The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine
We TikTok, but not on Shabbat
Orthodox women on social media
Noodling around online one day, I was struck by how many openly Orthodox Jewish women are creating content on TikTok and Instagram. I put out a call to identify Orthodox women active on these two social media platforms and was overwhelmed with suggestions. Despite the pressure in some parts of the Jewish world to erase women from the public domain, Orthodox women from within and outside of Israel are active on social media, representing arts, music, politics, Torah education, cooking, wellness, interior design, fashion, makeup, travel, tourism, business and more. For some, like Malka Chana Amichai (@ bohemianbalabusta – 12.3K followers on Instagram), their identity as Orthodox women is part of their brand. For others, like Tamar Ciment (@tamarciment – 410K followers on TikTok), it’s not even mentioned.
Understanding the platforms
TikTok, launched in 2016, is a social media site that allows users to share short videos. TikTok videos can be up to 10 minutes long, but most are significantly shorter, sometimes as short as 15 seconds. Originally a site for posting dance and lip-synching videos, TikTok has quickly grown into a far more diverse platform. Today, there are over a billion active users from over 150 countries creating and consuming video content on TikTok every month.
Instagram, with close to 1.5 billion monthly users worldwide, is a more established image-sharing app, launched in 2010. While users can also share videos on Instagram (where they are called Reels), the social media platform allows for sharing all manner of visual content, such as photos, stories (which disappear from the site after a fixed amount of time), and live streaming.
Meet some of the women
We spoke with seven Orthodox women, based in Israel and in the US, to learn more about their experiences representing the things they care about on social media.
Melinda Strauss (@therealmelindastrauss – 627K followers on TikTok and 68.8K followers on Instagram) lives in Woodmere, NY, and started her social media career in 2011 as a kosher food blogger.
Although she posts on other platforms, TikTok is her main outlet. “I share on TikTok, where I’ve grown an incredible following, teaching about Orthodox Judaism and sharing about my Modern Orthodox Jewish life.
“For me, answering questions about Judaism and sharing tons of videos about keeping kosher and kosher food are my favorite things to do. I post anywhere from five to eight videos a day, answering questions about Judaism and sharing a lot about kosher food. Overall, I would say I spend one to two hours creating [content] every day.”
Strauss was surprised to learn that “most of the world doesn’t know much about Judaism. For so many, I’m the first Jewish person they’ve met and they have a lot of questions. My rule on TikTok is: there are no stupid questions.
“I’ve created a space where people can ask anything without judgment; that includes both Jews and non-Jews. And unfortunately, with antisemitism on the rise, I also realized that the best way for me to combat hate is through education. I believe so much hate comes from ignorance. So, I use my platform to teach.”
In response to the growing trend of erasing women’s faces in public, Strauss commented, “I could never get behind the idea of erasing Jewish women’s faces. Look at our Jewish history in Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) and how many important women are a part of it, how strong they were, how they were the center of the home (and still are) and how they saved our people over and over again. Our faces deserve to be seen because Jewish women are not meant to be hidden.
“Two things have pushed me to share on social media as an Orthodox Jewish woman. [First], too many people get their education about Orthodox Judaism through movies and Netflix. The amount of people who ask me why Orthodox women shave their heads is pretty intense or they think Orthodox women are oppressed because of one person’s story. I love being able to show the world that we are so much more than what television likes to portray.
“As a Modern Orthodox woman, I feel that it is so important to show that Orthodoxy doesn’t just look like one thing. I know that I’ve given other Jewish women who look like me, who don’t cover their hair or aren’t perfectly tzniut (modest) but believe in the
Torah law, who keep kosher, Shabbos and taharat hamishpacha (family purity) more confidence.”
Strauss serves as a mentor for newer Jewish content creators and revels in the sense of community that’s being built among Orthodox women on social media. “Many of the Jewish creators in our community love to call me their Jewish TikTok mom. We grow better when we grow together, and I see it every day when we post videos, comment on each other’s posts, meet up in person and share advice behind the scenes.
“I know it can be scary to start on social media. Maybe you’re worried about the judgment, the antisemitism, the acceptance from our community; but if what you want to share feels important to you and can impact others’ lives, I say go for it! Do it scared. Don’t wait until the timing is perfect because the timing is never perfect. Your voice is so important, no matter how many people you’re speaking to!”
Miriam Ezagui (@babywearinglove – 289.9 followers on TikTok) lives and creates content from Brooklyn, NY. Her following has grown rapidly since she started posting regularly earlier this year. Her content has evolved, and now “the majority of my posts are about my life as an Orthodox Jew, interviews with my Bubby, Lilly Malnik, who is a Holocaust survivor, and my job as a labor and delivery room nurse.”
