Life & Culture

Meet the Orthodox women educating non-Jews through Tiktok

Jewish women are demystifying their faith by answering questions on their kosher lives


Melinda Strauss was running a kosher food blog when she started to get random questions from outside the Jewish community. Ranging from the basics (what is Shabbat) to the absurd (why do Jewish people like round glasses), the questions had nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of preparing dinners.

Strauss started answering in the form of Q&A videos, and a new TikTok channel was born.

The mother-of-two from Long Island is part of a new wave of Jewish content creators sharing Jewish rituals, combatting antisemitism, and answering the questions of curious gentiles across the world.


The current State of Israel turned 75 this year so it was so fun to celebrate @@Israel in NYC with so many schools and organizations! Our land of Judea has been around for thousands of years, many have tried to conquer it and take it as their own, and I’m so proud of our Jewish homeland, even if that’s not where I choose to live right now. All Jews have the right to self determination in Israel and THAT is what Zionism is all about. Over 90% of Jews are zionists so please take your hate somewhere else #celebrateisraelparade #israelparade #israeltiktok #proudjew #jewishtiktok

♬ original sound - Melinda Strauss ✡️

And this type of video has blown up on the platform. #JewishTikTok has racked up 3.4bn views, over a billion views per year since TikTok took off in 2020.

Today, Strauss has 830,000 followers on TikTok, flocking to see her videos answering conundrums such as whether orthodox Jewish men can listen to women sing, or how to wash a sheitel. This new type of content is filling a much-needed - if niche - gap for the Jew-curious Tiktoker. “Part of the reason for the growth was because the information wasn't out there,” says Strauss. “Nobody else was doing that.”

For Strauss, no inquiry is too ridiculous. On her page, she assures her followers that there is no such thing as a stupid question. “They've never had anyone to ask before. I want them to feel it's a place where they can ask crazy questions. I'd rather they hear from someone who's lived this life and who understands Judaism that can help them understand.”

Inevitably, among the innocent questions are frequent antisemitic comments, to which Strauss responds in typically constructive ways. “Anything that you can think of that's antisemitic, that we all have money, that we have 5,000 children, that we run Hollywood,” she sighs, adding that she shares only a few of these on her channel to raise awareness. “I always like it to feel productive. If I make my entire page about that, I'm only going to attract more hate instead of educating people on what I believe is going to help people hate us less.”


Sabich (סביח) is a sandwich stuffed with fried eggplants, hard boiled eggs, chopped salad, parsley, amba and tahini sauce. It’s an Iraqi Jewish dish that has become a staple of Israeli cuisine, as a result of Iraqi Jewish immigration to Israel #groceryhaul #foodhaul #jewishfood #sabich #jewishtiktok

♬ original sound - Melinda Strauss ✡️

So why are people so fascinated by orthodox Jewish life? Strauss feels that there is a mystery surrounding orthodox Judaism, due to the community keeping itself to itself, which feeds outsiders’ curiosity. Meanwhile, the popularity of recent TV shows such as Unorthodox, with their focus on people leaving the flock, don’t help to curb stereotypes, which is why, to Melinda, authentically presenting the everyday lives of real Jewish people is so important. 

“We have always been told, ‘keep your head down’. It's something that we as a community do, and it's not a bad thing, but it's created an aura of mystery around us.

"And with the rise of antisemitism and the stereotypes that have started showing up on Netflix and in movies, suddenly you have these orthodox Jews showing their lives on TikTok and people are going, ‘but that's not anything like I thought it was’. They're fascinated by me because I don't look like a typical orthodox Jew that they see on TV shows.” 

It’s why she’s so frequently asked whether women who wear wigs shave their heads, and why she doesn’t cover her hair. “I choose not to!” says Strauss. “It's not what they're used to seeing. But Unorthodox is about a tiny sect of Chasidic Judaism. People think Orthodox Jews shave their heads, but that's not what every Orthodox Jew does.” 

She points, too, to the reality series My Unorthodox Life, for creating “a lot of hostility”. 

“Why push so hard to have a show like that on, especially in a time where antisemitism is on the rise? Why keep showing these programmes that are all about people leaving Orthodox Judaism? I don't understand it.”

Strauss is by no means the only or even most popular Orthodox Jewish TikToker. Miriam Ezagui, a midwife from Brooklyn, producing similar videos has nearly 2m followers. The 37-year-old mother of four had been running a babywearing page as “a reason to get up and motivated” and get out of her pyjamas while tending to her new baby, when she felt compelled to respond to Whoopi Goldberg’s statement last year that the Holocaust wasn't about race.

Until that point, Ezagui had no intention of identifying as Jewish, but being the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors and having a ready-made platform made her reconsider. Her first post explained why Goldberg was incorrect, and what the Holocaust was really about.

