- The Handbasket
- Bat mitzvah girls and Twitter Nazis
Bat mitzvah girls and Twitter Nazis
How Jewish art is thriving during a time of overt antisemitism.
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In one of the final scenes of the new film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah [no spoilers], 13-year-old Stacy Friedman stands on the bimah in front of her friends and family, points a yad at the Torah, and recites her haftorah portion. If you don’t know what half those words mean, you’d be forgiven. You’d also be in good company: The extremely Jewish film has been the global #1 movie on Netflix for the past week, and has become Adam Sandler’s highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes with 95% approval. It is, by all metrics, a hit.
This fact contrasts wildly with what’s happening on another major media platform: White supremacists on Twitter (sorry, I refuse to call it ‘X’) and its new-ish owner Elon Musk have gone full antisemite, promoting a hashtag to ban the ADL, an explicitly Jewish organization. If you’re not familiar with the names Andrew Torba, Keith Woods and Lucas Gage, you’d also be forgiven: but right now, they’re some of the most influential people on Twitter. These white nationalists have spearheaded the hashtag #BanTheADL, and got the site’s billionaire owner—who has previously exhibited his antisemitism—fully on board.
To fully understand the astonishing success of You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, let’s put the numbers in perspective: In the first full week after it premiered, Netflix says the film had nearly 22 million total views. That could mean individuals watched it multiple times, or multiple people watched it together once. Regardless, it’s safe to say that millions of people have seen and enjoyed this Jewish coming-of-age story starring Sandler’s daughter, Sunny.
It’s an impressive feat on its face, but even more so when you remember that there are only approximately 16 million Jews in the entire world. (About half of us live in the United States.) So even if every single one of us gathered our entire mishpacha to watch, that still wouldn’t account for all the views. The film is a bonafide hit, at least by today’s streaming standards, which, as a Jewish woman who was also bat mitzvahed, is actually pretty freaking cool.
Over on Twitter, Jews are also having an outsized impact–but one that only exists in Musk’s mind. He’s actively promoting the idea that the Anti-Defamation League—an organization formed the same year a Jewish Man named Leo Frank was lynched after being wrongfully accused of killing a Christian girl—is responsible for the seismic loss in ad revenue since his $44 billion acquisition. The people whose lead Musk is following are directly invoking Frank’s memory, and are pushing the lie that Frank committed the crime. It’s an example of the pernicious “blood libel” myth that has plagued Jews for centuries.
Author Shirley Reva Vernick defined blood libel as “a form of antisemitism when a Jewish community gets blamed, when a gentile, usually a child, disappears or is killed or hurt. Sometimes, a gentile child really would disappear, and sometimes it was just made up that it was, but that would be the excuse for the violence of the pogrom.” Vernick (my Aunt!) grew up in Massena, NY, where a real-life blood libel was perpetrated in 1928, and published a historical fiction novel, The Blood Lie, based on the incident.
The story of Leo Frank came head-to-head with overt antisemitism in a very real way earlier this year, when the Broadway revival of a musical based on his story debuted. On opening night of previews for Parade, members of the white supremacist group the National Socialist Movement accosted audience members waiting outside the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater to get in. Playbill.com reported shortly after the incident that the group “protested the show on the basis of denouncing Frank's innocence. Their flyers also described their opposition to the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit civil rights law group that assists victims of antisemitic allegations.”
The following day, the show’s composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown posted about the incident on his website.
“For the past couple of months, lots of people have been saying to me how important it is that we’re bringing Parade to Broadway right now, how the world needs to see this story at this moment in time,” Brown wrote of his musical that originally premiered in 1998. “Honestly, I’ve been kind of skeptical; the story’s been there all along.”
He continued: “But I have to acknowledge in light of last night’s events that there’s something about Ben Platt, a Jewish star, leading this American story about prejudice and scapegoating, right there in our weird little corner of the National Cultural Conversation, that really counts. Clearly it affects our audience. Obviously it’s affecting the other side as well. The Conversation was brought right to the stage door last night.”
[It’s also worth noting that the Parade revival opened to rave reviews and continues to be performed in front of packed audiences.]
I saw a production of Parade a decade ago at an off-Broadway theater in Brooklyn and was unsettled by it for the following week or so. My response was instinctual—ancestral, even—and Leo Frank’s story, which mirrored the story of an untold number of Jews throughout history, wouldn’t leave me. Set to Jason Robert Brown’s hauntingly beautiful music, the production shook me to my core. This was before Donald Trump was elected, before Charlottesville, before January 6th, before ‘Nazi’ became a part of my daily lexicon, and long before Elon Musk purchased Twitter. But still, I felt a chill in the air.
And then there’s the polar opposite of Jewish art: You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah. It’s silly and fun and portrays a completely different slice of Jewish life that was so familiar to me because I lived it: A New York City suburb with a large Jewish population where Hebrew school was the norm, and weekends in 7th and 8th grade were booked wall-to-wall with bat and bar mitzvahs that resembled weddings more than tween birthday parties. I laughed as Stacy practiced her haftorah portion, acutely remembering the frustration of getting it wrong and the joy of getting it right, and stressed about who would show up on her big day. All that combined with the natural ennui of being a middle school girl, I felt truly seen.
It can be difficult to square the popularity of You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah with Jews being blamed by the richest man in the world for all his problems. So much has changed in the world since Leo Frank was lynched, and it’s allowed Jewish artists like Adam Sandler to thrive. But even though we live in the Sandler era, we remain plagued by the same ghosts as Frank.
This dichotomy says a few things about the current state of media: The idea of a popular mono-culture as we once understood it is dead. We have favorite Instagram influencers and TikTok performers with millions of followers of whom our close friends have never heard. We watch the cable news channels that best cater to our political inclinations and remain pretty blissfully unaware of what’s happening on those our channels, and we consume fictional content that similarly reflects those same basic political values (my love for Justified and Ray Donovan notwithstanding).
It’s never been easier for two seemingly conflicting truths to exist. We live in a world in which both a bat mitzvah movie and an antisemitic hashtag can gain massive popularity at the exact same time. But the difficult part is feeling safe making the former, while we contend with the latter.