How Montana Tucker’s TikTok series on antisemitism made it to the White House
Last month, the social media influencer known for her dance videos did a sit-down interview with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who, like her, had recently visited Auschwitz.
Scroll through Montana Tucker’s TikTok feed, and you’re greeted with a dizzying variety of bright colors and dance moves that look impossible. The crystal-clear skies and electric blue ocean waves of Santa Monica provide an envy-inducing backdrop to the short videos.
Last month, the dancer and social media influencer — she has 9 million followers on TikTok and nearly 3 million on Instagram — swapped her workout clothes for a suit, and traded Hollywood for Washington, D.C. Tucker was in the nation’s capital to participate in the inaugural White House Jewish Women’s Forum, and to do a sit-down interview with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who, like her, had recently visited Auschwitz.
“We’re two completely different people with completely different followings, and it was really powerful for us to come together to do something like that,” Tucker told Jewish Insider in an interview.
Like Emhoff, Tucker is using her platform to educate her diverse followers about antisemitism and share with them stories about her Jewish upbringing. The 30-year-old dancer and singer grew up in the heavily Jewish Boca Raton, Fla., where her family went to High Holiday services and where she studied for her bat mitzvah. (When her dancing and modeling career picked up, her bat mitzvah got put on hold — until she went to Israel as a young adult and had a coming-of-age service at the Western Wall.)
But Tucker’s most formative Jewish moments were those she spent with her grandparents, both of whom survived the Holocaust.
“Their whole lives, they were dedicated to Holocaust education. My zaide even wore a pin that said ‘Never forget. Never again,’” she recalled. “Every person they met, he let them know he’s a Holocaust survivor.”
Tucker traveled to Poland last summer with her mother, Michelle, to visit Auschwitz and learn about the country’s Jewish community before World War II and bear witness to the Nazis’ destruction. The emotional journey culminated with a 10-part docuseries that Tucker posted on her social media channels last fall. In April, her series was nominated for a Webby Award, which recognizes Internet content.
Visiting Auschwitz was an easy decision for Tucker, but posting the videos — adding the heavy, dark, emotional content to a feed that’s usually bursting with light — was a harder call.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen from it,” Tucker said. “I slowly took over my social media for 10 days of something that is so heavy and so important. I had to say no to brand deals and other things that I had to post.”
For a social media influencer, cultivating a brand — and gaining the followers who come to know and love that brand — is the most important currency. She wondered if she would be giving that up by dramatically refocusing her feeds for a week and a half.
But Tucker has been blown away by the reaction and the messages that have flowed into her account. Most came from people who are not Jewish who thanked her for teaching them about something that was legitimately new to them. But many messages also came from Jews who were surprised, and excited, to learn that Tucker is Jewish.
“They didn’t want to tell anyone they were Jewish because they were scared and ashamed, and then seeing my series, they felt really inspired, and they said I instilled this new pride in them,” she said.
In her conversation with Emhoff at the White House, he shared a similar story. An 80-year-old woman he met recently said to him, “I have lived my whole life in hiding as a Jewish person. But after seeing you out there talking so openly and joyfully about being Jewish, I am going to spend the rest of my days living that way.”
Tucker’s social media following is roughly equivalent to the number of Jews who lived in Europe before the Nazis came to power. But many of her followers knew very little, or nothing, about the Holocaust and modern-day antisemitism. She highlighted data that showed how antisemitism in the United States has reached record levels, and reminded her followers about the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 worshippers at a morning service.
The video series, called “How to: Never Forget,” teaches a rough history of the Holocaust, and follows an emotional Tucker from the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland, to a forest where thousands of Jews were slaughtered, to Auschwitz, the Nazis’ deadliest concentration camp. In one scene, she and her mother hold each other after finding their great-grandparents and grandparents, respectively, in the “Book of Names,” which lists millions of the Jews who died in the Holocaust.
“My grandparents would’ve wanted this. They spoke at the schools. They wanted, just, education,” Tucker said in the final video, sitting on the train tracks that lead into the camp. She started to cry. “We did it.”
Recently, her feed has returned to her usual programming, with Tucker full of smiles as she dances to the latest viral TikTok choreography. She is often dancing with a partner — ranging from professionals to little kids to women in wheelchairs — to show that dancing is for everyone.
“Everyone’s bonding over their love of music and dance, and that’s really special, to bring everyone together,” she said.
But Tucker isn’t done teaching her followers about Judaism. Last week, she appeared on a pre-Passover segment of “The Kelly Clarkson Show” to speak about antisemitism. And she hopes to go back to Israel later this year for the first time since she was there a decade ago.
It’s a “big priority for me,” Tucker said.