The Jewish heroes of TikTok

The social media platform TikTok is hugely popular and it’s being used to fight hate and ignorance


TikTok, the must-have app for under-25s, is renowned for silly, one minute videos of users mouthing their own lyrics to pop songs. But some Jewish social media talents are showing how education can be blended with entertainment on the platform, to remarkable effect.

There probably aren’t many 97-year-olds who even know what TikTok is, but Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert joined the app with her great-grandson Dov Forman to educate young people about the Holocaust. This week, they hit the million-follower mark.

Lily, who has been sharing her testimony across every medium available since the mid 1980s, started creating TikTok content with Dov, 17, a few months ago.

Speaking to the JC, Lily said it was “incredibly important” for Holocaust educators to use the app so that they could connect with young people, adding that she hoped to “raise awareness of what can happen when basic words of hate spiral out of control.” It was especially important for Jewish activists to be on social media.

Lily is often asked questions on the app about the conditions in Auschwitz and the experiences of young children or disabled people in death camps. Her TikTok account is usually young people’s first experience of getting close to a Holocaust survivor, she said, and so her testimony is an invaluable part of their education.

“I wanted to help my grandma share her story with as many people as possible,” Dov added.

Lily also shares her favourite Hungarian dishes (potato goulash) with viewers, talks proudly about her family, and educates people about Hungarian culture.

She said: “I enjoy making every video with Dov. I think it is very important and I am proud of the work we are doing to ensure the Holocaust, and in particular my testimony, is never forgotten. Even after liberation I never thought I would be able to have children (let alone 34 great grandchildren) so I love making the videos with Dov where we show family moments.”

Lily’s most watched video, which has 18.4 million views, is less than a minute long. It records her showing the number that was tattooed on her arm in Auschwitz. She explains that in Auschwitz, people were “no longer humans’’ and guards would refer to prisoners by their numbers instead of their names.

Although Lily has received antisemitic abuse on the app, Dov said “hate never stopped us, it only emphasised the need for us to do what we do”.

Josh Cohen, a 19-year-old student and TikTok influencer, started using the app during lockdown to educate people about antisemitism and Jewish practice. He often harnesses TikTok trends using popular sounds, images and references in his videos.

Josh, who has 23,000 followers, feels a responsibility to make content on TikTok. “A lot of my followers are young, 14 to 20 years old, and I can’t stand the idea of a young Jewish teenager coming to TikTok seeing no representation and loads of antisemitism”, he said. He admitted that having so much influence at the age of 19 is a bit “unnerving” at times.

He told the JC: “I have very strong opinions on a lot of things but I mostly tend to share it with my friends or across the shabbat table so it’s nice to have them heard and to watch it have an effect. Seeing people change their mind has been really satisfying.”

He encourages young people not to “be too scared off by rumours of antisemitism on TikTok because there’s a really beautiful, diverse, global Jewish community [on the app]”.

However, despite Josh’s positive attitude, he has (like most Jewish TikTok creators) experienced a lot of antisemitism.

He admitted: “I’m never really that surprised by antisemitism. However, I think I have a relatively easy time of it being a Jewish man versus being a Jewish woman. My female friends have received daily threats of sexual and physical violence.”

Max Olszer, 18, who has been using TikTok since February, has been teaching people about Yiddish and Ashkenazi Jewish culture. The content — which is followed by 55,000 users — is an eclectic mix of videos that represent their identity, interests and opinions. “I make videos about languages, being Jewish, being queer, loving music, singing, and any other random thought I feel like sharing in the moment,” he said. “I’m simply sharing a little bit of me, but online.”

During Jewish Heritage Month, Max made a video of himself singing If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. “People had been mocking the song and the niggunim all across the app, so I decided I would make my own version to show what it was supposed to be,” he recalled.

“It wasn’t a particularly well-produced video, just me singing to a karaoke track with my annoyingly long hair back in a hairband, but the video took off and got a huge amount of attention.

“In fact, it is still the most liked video on my page and the most popular video under the #myJewishheritage hashtag. My favourite part of the video was the comments. People were just gushing over the rhythm and timbre of a language most people had never heard, I was introducing my culture to people and they were falling in love.”

Lily Ebert is on TikTok as @lilyebert, Josh Cohen is @Josco224 and Max Olszer’s channel is @maxolszer


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