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Reinspiring the Jewish Mind

Why is the Jewish nonprofit world so afraid of promoting our most prized (and envied) body part: our minds?
[additional-authors]
July 10, 2024
Audience at the influencer summit

A couple of weeks ago, nearly 300 Jewish “influencers” descended upon New York City. They weren’t here to stop the violent riots, remove Islamist propaganda from our schools, or even to get the media to stop lying about Israel. No, they were here to celebrate themselves, a skill they excel at.

From the photos, it looked like every parent of a teen girl’s worst nightmare: heavily plasticized faces, vapid expressions, nonstop self-idolatry: Selfies, selfies, selfies! Many NYC parents have spent weeks in the ER, managing self-cutting and other suicide attempts. Indeed, the levels of suicide and depression among teen girls continue to spiral: One-third of teen girls in the U.S. have seriously considered attempting suicide. Hospitalization rates for self-harm have increased by 140% since 2010.

Rates of suicide and depression were steady until roughly 2010, when Instagram launched, and then the rates began to spiral. It doesn’t take an NIH doctor to explain why. Teen girls compare themselves 24/7 to cartoonishly filtered, overly Botoxed photos and videos on Instagram. Many of these young women call themselves “influencers.”

My 15-year-old son has another name for them: “Plastics.” He and his friends find this cohort of females not just unattractive but dull. They’ve watched their female friends become addicted to the hourly comparisons, with the mental health issues that follow.

All of which begs the question: Why would the Jewish nonprofit world think celebrating this is a good idea?

To be fair, not all of the 300 were vapid plastics. Some are actually writers, musicians, athletes, dancers and comedians. Some of them make brilliant videos. Why they would demean themselves with the word influencer I don’t know, but the truth is the weekend “summit,” called “Voices for Truth: Influencers United Against Antisemitism,” could have been easily focused on educated young Jews, and the impact would have been profound.

But intelligence is no longer trending in the Jewish Diaspora, it seems.

At the conference, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) said that social media has allowed antisemitism to spread to unprecedented levels. That’s true, combined with activist education and activist journalism. If we could clone Torres, we’d have a fighting chance to confront this spiraling. But most “influencers” are not as educated as Torres, and even if they were, this war can’t be fought on social media alone.

Many “influencers” buy their followers and likes. Most followers of plastics are other plastics. So even if they managed to learn a few things — history, political analysis, geography — over the weekend, the effect would be limited. Many of the plastics say the pro-jihad side couldn’t find Israel on a map, which is no doubt true. But could they?

When I asked Rova Media co-founder Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm why they don’t use plastics, he responded without a pause: “Not at the expense of our daughters. Not at the expense of life.” OpenDor Media also doesn’t use plastics and has produced groundbreaking videos.

Ironically, plasticizing, either through an excessive use of Botox or iPhone filters, is another form of over-assimilation — of self-erasure. Many of these women lambaste leftist Jews for remaining silent. But removing one’s Judean features — flattening precisely what makes us distinctive — is just as bad. Which is why you will rarely find Israeli women over-filtering their photos. They seem to intuitively understand that real beauty stems from the soul.

Many of these women lambaste leftist Jews for remaining silent. But removing one’s Judean features — flattening precisely what makes us distinctive — is just as bad. 

Using our brains

The question remains: Why is the Jewish nonprofit world so afraid of promoting our most prized (and envied) body part: our minds? Where is our Douglas Murray?

Islamist propaganda is now in our K-12 classrooms; the Muslim Brotherhood has multidecade plans; our cities allow daily violence against Jews. And yet we continue to focus on the least educated, who have enabled an epidemic of teen suicide.

There should be summits for writers, analysts, thinkers, lawyers, and policy makers. Since it was an activism of lies that helped cause the problem, we need to stop thinking that counteractivism is the answer. We don’t need propaganda; we have the truth — facts, history — on our side. What we need to do is return to a truth-based civil society, and I’m sorry to be blunt, but those who spend half of their days filtering their selfies are not the ones who are going to bring back a truth-based society.

There should be summits for writers, analysts, thinkers, lawyers, and policy makers. Since it was an activism of lies that helped cause the problem, we need to stop thinking that counteractivism is the answer. We don’t need propaganda; we have the truth — facts, history — on our side. 

I’ve spent the last decade trying to figure out why the Jewish nonprofit world funds so many unsuccessful ideas. I still don’t understand. But this latest one is not only not helpful, it promotes an epidemic of teen depression and the larger regression of women. 

And so, as a writer, editor, thinker I offer up here 12 summit ideas. The good news: Now that people like Bill Ackman and Marc Rowan are involved in the fight against antisemitism, we no longer have to wait for the nonprofit world to fix anything.

• Activist education. This is an essential starting point, but it’s also going to be the most difficult. The rot has deeply infested both educators and administrators. Heterodox Academy’s Jonathan Haidt, Rabbi David Wolpe, and Professor Steven Pinker could bring together everyone who has thought deeply about how to solve this multi-layered problem — and begin to solve it. 

• Activist journalism. This is an easier fix. Newsrooms on both the right and the left need to return to objective reporting. Most reporters today have no idea what that means. The Journal’s David Suissa and Alana Newhouse of Tablet could well lead this summit and create an action plan.

• Selective enforcement of law. On July Fourth, just days after the summit, jihadists burned the American flag in Washington Square Park and chanted “Death to America!” The NYPD did nothing. Outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, they set dozens of flags on fire. Some were arrested. Torres, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) could lead a summit that focuses on what needs to be done so that Jews do indeed get equal protection under our laws: selective enforcement needs to end.

