Finding Jewish Empowerment on TikTok
On a quintessentially dreary December evening, I half-consciously clawed at my phone from the bedside table, keen on escaping from my AP European History and AP Art History studying. My escapist methodologies are built on the TikTok scroll. I opened my For You page, a thread curated by the TikTok algorithm to be tailored to my interests, to see an unprecedented sight. The video before me depicted what appeared to be a nuclear family, composed of a mom, dad, and two children in the background. In the foreground stood a menorah with three of its branches already lit. It was the fourth night of Hanukkah and, in the video, one of the children stepped forward to light the next candle. Over the video, an adaptation of Kanye West’s “I Love Kanye” song was played. A single clause was taken from the song, with the word “new” muted so that the lyric I heard simply went: “I hate Kanye.”
While I am used to the extreme oscillating emotions inherent to jumping from one fifteen second video to another, this video was particularly startling. On the one hand, I was enthused to see a Jewish ritual that I hold dear being shared with the public TikTok community. Content creators who identify as Jewish generally have felt few and far between to me. I had heard many stories of Jewish creators feeling marginalized on the platform, and in that moment remembered a particular NBC article I had read where Jewish TikTokers divulged how they felt targeted after being repeatedly banned from the platform for simply sharing their Jewish identity on the Internet.
On the other hand, I felt a visceral feeling of discomfort. Why, for virtually the first time, was a ritual that I knew as sacred being shared, only to be meme-ified and predicated on the hate of someone else? My For You page had spat out a video that struck me at a time I felt overwhelmed by Kanye West’s antisemitic spiral, which had brought attention to antisemitism and contemporary Judaism in a way that I experienced as unprecedented. During these weeks, peers who I didn’t even know had been aware of my Jewish identity approached me inquiring about my thoughts on antisemitism, if I had ever experienced antisemitic sentiment, or just generally how I felt as a Jew right now. I felt a responsibility to be a source of some sort of enlightened information but I didn’t always feel like I could equip myself with the right words or explanations.
How could I comprehensively explain the terror and disgust of witnessing antisemitism infect popular culture? I wanted to tell these people how upset and terrified I felt about how antisemitism was moving to the forefront in popular culture. Yet, I also wanted to explain that our obsessive fixation on Kanye’s antisemitism felt sometimes misplaced and ignorant. I wanted to echo the words of journalist Ernest Owens: “Before Kanye West was ‘the face of Anti-Semitism,’” he wrote, “he was one of the hip-hop faces of misogynoir, anti-Blackness, Trumpism, and slavery-denial.” I wanted to explain how antisemitism in America runs far deeper than Kanye West, in the same way that Kanye’s track record of harm is more profound than just his recent attacks on the Jewish community. But I couldn't. I could never get it all out.
The days that followed gave way to many other accounts following that original TikTok, posting videos of their families, who I noticed to be majority white, lighting their menorah with that same sound played in the background. These videos populated my page by the dozens, the single video morphing into a full-blown trend. An eerie bleakness crept over me. Was this all that “Jewish Tik Tok” had to offer?
As I struggled to find the right words to explain my disturbed feelings of distress, hurt, and hesitation to those around me, I began to click “not interested” on those trending TikToks. I pivoted and dove into my search bar, hoping to seek solitude and comfort in Jewish creators succeeding at sharing their Jewish identity in ways that felt authentic, candid, and personal.
As luck would have it, on the seventh night of Hanukkah I was given the gift of Miriam Ezagui.
Miriam Ezagui is a female-identifying Jewish Orthodox maternity nurse, who has become a TikTok personality sharing her family and work life through a lens of educating others on what it means to be an Orthodox Jew in a contemporary context. Miriam has over 1.1 million followers on the platform.
Miriam lives with her husband Aron and their four daughters. A lot of Miriam’s videos follow a Q-and-A structure, where she answers questions from her viewers posed in the comment section. She answers questions ranging from “What if you accidentally eat something that isn’t kosher?” to questions like, “Who can an Orthodox Jewish woman touch after giving birth?” and “How do you have so many children if you and your husband sleep in two separate beds?” To the latter, she replies, “Key word: we sleep in two separate beds,” and winks at the camera.
Miriam and Aron follow the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha, laws of “family purity” that many Orthodox Jews abide by. As a part of these laws, women with uteri abstain from engaging in any physical or marital relationship with their partner during the time of Niddah, the days during and seven days after the woman is menstruating. Miriam explains that, while she and her husband follow these laws, and go further by sleeping in separate beds year-round, the separation enhances their intimacy. Miriam told the New York Post and The Mirror that sleeping separately from her husband “keeps our sex life spicy and passionate.” I have long harbored judgment and negative feelings towards Taharas Hamishpacha—to me, these practices felt restrictive and condescending towards womanhood as well as regarding menstruation as unhygienic and undesirable. Yet Miriam’s videos have helped me reframe my perspective. I love how she reclaims the laws in a way that empowers her joy and enhances her emotional and physical pleasure.
When Miriam shares anything about her life, she does so with patience, poise, and lack of judgment. She often deals with comments and questions that are accusatory and antisemitic by responding with comprehensive and informative answers, battling hate with education. In a time that I felt like I couldn’t wield eloquence amidst upset, I love, and will forever appreciate, my discovery of Miriam during a time of such vulnerability, disheartenment, and confusion for myself and the Jewish community. I hope to embody Miriam’s instinct to lean into curiosity, spirituality, and empowerment.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Yanowitch, Rosie. "Finding Jewish Empowerment on TikTok." 15 March 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 24, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/finding-jewish-empowerment-tiktok>.