There was a world before social media, cell phones and personal computers. And we were okay.
It might be hard for some youngsters to imagine a world where we were not glued to a computer screen; where we got jobs through classified ads, phone numbers from a book, the weather report from the radio, plane tickets from a travel agent and information from encyclopedias in the library; where we learned from lecturers and where blind daters truly took a blind leap of faith. But today all that has changed with a few clicks on a screen, for better or worse.
Enter the influencer. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or any of the other social media sites we have, people are telling us all sorts of stuff. How to cook, shop, dress, decorate, be creative or be fit. There are others who show us new gadgets, hairstyles and travel destinations. Still others who advise us on our marriages, our finances, our politics, our health and more. Initially when we Jews joined the computer revolution, there were websites teaching Torah. One could find a listing of shuls, mikvaot and kosher restaurants nearby. You could even find a potential spouse online. So far, so good. But now that we have fully immersed ourselves in the influencer culture, are we still all good? I’m not so sure.
Numerous experts and articles have cited the toll on mental health that influencing takes. The relentless search for content, the stress of negative comments, the fear of falling rankings, competition with other influencers and of course the loss of privacy.
I’ve seen numerous Jewish influencers on fashion or food, pressed for content, turn to their personal life discussing their kids, marriage, mental health. Will they regret it in the future? Possibly.
I’ve also seen those who put themselves in danger just to get a Jewish human interest story. Unlike reporters whose purpose is to report the truth of violence, politics and war, these bloggers seem to be taking the risks for a click, a dollar or attention.
We start our mornings, saying “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, How good are your tents, O Jacob.” And now we have ripped off our tents and sacrificed our privacy to share every little thing for a click. And we share it with everyone.
In the past, a non-Jew could buy a Jewish newspaper or walk into a Jewish book store, but that was not a common occurrence. Now influencers are inviting the world in. Is it a good thing or not? The answer is still not clear, but one thing is certain—it stirs up controversy.
The latest brush with celebrity is a Jewish matchmaking show on Netflix. There are those who say the show illustrates marriage-minded dating, as well as the benefits of being shomer negiah, restraining from physical contact with the opposite sex. Others argue that some of the daters’ behavior and the immodest nature of the program is inappropriate and draws unnecessary negative attention to Jews. Perhaps there is truth to both. But the debate itself generated lashon hara, negative speech, we all would have been better off without.
Influencer culture has invaded our society, in the case of celebrity rabbis and/or experts who appear everywhere. There are scholars-in-residence for every holiday. Do they ever make their own sukkah or prepare their own Seder? They are on the radio, they are in every publication and they appear at events. They write books, arrange speaking engagements and have their own podcasts. Doesn’t Pirkei Avos tell us not to profit from the rabbinate? On one hand, they teach and inspire many of us, and they need to earn a living, too. However, there comes a point where overexposure starts to seem like relentless self-marketing.
The rabbis of yesteryear gained fame through their erudition and humble leadership. They never sought it out. They certainly didn’t market themselves. And many leaders from Moshe Rabbeinu to the Lubavitcher Rebbe were reluctant to take on their leadership roles at all. Their fame came with humility, responsibilities, sacrifice and burdens, not clicks or cash.
Given a choice of becoming a celebrity or maintaining privacy, perhaps these folks should ask themselves what their motivation or goal is. Would being in the spotlight be good for them, their family or their nation? Do they truly want to help others or themselves?
I recently had to ask myself these very questions. I wrote a memoir called “Unmatched” about being “unmatched” in a “matched” society and the struggle with faith and dating. I had to ask myself what I hoped to achieve.
I knew if I showed my face, I could probably do a book tour and would definitely sell more books. On the other hand, did I want to become a mascot for singles? No. Did I want to embarrass any of the other characters in the book? No. Did I want to lose my privacy or have people gossip about me? No. I thought of people who most inspire me. None of them seek attention or the spotlight.
It became clear to me that I would give up promotional opportunities that put me “out there.” Because what I most wanted most was to comfort and bring solace to the “unmatched,” while fostering sensitivity and empathy with the “matched.” I didn’t need the spotlight on me. And if my story was good enough, it would stand on its own.
Sarah Lavane is a writer living in Brooklyn. “Unmatched” is her first book. www.Unmatchedstory.com