• Partisan extremism. How to return to the essential principles of both classical liberalism and classical conservatism? How to reinvigorate the moderates, the center? Thane Rosenbaum could lead this summit.

• Religious extremism. The ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt along with Canary Mission could focus on the biggest, least discussed problem: Islamism. Is hate and violence against Jews actively discussed in the mosques in the U.S.? Are there terrorism-enabling groups that are not on the U.S.-designated terrorist lists?

• Gen Z. Gen Z is more than ready to take the reins from millennials, who they correctly believe messed so much of this up. Teach them how to respond effectively, deal with activist teachers, argue proficiently, write op-eds, and deliver powerful speeches. Since Leon Wieseltier did this for so many young writers at The (real) New Republic, I can easily see him leading this summit.

• Legal response. The Lawfare Project’s Brooke Goldstein could bring together the top law firms in the country to discuss making use of every available legal response.

• Financial response. Ackman and Rowan could bring together major philanthropists to create a set of guidelines: When to pull funding; what to fund; etc.

• Documentary films. A documentary based on lies, “Israelism,” is now on Netflix. Videos can be great, but documentaries still have the imprimatur of “truth.” Documentary filmmakers like Gloria Greenfield of Doc Emet Productions and OpenDor Media could bring together film students to discuss ideas, implementation, and financing.

• Principles and values this country was founded upon. This shouldn’t need to be said but here we are: You can’t tell the morally depraved that they’re not following the values of this country if you intersperse that message with full or half-naked selfies. My Intellectual History professor from University of Pennsylvania and the founder of FIRE, Dr. Alan Kors, could bring together a group of scholars to teach what is no longer being taught.

• Judean ethnicity. The nonprofit world should have embraced the fact that Judaism is not just a religion but an ethnicity decades ago. The benefits would have been profound, not the least of which Jews would be able to proudly show our direct DNA connection to the land of Israel. Micha Danzig and his son, Yirmiyahu Danzig, have written extensively on the subject. They could easily lead a summit that finally teaches Jews the truth.

• Self-idolatry. Finally, how the self-idolatry of “influencers” and self-branding in general is destroying our souls. Olga Meshoe Washington of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel could easily lead this. Is there an inverse relationship between self-promotion and true brilliance? Absolutely. There always has been. But in the past relentless self-promoters were mocked, relentlessly. Today self-promoters are worshipped, literally. Despite their lack of originality or creativity. And because of this, women are now hired for how well they can deep-fake their photos on social media. 

Conferences aren’t the only way to re-inspire Judean minds, of course. Publications like Tablet, Sapir, Mosaic, and my own White Rose Magazine have tried to analyze today’s issues in a deep, nuanced way, as do many podcasts. Organizing a speaker series at your synagogue or community center is a great way to reinvigorate intellectual debate. Take a group to Israel to learn from every original source. And of course, there’s nothing like reading the works of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to begin to revalue wisdom. 

And then of course there’s the world of creativity: Art, dance, theatre, poetry, music. Just like spirituality and reconnecting with our ancestral history, creativity ignites our souls and opens our minds to new ideas; creates the necessary space in our heads to process and reject bad ideas; allows us the essential pause to be able to reflect upon and fully understand what’s happening around us.

Creativity is often born from struggle. The Jewish struggle is arguably the oldest and perhaps the most difficult of any people; it has made our collective character stronger and our own creativity richer. It’s time to retap into that wellspring of ingenuity.

Effective social media

None of this is to say that the people who have used social media to make a real difference shouldn’t continue. Sites like Honest Reporting, StopAntisemitism, the Jew Hate Database, Safe Campus, and Jews in School are all doing invaluable work. Analysts like Natasha Hausdorff, Hen Mazzig, Emily Schrader, Eylon Levy, and Dumisani Washington are essential to deepen the discourse. Filmmakers/videographers like Zach Sage Fox and Joshua Buchalter are doing brilliantly creative work, as are comedians like Yechiel Jacobs and musicians like David Draiman, Westside Gravy, and Kosha Dillz. 

And as I always need to point out: This is in no way a missive against sexy women. My first book, “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday, 1997), was about how women don’t need to lose their femininity or sexuality to be equal to men. The problem today is precisely the opposite: Even very smart women feel like they have to post half-naked selfies every few days. Why? To feed male social media fetishes. Women have been reduced, again, to their (often fake) body parts.

In terms of fighting the hate and lies, the problem is also people who are using Israel and antisemitism to either increase their “following” or begin one. I’m sorry, that’s simply inexcusable. If someone has genuinely begun Israeli activism for nonnarcissistic reasons, but doesn’t have much expertise on the subject, here’s what I would suggest: Post the information itself. Whether in the form of a video of a protest or a news clip, social media does have the ability to share news quickly. We need more people to do this.

In terms of fighting the hate and lies, the problem is also people who are using Israel and antisemitism to either increase their “following” or begin one. I’m sorry, that’s simply inexcusable. 

But please: don’t post a photo or a video of yourself, especially a plasticized one, talking to your followers. Please understand that when someone who doesn’t have years of in-depth knowledge does this, you are taking the oxygen away from those who do. And please, especially if you’re trying to reach Gen Z, don’t call yourself an “influencer.” After years of having to endure every type of lie from their millennial “teachers,” they will immediately think you’re a fraud. And they would be right.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is editor in chief of White Rose Magazine.

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