Jewish Thought

Walking a Tightrope

As told to Barbara Bensoussan

I’ve been an early adopter of technology for years. I opened a Facebook page in 2008, and a blog in 2011. Then came Instagram. In 2015, I was at a Federation event in Cleveland where the guest speaker was the CEO of Instagram. My kids had already gotten into it, and while sitting there, I opened an account on the spot. 

Some of my posts are geared more toward frum people (Meaningful Minute and WhatsApp statuses), while others are geared toward the wider Jewish community (Facebook and Instagram). 

I enjoy technology and learning the culture of each platform. I also love people, so it was inevitable I’d end up using one to reach the other. The process of sharing my thoughts and feelings is natural for me; somebody once told me, “You live out loud.” I process my life and cope with challenges through writing things out and sharing them. It helps me, and it helps others who see themselves in my posts or who find inspiration in them.  

I’m a kiruv professional, and my goal with social media is to share powerful Torah content that has wisdom and conveys the beauty of Torah. I also show snippets of my own life to keep it real and show people I’m not a perfect person preaching from a pedestal, but rather a regular person who has her share of ups and downs. My inspirational content feels more authentic, because I also share how I survive and find light in the moments when I’m struggling or feeling low. 

As a side benefit, my being active on social media provides publicity for my career as a public speaker and relationship coach. But I’m not there to promote myself—I’m promoting a higher cause. I sometimes hear people say, “I want to be an influencer,” and to my ears it’s like a fingernail on a chalkboard! Why are you trying to influence people? What’s your tachlis? 

That’s one reason I decided to be authentic in my reels. I saw that I got more views, from both women and men, if I wore a wig and dressed up nicely. Which is kind of sad. So I made a conscious decision not to put out a curated version of myself. I’ll do reels in a tichel or with flour on my apron. My focus isn’t about putting myself out there as a celebrity. I’m selling ideas, not myself. 

Even given my very open, sharing self, some things just shouldn’t be shared; it’s a matter of respecting my own privacy. You don’t want to wake up with a “vulnerability hangover.”

Social media is a tool I use to get out messages and build relationships. You avoid self-centeredness when you make relationships reciprocal, that is, when you show interest in others’ messages or express gratitude for positive comments. You can’t come in with an agenda, and you have to be authentic and genuinely invested in others. I’ve made some of my best friends through social media (real friends, not just virtual friends), in the same way dating apps sometimes result in real relationships. The process is really not much different than reaching out to people in shul or responding to comments about an article or a book you’ve written.  

Tzenius, to my mind, is really about privacy. When it comes to my social media presence, which is about sharing my thoughts and my life, I sometimes find myself walking a tightrope, struggling to keep the right balance. I don’t share everything, even if it’s just about me. Even given my very open, sharing self, some things just shouldn’t be shared; it’s a matter of respecting my own privacy. You don’t want to wake up with a “vulnerability hangover” because you overshared some things that should have remained private. 

When my children were small, I could share their pictures freely. Now that they’re older, I have to ask them if they mind (some love being public, some don’t). My husband is more private than I am, so at times it’s hard for him if I mention family-related things. Once, in 2007, I wrote about something significant that was going on in my family because I wanted to bring the issue out into the open. I wrote the post spontaneously, cathartically, and while I’m not proud to admit this, I did not check with my family members first. In the end they were okay with it, but it really gave me pause for the future. It taught me that I need to be more sensitive, and that the sharing of my story may encroach on someone else’s story, and therefore their privacy. My family saw that the post created enormous benefit by throwing a lifeline to so many people struggling in shame and secrecy. Today I’m very careful to ask permission before sharing other people’s private stories. I don’t want to feel silenced, yet if I step on someone’s toes, I’m better off refraining.  

The benefit of sharing is that it creates conversations that would not have happened otherwise. I once created a support group on Facebook that was so beneficial we moved it to a WhatsApp chat for greater privacy. The blog post I’d shared about my family issue helped countless numbers of people. They thanked me and told me I’d given voice to their private shame, and I made one of my best friends through that post. But I’m always weighing the benefits of my posts against any potential overstepping of privacy that could happen, and checking with the people involved to make sure everyone is on board. 

Rebbetzin Ruchi Koval is the co-founder and associate director of Congregation JFX, an innovative kiruv community in Cleveland, Ohio. She has been a Jewish educator for two decades, leading mussar groups for adults and teens, and mentoring educators around the world.

More in this Section

Rethinking Tzeniut by Bracha Poliakoff

Modesty: An Educator’s Perspective by Shifra Rabenstein, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

My Tzeniut Journey by Josepha Becker

A New Approach for Teens by Dr. Zipora Schorr

Tzenius: The Key to an Inner Life by Rabbi Reuven Brand

Can Social Media and Modesty Coexist? by Alexandra Fleksher

Public and Private in the Age of Instagram by Rabbi Yisrael Motzen

To Post or Not to Post by Gila Ross

High Fashion, Higher Standards by Sandy Eller

This article was featured in the Summer 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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