About a month ago, I went a little viral, but not for a good reason. I posted an infographic that I thought was super clever and summed up an important unified theory that took us nearly fifteen years to develop in our organization. It combined our original branch Keter (which restores the good name of the Orthodox Jewish community through media), our second branch Makom (which helps disenfranchised Haredi Jews find a positive place in Orthodoxy), and our newest branch Tikun (which repairs the systemic issues in the Orthodox community that cause pain, push people out, and create negative headlines).
The infographic included things like antisemitism, inter-generational trauma, and ex-Orthodox people telling their stories to secular media. Basically – all the parts of the infographic were not only quite triggering to some people, all of the parts of it required explanation and nuance – something snappy social media infographics lack.
I pulled the post down since a lot of people were offended by it. I realized that what I had intended to communicate had not come across. The post showed a cycle, because we have seen this clear cycle from our work:
Antisemitism leads to inter-generational trauma which leads to dysfunctional homes which leads to people leaving observance which leads to some of those people telling their stories to secular media, which leads to antisemitism. (The loop continues indefinitely, but our three branches are trying to break down each of the pieces.) The biggest issues people took with this cycle that I illustrated was that they thought I was suggesting ex-Orthodox stories are the only cause of antisemitism – they certainly are not – antisemitism existed long before Netflix and will persist until our painful exile has ended. At the same time, negative stories about the Jewish community are damaging. So damaging that even people who used to like Jews become more negative towards us as they see negative content about us. One reader commented:
I have been reading your articles in Jew in the City after watching several programs on Netflix. I came to your website in a search to determine whether Netflix’s shows and documentaries are an accurate representation. Thanks for providing education about your religion and culture. It has helped me have a more balanced view after seeing these shows on Netflix. Personally, I have always had a positive view of Judaism because my mother, who was a devout Catholic respected it. She always said that if she wasn’t Catholic, she’s want to be Jewish. Also, I have family friends who are Jewish (not Orthodox, though). But after watching several programs on Netflix, I began to have a very negative view. I have a personal commitment to practice seeking out balanced views whenever any media I consume or am exposed to triggers the “outrageous” button, which is what Netflix has done. I am really disturbed by Netflix’s negative portrayal, especially in light of how many attacks there are on Jews. Not everyone is a critical thinker. Today I reached out to Netflix to request that they present a more balanced picture of Jews in their programming. -Christine
People offended by my post also thought that I was suggesting that ex-Orthodox Jews, and people from the community who have had painful experiences, be silenced. I was not suggesting that at all. On the contrary, it is so important that we talk about our issues, so that we can fix them.
I used to think that the media had it in for the Orthodox Jewish community. Well, I still do, but since working with hundreds of Makom members for six plus years, I realize that while secular media loves to tell the worst and most extreme stories from our community, rarely showing a positive counterbalance, these tragic stories are real. We can’t pretend that they’re simply stereotypes. Yes, there are a “few bad apples in the community,” but if some of those bad apples are in leadership positions, the damage can be serious. We as a community not only need to talk about our problems to alleviate them, we should be proud to discuss them. Because self-reflection, humility, and growth are signs of a healthy society. At the same time, with rising antisemitism around the world, there is a real danger in airing our dirty laundry to the larger world. Yes, some antisemites will exist no matter what, but we don’t have to give them fuel for their fire and we don’t have to turn positive or neutral people against us.
So what should the take away be? Orthodox media outlets – ones that specifically cater to the community – must be courageous enough to face these challenges. There is already a trend for mental health issues and other problems that have been stigmatized in the past to get more ink than ever before in Orthodox magazines, but we need to see more of this. Some people who have been hurt by the Orthodox world specifically want to burn everything down and will delight in spreading negativity as far and wide as possible. They would not turn to Orthodox media even if it was an option. But I imagine that if people who felt traumatized and silenced in the community saw that there was space for them to share, be validated and comforted, many wouldn’t have the need to write the next tell all memoir or turn their tragic life into a TV series. Secular media is waiting to share these stories. Perhaps if frum media was too, we could keep these stories inside and fix the issues at their root.