Addicted to TikTok
Jewish teens absorbed by worldwide craze
January 29, 2020
By Kate Orlanski, Features Editor
Spend a day roaming the halls of Shalhevet and you are bound to see flocks of teenagers filming each other dancing, lip-syncing or performing other antics clip by clip on their phones.
This latest social media phenomenon is known as TikTok, and it has possessed the minds of teensglobally, providing them with an ever-present outlet for entertainment and creativity. It also has unlocked a universe of Jewish inside jokes, with Jewish-themed TikToks going viral.
“I downloaded TikTok as a joke and then it just escalated really quickly,” said sophomore Miriam Friedman. “Now I’m trying to become TikTok famous. It’s so relatable.”
BP Graphic by Ellie Orlanski
TikTok is an app that allows users to create videos up to 60 seconds long of themselves lip-syncing to music or comedy scenes. These bits of background audio are referred to as “sounds.”
Users can choose from a variety of colorful lens filters and visual effects, and also warp the filming speed of their videos. Outside of the TikTok app itself, the videos have been uploaded to other platforms as well, such as Instagram.
Sounds rather simple, so what is it that is intriguing 1 billion active users around the world? Developed in China, owned by a Chinese startup called ByteDance, and only three years old, according to businessinsider.com as of September it was the most downloaded non-game iPhone app in the world, with a net worth of $75 billion.
Most Shalhevet students interviewed said that being “relatable” was part of the appeal of TikTok. TikTok videos often reference situations that are oddly specific yet something that a niche of viewers can relate to, causing viewers to feel like they are part of an inside joke and then getting hooked on that feeling.
A niche they particularly enjoy is Jewish TikToks.
“I love Jewish jokes in general, so Jewish TikToks just make my day,” said junior Sophie Handelman. “They’re so entertaining, and they point out things that I never noticed before.”
A popular TikTok video that Shalhevet students like to film versions of is called the “Jewish School Check.” Users choose the Jewish School Check background sound, which is comprised of teenagers saying “Jewish School Check!” followed by the song “Golden Boy” by Israeli singer Nadav Guedj.
The trend is to take clips of things that a traditional Jewish school might have, anything from Judaic books to Jewish star necklaces to a mezuzah on a wall, while the “Jewish School Check” TikTok sound plays in the background. Some go as far as to poke fun at traditionally anti-semtic tropes, such as filming themselves tossing a dollar onto the floor and having friends pounce on top of it.
The “Jewish School Check” sound has 955 videos made public by various TikTokers as of January, and is a way that Jewish TikTok users can share some inside jokes.
“There are so many,” said junior Hannah Benji. “Last night I was watching TikToks and there was a Jewish School one and I watched it and they were all wearing Glouberman kippahs. It’s really beautiful that we are all connecting over this one app.”
Though they were wearing kippahs from Shalhevet’s annual fall basketball tournament, the boys in the picture weren’t Shalhevet students, she said.
Shalhevet students can also be spotted asking their teachers to appear in TikTok videos. Judaic Studies teacher Ms. Ilana Wilner said sophomores Benny Blacher and Miriam Friedman often include her in theirs.
One of them used a popular TikTok sound of rapper Cardi B screaming “What was the reason? What was the reason? What was the reason?!”
On top of the audio clip is a video clip of Ms. Wilner and Benny lip-sync yelling at the camera over Cardi B’s voice, with the caption: “When people are talking during davening.”
“They teach me a lot of different dance moves that are not really moving so much of your body,” Ms. Wilner said. “I am happy to do that with them. They usually end up turning them into memes.”
Most TikToks aren’t Jewish, so Shalhevet students delight in coming across a Jewish-themed TikTok.
“If I saw a good Gemara joke on my feed, I’d be extremely thrilled,” said senior Maya Tochner.
The non-Jewish ones are fun as well.
“Everyone is posting relatable things, and most of them are not Jewish things,” said Sophie Handelman. ““But then seeing Jewish things makes it even more relatable.
“Majority are about school,” said Benny in an interview. “I take the normal sounds and I turn them into a Jewish TikTok.”
Seventeen-year-old Sarah Timpa of Las Vegas, Nevada, found a TikTok niche in making Jewish-related content. Sarah has more than 6,600 followers on TikTok as of early January. Views of her videos range from thousands to her most popular Jewish-themed video, which has received over 1.3 million views.
