Assessing the constant outrage culture with Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt
The writer and journalist joins JI's 'Limited Liability Podcast'
Writer and journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt joined “Limited Liability Podcast” co-hosts Richard Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein to discuss the latest controversies — including Ben & Jerry’s and the new Netflix show “My Unorthodox Life” — plus her own life as a journalist and a rabbi’s wife, bridging the secular-religious “chasm,” as she calls it, and the politics of kosher certifications.
On the rise of outrage culture: “I don’t know if you saw that meme — you know, that popular meme with the guy walking with the girl and he’s turning around, look at another girl. So that literally is what it’s like. We’re jumping from one to the other….A lot of this is a product of what Twitter has done to our brains, where we’re sort of addicted to the adrenaline, that outrage, and the way that the algorithm rewards it. You know, that’s really what it’s sort of, I think, sparked in us. As a journalist, I find it very disturbing, and partly because I feel that I have been complicit in this as a media person. My job is to actually contribute to that. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be in and I think, simply, in the Jewish community we have let it go really far… I’ve definitely seen that in the wider Orthodox community this past year, where people were sort of pushed to their limits due to the pandemic, due to the heated political climate. And it has really caused strife in families and communities. I say this is a rabbi’s wife who has gotten people, even before pandemic, we had people telling us after a beautiful catered Shabbat dinner in the synagogue, they would walk out and they would say, ‘Thank you so much, Rabbi, but next time never seat us next to people the other side of the political aisle.’ I literally had that happen several times. I think that social media outrage has contributed to it.”
Sped-up outrage cycles: “I think it’s immediate and also, it’s all consuming. It follows you wherever you go. It’s in a device that is glued to your hand and glued to your eyes. There’s no way of escaping unless you’re someone who has an incredible amount of discipline and does not exist online. You’re seeing this constantly. You’re bombarded by it. And not only that, I think you’re constantly pushed to have a take on something, to have an opinion, to make a statement. I sometimes have people reach out to me [and] say, ‘You know, I noticed that you didn’t post something about x outrage du jour?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not a politician. I don’t see myself as that sort of a public figure. I’m not going to respond to absolutely everything that the Jewish world or the larger world is losing its mind over.’ But social media has convinced us of — what a writer at The New Yorker recently called this ‘main character energy’ — where we are all main characters in this big narrative, and we all have to have our takes, we all have to have our positions.”
Secular/Orthodox Chasm: “I will say this as an Orthodox Jew who has spent some years in secular, liberal Jewish media: I felt there was just this huge chasm between us, and our Jewish experiences and what sort of defined our Judaism. For me, my Judaism is not defined by bagels and lox. And it’s not about summer camp. It’s my own. It’s my entirety of my life, every single day, when I wake up in the morning, and I say a blessing. It’s when I go to sleep, and I say Shemah, with my kids. It’s my entire day in between. I think that’s true for most Orthodox Jews. It’s a constant way of life. And, and there’s unfortunately, a lot of misunderstanding for both sides… As an Orthodox Jew, I feel that it is my responsibility to be able to try to bridge that gap as much as possible. I tried to do that, in my journalism, and in my very tiny, individual way, sort of tell stories of real Orthodox Jews who struggle with different aspects of their lives, but are choosing this way of life. And there are clear reasons for why they choose this code of values.
On living as an outspoken writer: “It’s very uncomfortable, because there’s always attacks on both sides. I think, from within the religious community, of course, I’m too out there; I’m too feminist; I talk too much about issues. And from a secular standpoint, there’s this constant, ‘Well, why are you still religious? You’re still doing that long sleeve thing?’ You know, I get that all the time from people.. This is a really big statement, but I think the vast majority [of the Orthodox community is] living those tensions in some way or another. Not necessarily gender, but with the tensions of modernity and tradition. And you see that in all aspects of life. And we don’t normalize that enough. So when you were that one person talking about it, people sort of look at you in shock.”