A “News” Report on the Nekadesh Event Was Not Only Sloppy and Shoddy Journalism, But Also Misogynistic
I must admit that it was the last thing I expected to see so blatantly in 2022 on an avant-garde news outlet such as the JTA, which always tries to check off all the “politically correct” boxes. However, there was no mistake about it. The largest Jewish syndicate was guilty of being misogynistic. They bought into the male stereotypes claiming that women are incapable of making their own decisions and need males to tell them what to do.
Really, are you even allowed to say that when a woman makes a decision today it is because some man forced her, or that she is incapable of thinking for herself or making her own decisions? That, however, is exactly what the JTA article about the two recent Nekadesh events blatantly claimed.
Many years ago, I discovered a rule about news that I want to share and point out in real time to our readers. My intent isn’t to chalilah make you more cynical, but just more aware. The rule is that if you actually witnessed a story in person that was later reported in the news, you will realize that the news source got so many things wrong that it is embarrassing. It is doubly embarrassing to realize that all the thousands of people who are consuming that news are being fed such nonsense under the guise of news.
Before I tell you what the JTA wrote, let me explain to our readers a bit about the JTA. The JTA stands for Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It is a syndicated news organization (that has been around since 1917) whose news is carried in hundreds of Jewish publications throughout the world. Basically, a small Jewish newspaper doesn’t have the resources and manpower to report on important Jewish issues throughout the world. What do they do? For a nominal fee, they convey the news provided by the JTA to their readers. The JTA makes money because many papers and online news sites use their content, and the papers gain because they don’t have to pay their own reporters.
Now, it is not only small hometown papers that use the JTA. Their report about the Nekadesh event was widely reported in national and international publications, such as the Times of Israel, the Forward, and others. Sadly, all their readers were given a false picture of what really happened. How could they not? It was clear that the writer hadn’t bothered to attend the event upon which she was “reporting,” and decided to cherry pick quotes, most from anonymous, unverifiable sources and from academics who are not part of the chareidi community, who study us like laboratory specimens without living our lifestyle or having a true understanding of our lives.
Some 40,000 women came together to attend the recent Nekadesh events at the Prudential Center in Newark in order to elevate themselves in their relationship with technology, but you would not have known that from reading the JTA piece (https://www.jta.org/2022/07/01/religion/orthodox-women-built-businesses-and-friendships-online-theyre-being-told-to-sign-off).
Although, as a male, I did not attend either of the events, I heard firsthand positive feedback from immediate family members and numerous others who attended both the Yiddish and English events, and I also listened to recordings of choice parts of both events. Suffice it to say that the report in the JTA did not even remotely resemble what I heard from both those who had attended and from the recordings.
The JTA Thrust: Male Dominance and Coercion
I bet that you cannot guess the thrust of the JTA article that sought to enlighten their readers throughout the world about why 40,000 women left their homes and children and shlepped to Prudential on a hectic weekday night.
Therefore, let me summarize: The chareidim are anti-women, and women are being encouraged or commanded to make sure that they remain second-class citizens. In case you didn’t know, these poor women who attended – many of them accomplished women who run high-end businesses – are too stupid to think for themselves and too submissive to voice their own opinions.
The JTA effectively stereotyped accomplished, well-read women as fools who take orders from uncouth men, just because they are male. How misogynistic can you get? Had this article been written about any other community, all the women’s advocacy groups would be up in arms and the person who wrote the piece and the syndicate that ran it would be “cancelled.” The women’s advocacy groups would be yelling, “Women can speak for themselves! Are you actually claiming that 40,000 women can’t think for themselves? Are you claiming that they only came because they were forced to do so by men? Are you claiming that their feelings of inspiration don’t count because they can’t think for themselves?”
Too bad I didn’t get the memo that this rule that mature accomplished women can think for themselves only applies to some women. It seems that Orthodox and certainly “Hasidic” women are different. It actually reminds me of George Orwell’s famous satirical words when discussing the rules in Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others…” We can paraphrase that statement and say, “All women are equal, but Orthodox women…”
Insinuations and Accusations
Here is the headline of the nearly 2,000-word article written by someone named Jackie Hajdenberg: “Orthodox Women Built Businesses and Friendships Online. They’re Being Told to Sign Off.”
From reading the article, you can clearly discern that she didn’t bother to personally attend. The gist of the article is that chareidim don’t want women to be successful in business or free to explore all the “wonderful” things that the “wonderful, enlightened and moral” world outside the medieval enclave in which they live has to offer.
Instead, they are being encouraged to focus on connecting with their children and their families. How awful! What a chutzpah to encourage a mother to take her eyes and mind off the screen and actually focus on her kids!
Even worse, when some women were inspired at the event to either limit or give up their social media accounts, such as Instagram, because they recognize the damage to their families and their relationships, instead of being lauded for the fact that they are putting their values, their children and their families before their bottom line, they were criticized as stupidly naïve women who are subjugating themselves to the dictates of evil men. (Yes, in case you didn’t realize, the subliminal message of the article is that women should realize that many men, especially those with long white beards, are evil, and the primary interest of those awful men is to hurt you, subjugate you, and make sure that you are unsuccessful.)
Before I continue, I hope my readers will excuse the cynicism throughout this column. I don’t usually write this way, but the journalistic crimes in the article combined with the arrogance and condescension of the writer to the very valid concerns of more than 40,000 bright, educated and caring women was too much for me to just keep quiet about the agenda-driven drivel that passes for journalism at the JTA.