That video consists of Sarah playing two characters, seemingly a Jew and a non-Jew, and is laid over an audio clip from the 2008 film Camp Rock. The audio background features a teenager exclaiming “She’s really good!” with no context — a viral internet meme and now a popular TikTok “sound.” Sarah’s is one of almost 60,000 videos using it.
As it plays in the background, two versions of Sarah converse.
“Oh, you’re Jewish?” says Sarah as the non-Jew, to which Sarah the Jew responds, “Yeah.”
Non-Jewish Sarah then replies, “Oh, so you speak Hebrew?” and the Jew replies, “Yeah.”
Excitedly, the non-Jew exclaims, “OMG say something!” to which Sarah as the Jew nervously replies, “Shalom.”
The non-Jew then exclaims to someone off-screen: “Wow, she’s really good!”
The video has more than 1.3 million views.
Among the 1,279 comments on this video as of late December, user @whyyoumad420, whose bio features an Israeli flag emoji, commented “I feel this on a personal level.”
Sarah’s first published video is dated from Oct. 21 — just 14 weeks ago — but she says her account did not gain attention until she posted the aforementioned viral video.
“Before I posted that video, I had like 500 followers, and after I posted that, the next day I had like 2,000 or something,” said Sarah, who attends Del Sol Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada, in an interview with the Boiling Point.
Sarah thinks her TikToks appeal to Jews because they are able to recognize the TikToks as experiences in her own life.
“I feel like it’s just because Jewish people on the app aren’t used to seeing Jewish TikToks,” said Sarah. “It’s kind of funny, when you see something relatable to you.
“For example, I work at Starbucks and seeing the Starbucks TikToks are really funny to watch because I work there too and I understand that. So I feel like it’s sort of the same thing when it comes to being Jewish.’
Sarah enjoys being able to create positive Jewish comedy.
“I can make being Jewish into something funny but not something offensive,” she said, “and not make mean jokes about it. Because I feel like when people think about making fun of being Jewish, it’s always in mean sort of ways, and like offensive things”
Sarah’s videos receive comments from other Jews chiming in with the joke.
“Almost every comment is like ‘I’m Jewish too!’ or ‘I’m Jewish’ — it’s so random,” said Sarah. “But people comment and say ‘so funny,’ ‘so relatable,’ or ‘this happens to me all the time.’”
She also occasionally receives comments like “I stand with Palestine.”
“It’s so weird,” she said. Like ‘okay, and…? Did I ask?’”
Sarah draws inspiration for her TikTok when she is in Jewish settings, including her Reform synagogue.
“I usually come up with them when I am at temple. I’ll just be looking at something and think ‘that’s kind of funny.”
When describing her goal as a Jewish TikToker, said Sarah in a phone interview with the Boiling Point, “I hope that I can make people feel included. Ultimately just for Jewish people to feel like they have a voice on TikTok.”
No one knows how long the TikTok craze will last. Since the dawn of social media, certain platforms have replaced others; in 2005, for example, MySpace was the most popular social network in the world, until the growing popularity of Facebook replaced it in 2008.
And while the TikTok app brings many teens together, others do not understand the hype. It also is something that some worry about as they develop hesitancy about spending too much time on their phone.
Junior Jack Resin chooses not to use TikTok because it can be a distraction.
“I think it’s really addicting and you can spend a lot of time procrastinating on that stuff,” said Jack in an interview. “I am a busy guy, I got stuff to do.”
Junior Gabby Bentolila is sharing the app with a friend — on the friend’s phone.
“I feel that if I get it on my phone I will get addicted to it,” said Gabby “and that is one more app that I will be addicted to and I don’t want that.”
But she finds them anyway — on Instagram.
“There are already a lot of TikTok videos that they put on Instagram, and I get very addicted to watching those,” Gabby said, “so if I get the app I will get even more addicted because they’re fun to watch.”
Others appreciate TikTok for being a tool to allow people to express themselves.
“Normally, people would be so self-conscious to dance in public,” said Ms. Ilana Wilner in an interview with the Boiling Point. “I feel like this is fighting the whole ‘finsta culture.’ Like hiding behind who you really are, and being like, ‘This is who I am and I am okay making a fool of myself.’”
Perhaps, she suggested, part of the app’s success is that it reflects something positive in the current generation.
“I think it is so aligned with who we are at Shalhevet.” she said. “We take our worth really seriously, but we do not take ourselves too seriously, we aren’t embarrassed by ourselves. We are who we are 100 percent, hashtag-all-in.”