Jewish influencers entertaining, educating on TikTok

and educating on TikTok

TikTok image
Pictured: (Left) Michael Winner, a lover of the stage, is making a name for himself on TikTok. (Center) Psychology professor Dr. Inna Kanevsky draws upon her experience as a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union to inspire TikTok users to think critically. (Right) Twenty-something Cameron Bernstein uses the social media platform to teach Yiddish to a whole new generation.

Michael Winner ( @michael_winner21 ) is making a name for himself, one video at a time. "It's cool because people are watching me be myself," he said, "I let my big mouth just talk and hope something funny will come out of it."

His strategy is working, as he's developed a following of hundreds of thousands on the wildly- popular social media platform, TikTok. To be fair, Winner brings quite a bit of experience appearing before an audience.

Growing up in Naperville, he performed on stage every year, starting with theater camp as a third grader.  He's now a senior majoring in musical theater at Indiana University, where he landed the coveted role of Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a freshman.  "It was the weirdest, craziest thing I've ever done, and the definition of college theater," he said.

While Winner's TikTok videos portray his daily life, he's also developed a couple of original series, including Rangoon Review with a Jew , which he calls an "excuse to eat crab rangoons," and Gay in Nature, featuring his summer as a counselor at OSRUI.

He says he just wants to "make people laugh," but, in fact, he's doing much more.  When he posted a video of himself receiving a COVID vaccine while clearly displaying his panic over needles, he inspired others to get their shots.  One follower commented, "My biggest fear is needles, and this actually helped."

Winner is one of countless Jewish influencers making their voices heard on TikTok.

After completing one year of Yiddish classes before graduating from the University of Chicago, Cameron Bernstein ( @c.o.bernstein ) wanted to continue practicing the language and TikTok provided the avenue to do so.  The 20-something from Long Grove began creating videos for TikTok with the additional goal of putting the language back on the map.

"The older generation in my family wanted my grandparents to be more Americanized and didn't teach them Yiddish.  It's common in many families who wanted to let go of the Old World and assimilate," she said.

Through her videos, Bernstein is teaching the language, as well as the culture and history of Yiddish, within the wider story of Judaism.  At the same time, she's delivering a message of inclusion.  "By exploring what is a minority language and cultural experience, I'm learning to be kinder and more sympathetic to communities outside my own," she explained, adding, "I also want people to know you don't have to be perfect at something or an expert to teach."

Dr. Inna Kanevsky 's ( @dr_inna ) grandparents never taught her Yiddish, but it wasn't to help her assimilate in the United States.  Their goal was to protect her as she grew up in the former Soviet Union.  "I was always outspoken, the kind of person who would say things without a filter," she said.  Now, decades after immigrating to the U.S. in 1994, she says whatever she wants on TikTok-and some one million people are paying attention.

Drawing on her life experience, work as a psychology professor at San Diego Mesa College, and some creativity and comedy, Kanevsky posts videos to denounce false information that appears on social media.  "I'm lucky to have this opportunity to talk to young people about my field as a science and about how issues connect," she said.  In addition, Kanevsky tells her story of living as a Jew in the Soviet Union and addresses antisemitism.

Above all, she wants viewers to develop critical thinking.  "Don't just believe something someone said on TikTok," she warns, encouraging everyone to consider, "How do you know it's accurate?"  That reminder to ask questions is an important Jewish lesson playing out regularly on TikTok.

Julie Mangurten Weinberg, a former television news producer and member of the JUF Women's Board, lives in Northbrook with her husband, two teenage children, and three cats.


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