City full time (my husband was in his last year of grad school and we already had two kids), I expected two things would happen. One – I assumed the videos would go viral once we posted them (I used to check the counter on YouTube incessantly!); and two I assumed that a wealthy donor would materialize and offer to fund the project.
It’s been over four years and (not surprisingly), neither of those things have happened. I don’t know if they ever will. I’ve often wondered why success takes so long. Wouldn’t it have been good for the Jewish people if Jew in the City had been an instant hit? Shouldn’t a donor have popped up long ago so that I’d be able to focus my energy on putting out more content and following up with viewers that wanted to learn more after visiting the site?
What I realized recently is that even if instant success would have been good for the Jewish people, it wouldn’t have been good for me. We’ve had small triumphs along the way, but these small successes have only been meaningful because they happened through time and patience and effort.
We learn in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) that “L’fum tzara agra,” according to the struggle is the reward. At face value this means that according to how much a person’s struggles to observe mitzvos is his reward in the world to come. As I was trying to fall asleep the other night and was taking stock of my life, as I often do when I can’t fall asleep, I realized another meaning in these words.
According to the struggle is how much we appreciate the reward when we finally succeed. This is true in this worldly pursuits, but it’s also true in spiritual pursuits. No one becomes great over night. I look at myself year after year, struggling with many of the same issues I’ve had before, making the same mistakes repeatedly, but I measure my spiritual success as I measure Jew in the City’s success: not quitting.
And though I’m often frustrated with how slow my growth is taking, the small triumphs I have along the way are meaningful and rewarding and give me strength to continue on my journey. So in this new year I will keep plugging ahead, still unsure as to where my efforts will ultimately lead, but knowing that there will be some success in the sheer fact that I’m not planning on ever giving up.