It’s hard not to doom scroll lately, but I’ve been heartened by watching Jewish leaders take centre stage via social media. These are bright spots in a difficult time. Here are a few to Google and follow. I’ve learned a lot online this way. Perhaps you might, too.
In the world of social media and Talmud study (yes, that’s a thing!), the short social media videos of Miriam Anzovin have gotten a lot of attention. She offers TikTok, YouTube and Instagram posts and links via Twitter. These are on the Daf Yomi, the 7.5-year cycle where one studies a page of Talmud a day. Anzovin’s amazing effort offers a brief summary and analysis of some of the big rabbinic issues. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a field historically dominated by men. Anzovin is a writer and visual artist. She describes her videos as “Daf Yomi reaction videos.” These takes often include slang, curse words, and perhaps difficult interpretations for the usual Jewish text study audience.
Some Orthodox men have voiced criticism to this approach to Talmud study. I would argue that this is a defensive, unhelpful reaction. More Talmud study is good. Talmud study of any kind, is, quite simply – more. It brings more attention to Jewish text and ideas, which is a good thing both for Judaism and for intellectual analysis. Sometimes, the reaction stems from being forced to admit that there are other perspectives and ways of reading religious text. Anzovin centres women’s voices, issues and opinions, critical thinking, liberal and modern views of very old texts. Social media offers her a perfect platform and her work has taken off. It’s long past due. I’m thrilled to see her show up in my feed.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson has been one to follow for awhile. She’s a leader – an activist, a musician and a teacher. Her social media presence allows me to learn a lot. I’ve learned Torah, said Kaddish, and more. Through her anecdotes, she’s encouraged hard examination of ways in which racism is a problem in Jewish life. She’s taken on a lot of firsts in both her former role as the associate chaplain for Jewish life at Elon University and is now the first director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion at Reconstructing Judaism. She was the first African American and first openly gay African American accepted by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Her open, strong online presence embodies many things Judaism needs to see: her identity as a veteran, vegan, personal trainer, musician and wise educator pushes the boundaries of what some people think Jews or rabbis look like. For younger Jews on the web, seeing her laughing with her wife Susan, featuring her little dogs as she makes music – these are models of joyful, modern Jewish life that we need now more than ever.
What does informal Jewish education look like on Instagram? Well, many people source Jewish news specifically from A Wider Frame (@awiderframe).
Debbie, the jewelry designer behind @rootsmetals, posts deep dives into very specific historic, geographic and cultural Jewish topics. It comes complete with bibliographies. Prepare for her snarky responses to trolls (ever present online) who try to threaten her well-being.
Ashager Araro, @blackjewishmagic, is a liberal, feminist, Black Israeli. She does incredible work as an educator in person in Israel. She’s also on Instagram and Twitter, and travels to speak at Hillels and Jewish student centres in the United States. Her focus on Ethiopian Israeli history and modern Jewish life is illuminating, particularly for those who view race only through a parochial North American lens.
Some social media education targets a specific group. For example, Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll speaks out for others who aren’t able to in the Orthodox world. She tackles the issue of agunot. Agunot are women who cannot obtain a Jewish divorce from their husbands and are unable to remarry according to Jewish law. Keats-Jaskoll also works to provide modest images of women through an internationally sourced photo bank. This works to combat the erasure of women’s faces and bodies and imagery in Orthodox photos, publications and Israeli billboards. Chochmat-Nashim (Women’s Wisdom), her organization, advocates for Orthodox women, including both modern Orthodox and Haredi groups in Israel and the diaspora.
This is just a taste of what’s out there. It’s a start to diversifying your feed. You may have noticed that I started by writing about leaders I admire and, guess what? They’re all women. It’s not that I don’t admire some male leaders. There are plenty of them and some of them are fine human beings – but too many “leader lists” leave women out entirely. March 8 is International Women’s Day. It’s one thing to say we advocate for equality, and to celebrate women’s achievements on a specific day. It’s another to raise up, embrace and educate on a daily basis.
Our tradition offers us moments to celebrate women’s roles, such as the recitation of Woman of Valour (Eishet Chayil) in some homes on Shabbat. However, that’s not a standard practice in every household. Plus, it’s only one moment of one day of a week, when Jewish women are contributing 24/7.
Many of our paid leaders, rabbis and cantors, and even volunteers, such as synagogue board members, are men. It’s been “traditional” to embrace a male leadership model in some communities. However, in an era when more of our lives are both online and more egalitarian, it’s OK to stop the doom scrolling and open up one’s mind – and feed – to some new leaders. In this case, they also just happen to identify as Jewish women.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.