Updated: Dec 16, 2020
It has been a digitally heated week of Chanukah menorahs, pride parades, assimilation, political leaders' Chanukah tweets and attempted boycotting hispanic owned food companies (yes, you read that right...you literally can't write this stuff).
In this episode of The Newsfeed, we discuss some seemingly loosely related conversations of various activists making their case and fighting their war of ideals. Each case is unique but necessary to look at in aggregate in order to gain a deeper and more full understanding of the new dynamics of the digital landscape, how it works and the pitfalls we face as individuals and a society.
We kick off our discussion with an article penned by LGTBQ activist Sarah Prager about her personal experience growing up in America with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Her article which was published in the New York Times Family Section was allegedly the only article on Chanukah in the publication. Subsequent search seems to indicate that there were in fact other Chanukah related articles on the same date that they published her article. Tribe Journal has not confirmed if those blog posts were added subsequent to the publishing of the article in the New York Times.
In Prager's article she is admittedly an uninformed secular American who has little to know religious connection to Chanukah. She then goes on to explain to readers why she is essentially adopting the LGBTQ Pride Day as her special day for her children, in place of religion. Jewish leaders and writers criticize her and the New York Times for publishing her experience in a this or that format. For example, her closing paragraph explains that she isn't going to "force a tradition" just because she grew up that way. Instead she explains, "They need love and connection - no menorah required."
"This strange and unpredictable year has made me yearn for routine, but it’s also helped me gain clarity. I see that forcing a tradition just because it was a part of my childhood is not what my kids need. They need love and connection — no menorah required." - Sarah Prager, LGBTQ+ activist.
By framing her decision in this way, it has been argued that she mischaracterized the menorah and religious practice as being a "string attached" to unconditional love. Although this may or may not have been her experience, it is obviously controversial and arguably false to create such a false framework of this or that when it comes to religion.
Her article created quite a ruckus on social media and she told Tribe Journal that she's received dozens of emails with many requesting a zoom interview or phonemail to discuss her article. Dozens of Jewish blogs and digital magazines took to the internet to weigh in on her arguably insensitive delivery of her story of assimilation. She subsequently wrote a blog post on medium.com attempting to apologize to the readers while passing some of the blame to the New York Times and refused all interview offers to clear the air. This is where our discussion begins.
First, was she sincerely telling over her story in an innocent way? Her job after all is a writer and she has several books about LGBTQ history. However, one could also argue the other way that this was some calculated article intended to infuriate readers and catalyze the emotional energy, positive or negative, to propel her writings organically. Was it a calculated move? We discuss this further in the video (and kindly ask readers to stop trolling her.)
There are several other interesting features about Chanukah in this episode of The Newsfeed including Ian Harwarth's Opinion post in the Daily Wire asserting (and probably making a mountain out of a mole hill) that democratic leaders were tweeting Happy Chanukah "to all those who celebrate" without specifying Jewish people.
More interestingly, in his post he also takes issue with the misusage of tikkun olam (literally translated as repairing the world). Harwarth points out that G-d must be part of the picture when it comes to tikkun olam, a biblical term used to describe the process of bringing humanity and the world to fulfill its ultimate potential and purpose of peace, perfection and closeness with G-d. Although we don't necessarily agree with the characterization of the tweets, the incidental comment about tikkun olam it is an interesting point worthy of discussion which we explain in the episode on youtube.
Lastly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was reported to have called for boycott of Goya Foods which according to wikipedia has some 4,000 employees, $1.5 billion in annual revenues and which is ironically a self proclaimed itself "the largest U.S. Hispanically owned food company." Goya Foods' CEO Robert Unanue was praising President Trump at the White House which triggered Ocasio-Cortez to tweet out, "Oh look, it's the sound of me Googling 'how to make your own Adobo.'" Adobo is a large part of the Goya Foods brand. Ivanka Trump went on to tweet a picture of her holding a can of Goya with the caption, "If it's Goya, it has to be good."
USA Today reported that Unanue said on the Michael Berry Show, "When she boycotted us, our sales actually increased 1,000%, so we gave her an honorary - we never were able to hand it to her - she got employee of the month for bringing attention to Goya and our adobo.
"When she boycotted us, our sales actually increased 1,000%." - Bob Unanue, Goya Foods Company
What does all this mean to me?
We live in a great country with a wide variety of freedoms. Those freedoms are precious and make the United States the great nation that it is. In a social media age it is increasingly clear that publishing controversial content that triggers emotional responses is a new type of currency that can purchase free advertising and publicity. However, that same exposure doesn't come without a cost on society. In any debate there is a middle group who remains undecided. Activists must consider all aspects of the their efforts. Bad press is not always good press when it comes to activism. Sometimes even the best of intentions can engender the opposite return.
Think deeply and deliberate if weighing in will only serve to amplifying the message you so adamantly disagree with. Sometimes, it is better not to stir the pot while at other times it is simply unacceptable to remain silent.
J.P. Katz is Director of The TRIBE Group, a boutique mentoring firm helping individuals actualize their hidden potential.