Like Strauss, Ezagui is incredibly active on the platform, posting three to four videos a day. Why does she invest that kind of time? “I am deeply passionate about my religious life, and I’d like to share that with others without coming across as judgmental.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Orthodox Jewish women. A person watches a show on Netflix and treats it like a documentary. And misconceptions can quickly turn to antisemitism. I’d like to think that I am clearing up some of these misconceptions,” she said.
As a Lubavitch woman, Ezagui is primed to focus on the positive. “My channel is about my relationship with Judaism, and I explain the reasons behind specific mitzvot and what they mean to me. I am not trying to [change] anyone, but if I can spread a little more light, I am happy to do so. I hope that the videos I create inspire joy, spark curiosity and spread a little more love to the viewers.”
Zippora, who asked that her last name be withheld, appears on TikTok (@thatjinjyjew – 401.4K followers) and Instagram (@mosesandzippora – 57.9K followers) with her husband Moses, a red-headed rabbi.
The couple began creating content from their home in Florida at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. They focus on “modesty, kosher diet, relationships, children’s education and day-to-day Jewish life.” They create content in short spurts without too much advanced planning. “We definitely should step it up,” Zippora admitted.
Working together, they want to “dismantle antisemitism with education and destigmatize Orthodox Judaism, increase acts of goodness and kindness and make authentic Jewish life approachable, revealing the fun and joy in it.”
Zippora works from a belief that her content has the potential to change women’s lives. “When more [people] are privy to witness Jewish life being lived day to day, it serves to inspire more spiritual growth in a happy manner. Women are much more powerful and receptive when it comes to spirituality; therefore. the learning that can be picked up from [another] woman reaches more deeply into the soul of the learner.”
Sarah Haskell (@thatrelatablejew – 100.3K followers on TikTok and 23.8K followers on Instagram) creates content from Long Island, NY. She started on TikTok in 2020 and on Instagram just a year ago.
“I cover a wide range of topics, such as kosher food, Jewish holidays, modest fashion, Jewish traditions and my own personal religious journey. I typically am busy creating and uploading new content a few times a week.”
Like other content creators, Haskell wants to “create open discussions about Judaism. I want to show others that struggling with Judaism is normal, while also highlighting the beauty and positivity that Judaism has brought to my life.
“I try to make all of my videos and posts easy to understand so that, regardless of someone’s religious observance, they can still learn something new about Judaism.” Haskell hopes her social media work will expand to longer format YouTube videos and a podcast.
“I believe that Jewish women have powerful voices that deserve to be heard and can make a huge difference in this world. I also think it is extremely important that we have Jewish women who are positive role models and can inspire the younger generation of Jewish women.”
Like others, Haskell is aware that she’s combating negative stereotypes. “Many people in the outside world assume Orthodox Jewish women are oppressed and lack opportunities. I have educated many people online that there are successful Jewish women who are business owners, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, etc. It is important to bust these myths by proudly showing our successes as Jewish women to the world and making a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name).
“Through social media, I have also shown that my Jewish community strogly encourages Jewish women to go to college. I just graduated college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and explained that I could not have
done it without the support of my Jewish community. It is important to me to show that Orthodox Jewish women are strong, successful and very much in the working world,” she shared.
Online antisemitism is real
Nearly every content creator we spoke to said they regularly deal with antisemitism. Haskell commented, “I experience antisemitism almost every day online, whether it’s on TikTok or Instagram. Unfortunately, many people leave disturbing comments about the Holocaust to me all the time. Most of the hate comments I get are simply because I am a Jew and they want to silence me.
“You definitely have to have thick skin to be openly Jewish these days on the Internet. But I am proud of my mission, and if I can get one person to have a more positive view on Judaism, then it is all worth it to me.”
Zippora is resigned to it, even seeing the fact that she and her husband are targets of antisemitism as evidence that they are reaching people. “We Jews expect it, as it is woven into the very fabric of our history. We take it as a compliment to us making a small impact. When you are on the front line, more bullets are flying and ‘action’ is closer to you.”
Antisemitism forced Broder to focus more on Instagram. “Unfortunately, because of antisemitism, I hardly post Jewish content on TikTok anymore. The algorithm was just pushing so much hate and showing my content to the wrong viewers that I ended up spending more time deleting horrible comments than being able to upload content. Nevertheless, you can’t let the hate get to you. There will always be people trolling,” she said.
In response to her content, Ezagui also experiences antisemitism regularly. “I have made a choice not to engage with these comments, but I do not take them down because I think it’s important for others to see that antisemitism exists.”
Strauss won’t let the antisemitism she experiences stop her. “Unfortunately, I experience antisemitism every day on TikTok, usually through ignorant comments on my videos or people making their own videos about me. But their ignorance only makes me louder and prouder as a Jew, and it reminds me that the more I share, the more people I’m educating. The hate will always be there, but the curiosity and positivity are so much stronger!” she stressed.