“It motivated me to speak out and educate,” she says. “Who could be better to educate people than somebody who's Jewish themselves and has family that went through the Holocaust?”

While all her posts are united by her characteristic friendliness, Ezagui offers two different types of videos. One is a day in the life - think ‘come with me as I get ready for Shabbat’. The other begins: ‘Hello, my name is Miriam and I am an Orthodox Jew’ before she informs viewers about her life and customs.

“I'm trying to give people a peek into my life as an Orthodox Jewish woman,” says Ezagui, who feels that educating people will help to remove the ignorance that fuels antisemitism. “I want to break it down to people, no matter what their background and education in Judaism is, so it's something that they can understand. It builds bridges and dispels myths.”


Shopping a Bingo, a fully kosher grocery store #comeshopwithme#orthodoxjewishlife#jewishtiktok#jewtok#kosher#kosherfood#groceryshopping#grocerystore

♬ Jewish Music - Dar Golan

Her first video that went viral followed her as she shopped for Passover at a kosher grocery store. She then started to share videos featuring her grandmother, who is now 94. One in particular, she says, went “mega-viral”. Telling the story of how Nazis at Auschwitz put a drug into the food to stop women from menstruating, her grandmother’s video picked up 23 million views. 

“There were a lot of comments saying, ‘That's not true. It's because of starvation,’” Ezagui recalls. “And when I asked her how she came to this information, she said, ‘Because I was a cook in the kitchen and I had to put this medication in the food myself.’ That was the first really big viral moment for my channel.” 


Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering all those that perished and those that lived though the hell. NEVER FORGET! #holocaustrembrance#holocaust#Auschwitznneverforgetj#jewish

♬ original sound - Miriam Ezagui

The day the video went live, it prompted a call from a Canadian professor who happened to be writing a paper about how women in Auschwitz suffered from amenorrhea as a result of their food being drugged - and it was being published the next day. “What my grandmother said was groundbreaking because out of all of the hundreds of women that [the professor] had interviewed, nobody had said that they saw what went inside [the food].” Her grandmother, however, could describe in detail the damp, pink, salt-like substance that was delivered in a small package daily which she then had to pour into the soup.

Ezagui's inbox is constantly flooded by messages from fans who have been affected by her posts, such as the new mother who had a wonderful birthing experience because her nurse was so accommodating of Jewish customs and laws. The nurse said she’d learned it all from Miriam on TikTok. “I get messages like this so many times and it makes my day,” says Ezagui.

From London, 24-year-old Ciara Shalome was also on a mission to ward off harmful preconceptions when she set up her channel Chaidentity to raise the profile of her Mizrahi heritage. 

“The idea that we are all white and European is also what creates negative stereotypes around Jews and relates to political narratives around Israel,” she says. “Because my dad is Yemeni and Iraqi, I thought ‘why don't I learn about my own heritage whilst trying to educate people?’”


♬ Alf Leila We Leila Studio Recording - Umm Kulthum

In September of 2022, the social media expert started her TikTok page, her hopes aimed low as she began to discuss her father’s Iraqi-Jewish culture, traditions and foods.

“A lot of the dominant social media profiles are either ultra-orthodox Jews, or Ashkenazi Jews, and there's nothing about the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. I wanted to change that. And it's somehow become quite popular, which I'm very proud of.”

She was surprised to gain a sizable following of predominantly Arab Muslims. Of her 77,000 followers on TikTok, she estimates that as many as 80 percent are Arab Muslims from Baghdad, Cairo and other parts of the Middle East. She ascribes this in part to making it her aim to not discuss Israel, and politics. “I just want to share similarities and unite people,” she says.


♬ Arabic music(268670) - TimTaj

Every day, Shalome receives messages from people across the Arab world telling her about how much they've learned and how they had no idea that these communities existed. Since Shalome is herself unable to visit Iraq, her followers help with her research, sending photographs of old houses there that once belonged to Jewish people. 

For Shalome, bringing Mizrahi history into the present via a format that’s easily digestible and accessible for younger generations is key to keeping the heritage alive. 

“My ultimate goal is to raise the profile of Iraqi Jews,” says Shalome. “The Jews were a huge, integral part of the Middle East and North Africa, and their contribution still exists today, and it's vital that they are not forgotten. Our Jewish community has a great deal of work to do in representing Mizrahi Jews properly, and not in a cliched way. The more people become interested in us, and see us as cool, the more people will be willing to help with that work.”

Shalome is not the only one whose TikTok site is driven by doing good. “I think, ‘is this helping the Jewish community?”’ says Strauss. “If I believe that what I'm doing and sharing is helping the world, then if somebody else doesn't like it, they can do it differently.”

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