TikTok is home to thousands of niche content creators — there is likely a “side” of TikTok perfect for everyone. Do you like to read? Spend some time on Booktok. Interested in politics? Political TikTok is incredibly active, especially during election season. There are TikTok creators who cater specifically to women, the LGBTQIA+ community, devout Christians and more. Yet, even with all of these culturally driven communities, there are some social identity groups that have been historically underrepresented, and not just on TikTok.
Jewish people in particular have been scarily absent from social media representation and, most importantly, social media activism. However, a handful of TikTok creators have begun to turn the tables for Jews around the world, and we should all be listening to what they have to say.
My own journey with Jewish TikTok began when TheRealMelindaStrauss showed up on my “For You” page. A Jewish mother living on Long Island, New York, Strauss began posting about her Modern Orthodox Jewish life — observing Shabbat every weekend, celebrating the High Holidays — while also bringing attention to Jewish social issues that have gotten little to no time in the spotlight before. She has amassed over 600,000 followers and over 67 million likes, an impressive feat, to say the least.
Her account acted as a floodgate for the many other Jewish creators who have begun carving out a space for themselves on TikTok. ThatJewishQueen posts her Hasidic Orthodox life. ThatRelatableJew shares about her search for a strong, welcoming Jewish community in adulthood — something the many Jewish students at the University of Michigan can likely relate to. I only recently stumbled upon Miriam Zagui. She is also from New York and educates her followers on what it is like to live an Orthodox lifestyle.
Not one of these creators’ Jewish experiences is exactly like my own, but those differences in culture and tradition are what make their pages so influential. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jews are an incredibly diverse group of people. However, we live in a world where there remains a frightening number of generalizations about Jews in America. Old, antisemitic stereotypes have persisted, and new ones continue to form.
For years, representation of Jews in the media has been inaccurate and rooted in these harmful stereotypes. In “The Big Bang Theory” — the hit CBS sitcom with a 12-season run — one of the main characters, Howard Wolowitz, represents the “token Jew,” who is constantly ridiculed and made fun of. The popular Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy” includes a villain who speaks Yiddish (a language commonly used by Jewish individuals), enforcing the dangerous stereotype that Jews are evil individuals seeking world domination. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the horrific antisemitism that infects nearly every social media platform. A study from 2018 found over 4 million antisemitic incidents on Twitter, and this number has only risen since, with more and more antisemitic conspiracy theories being pushed by hate groups like QAnon. Compounding this issue is the fact that these posts are not removed nearly as often as they should be. In many cases, Jews are left to the wolves.
There’s no denying it: Antisemitism is on the rise and the constant noise can become overwhelming. Earlier this month, it filled our own backyard, when, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, posters were distributed at the University stating that Jews are to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy for most to dismiss this as a wild, baseless conspiracy theory; however, these actions are indicative of a greater danger at play for Jews around the world.
It has been proven time and time again that accurate representation can work wonders for breaking down societal prejudices. I doubt I’m alone when I say that, over the past few weeks, I’ve cried some happy tears watching young Black girls react to the new “The Little Mermaid” trailer. Their faces light up at the sight of someone who looks like them on their screen. Even more crucial is the fact that accurate representation in the media can reach far beyond the group it represents. Diverse representation can also begin to challenge the implicit biases of others who may be watching. In the case of “The Little Mermaid,” Halle Bailey’s performance will not only leave young Black girls in awe, but it will hopefully show viewers of other races and ethnicities that Ariel does not need to be white to embody the character.
Far too often, the majority takes over the media, leaving marginalized groups in the dark. Jewish creators are crucial because they are helping to create a world where Jews are seen in a way that feels honest, something that has been missing for far too long.
We — the social media junkies — also have a role to rally behind these creators. To like, comment and repost their content so that it can reach as many people as possible. With some luck, posts from the aforementioned Jewish creators will land on the “For You” page of someone plagued by stereotypes about Jewish people. These are the very people who need to see this content the most. Only by opening their eyes to what being Jewish is truly like do we have any hope of changing their minds.
Needless to say, there’s a long road ahead. One TikTok video cannot change a history of discrimination and hate, but each post is a small step in the right direction. It is our responsibility to hear what these Jewish creators have to say, and spread their message on and beyond social media. Not only will it help Jews around the world to feel seen and represented online, but it will help non-Jews to dismantle their own conscious and unconscious biases, one post at a time.
So, as you close this article and move on with your day, I’ll say this: Take one second to open up TikTok, look up just one of the names I shared above and spend a minute or two on Jewish TikTok. Jews everywhere will thank you later.
Daily Arts Contributor Rebecca Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.