Now, let us analyze how this Jackie Hajdenberg structures the article. She starts by quoting the post from a prominent wig dealer in our community whose business had nearly 40,000 followers on Instagram, amassed over nine years, who, after the Nekadesh event, abruptly announced her departure from the social media platform. She quotes a commendable sentence from that post: “I choose to leave this world of likes, followers and filters. I will be leaving Instagram to live in the real world. I want to focus on curating my real life, filtering my thoughts and speech and sending love and likes to the important people in my life.”
Such a choice, the author of the JTA piece obviously concluded, could not have been made by this woman herself. She must have been forced or browbeaten into it. The writer then sought a real (or imagined) quote, not from someone who actually attended the event, but an anonymous “Hasidic woman” who did not attend and who spoke “on the condition of anonymity because she still lives in a Hasidic community in Borough Park.” Here is the quote: “They force themselves to sit through this, being told how evil they are, how decadent they are today with their obsessions with ridiculous things and how spiritually inferior they are… And they sit there and they listen to it and they nod and they accept it all and they internalize it.”
So, this is the quality of crack journalism at the JTA – an anonymous “Hasidic” woman, real or imagined, who decided why the 40,000 women attended (and paid money to attend!).
(By the way, this anonymously quoted Hasidic woman, if she actually exists, is oppressed. You know why? Because she lives in Borough Park, and she is terrified of the reaction of her neighbors if she discloses her name.)
According to the JTA, this was the reason why so many wonderful women from our community chose to upgrade their relationships with Hashem, with those closest to them, and some even sacrificed business. The reason wasn’t altruistic at all. It was the “big bad rabbis” who are subjugating these poor women. That is the “real story” the JTA is feeding its readers all over the globe.
Didn’t You Know?
The Focus on the Women Was Because They Didn’t Succeed with the Men!
The article goes on to say that the reason they were focusing on women is because the men won’t give up their smartphones, so they are trying to get those women, who are bigger suckers than the men, to give them up. Hmm, in the yeshiva world for sure, I think there are far more women who have smartphones than men…but don’t let that inconvenient fact get in the way.
The author also falsely hypothesizes that the Citi Field event for men ten years ago was a colossal failure, so they are now focusing on the women. Yep, women can’t think for themselves.
Now, anyone who recalls the Citi Field event remembers the transformative impact it had on the community to at least highlight the dangers of the internet. It was undoubtedly that event that served as the impetus for the mass filtering that ensued. It opened the eyes of the public to the acute dangers of the internet, thereby making us far more aware of the dangers.
The Crime of Appealing to Maternal Instincts
Getting back to the JTA article. Do you know what oppressive travesty Ms. Hajdenberg accused those bad rabbis of? “They appealed to women’s maternal instincts — a winning line in a community where fertility is prized, and women typically have many children and are responsible for their education.”
Oy, how horrible! The implication is that “prizing fertility” instead of allowing women to pursue a vaunted career and think about their families as an afterthought is backwards. Appealing to their maternal instincts and their love of their children? Oy, how terrible. To ask a woman to contemplate the negative impact of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, so that she can actually be there for her kids? How backwards!
Yes, the pre-historic world in which the chareidi community lives is, indeed, a terrible, abusive place. Imagine cultivating “maternal instincts” over the constant enlightened instinct to check one more WhatsApp message, one more Tweet, one more “Like,” or another scripted, curated and unrealistic image on Instagram. What an outdated notion in 2022 to actually prefer maternal instincts over the “freedom” of social media!
So, instead of attending the event and really trying to understand the motivation of the women who attended, and trying to garner quotes from actual people from the communities, with names, (yes, we have names; we are not that “erased” yet…), the writer chose to go all the way to “Ayala Fader, an anthropology professor at Fordham University who studies Hasidic communities,” to give us her brilliant insight into the specimens she is studying in her anthropology studies.
Ms. Fader tells the “real story”: “Men were refusing to give up their smartphones,” she said. “So leadership decided to focus on women and their responsibility for rearing kids and keeping the home and really protecting the next generation.”
Uh huh. It is those dictatorial men again. She then supports that utterly false claim by once again quoting an anonymous (obviously) “Hasidic” (what is Hasidic?) “woman” who says, “Women finally found an outlet where they can network and it lets you build successful businesses via the internet,” said one Hasidic woman who works in digital marketing and is the sole breadwinner for her family. (Oy, those terrible Hasidic men who can’t even earn a living and force their wives be the sole breadwinners.) “And now the men realize, ‘Hey, this is terrible! Women having access to other women that are talented, successful, powerful businesswomen. So, let’s condense them even more, make them into mere shadows.’”
That, if you read the JTA, which unfortunately many thousands of Jews who don’t know our community firsthand do, is what happened at the Nekadesh gatherings.
Now, for the Truth!
If the writer would have actually made the effort to talk to women in our community instead of remaining in her little bubble of Twitter feeds from disgruntled people, without actually making the effort to really get to know our world, our priorities and our concerns, she might have gotten real quotes from women who are educated, smart, and very aware of what is going on, and really care and are really worried about their future and that of their children. She would have realized that these women have made the determination that every convenience comes with a price. She would have realized that the vast majority of women who attended are altruistic and unselfish enough to sometimes make sacrifices for the benefit of their children and their families. Yes, those maternal instincts have a purpose!
I think, however, that there is a message for all those lazy journalists who are cloistered in their little echo chamber together with anthropologists and other academics who study us as if we are lab specimens.
Our choices will, by and large, lead us to raising our children who will grow up and be a source of nachas and comfort and will care for us in our old age. Many of the “free ones” who prize “freedom” over family will at best rot in an old-age home at the mercy of underpaid, uncaring caregivers.
Think about it.