It all started with women’s underwear. I kid you not.
One summer evening, after a long day of work, park, water slide, fighting with kids to come inside and eat and finally bedtime, I turned to my favorite pastime….Facebook surfing. I was lazily browsing through, when a post in a Jewish mom group jumped out at me. The details are a bit fuzzy, but it had something to do with some guys on a bus somewhere discussing women’s underwear. And whether it was OK or not. And of course, Jewish moms know everything, and soon opinions and thoughts and ideas and insults were being tossed around like pillows at my daughter’s latest sleepover party. Moderators were tagged and stepped in, the post got deleted, new posts about the old posts got started. Big exciting Mom Drama. And then, came the most sanctimommy line of all ‘Why are we discussing women’s underwear ? This is a group about MOMMY stuff’. Well, that was all I needed. I clicked on Facebook’s handy ‘Create new Facebook group’ feature, typed a few words in, and – because you can’t start a Facebook group with only one member – I added a friend who had been part of the drama, Sarah Goldberg Levine.
She asked to be co-admins and there was a new baby group on Facebook called Jewish Wives Talk About Anything. We posted about it in said Mommy group, which was still buzzing from the underwear drama, and not surprisingly, a small group who had been following the posts came on board. When we realized some of those moms were not actually married, we switched Wives to Women, and on July 14, 2014, Jewish Women Talk About Anything was born. We figured it would be a fun little joke of a group that would die down soon after.
But people kept joining. And adding friends. And posting. In the beginning, it was like Bais Yaakov Girls Gone Wild. People were taking the ‘anything’ really seriously and a lot of pretty private topics were coming up. An anonymous email option was set up and some really personal questions were being asked. To this day, I’ll never know if all of those situations were real. But there was lots of X rated talk going on. When the group was only a few weeks old, we discovered we had a troll! A profile with the name of Chaya Farkash, who had added many members, was found out to be a man parading as a woman. We tediously went through each profile that ‘Chaya’ added until they were gone. We were an official group now that a troll had infiltrated and we had some drama! Little did we know that little incident was just the first of many dramatic moments to come in the future. But besides for drama, there were also some great discussions taking place and we realized the group was actually something legitimate. After a few months, Sarah found the adminning to be taking over too much of her time and stepped down, and Rachel Friedman Breier took her place.
Initially, we thought we would keep the group small, and we even had an anti-lurking rule. From time to time, we called our little elves to actually search through the member list and would remove people who had not been active. We talked about capping the group at 100, 200, maybe 500. But people just kept joining. And it wasn’t just our friends who were part of our Orthodox circles. We used to messaged each person that wanted to join to help weed out fake profiles, and asked what their connection was to the Jewish community (this was before Facebook gave the questionnaire option), and we were getting answers like ‘I live in Boise, Idaho and don’t have any connection to Judaism so I am hoping this will be it’ and ‘I grew up practicing Judaism but I have no current ties to it now and don’t really know where to start’. At a certain point, we realized we had two choices. Make the group a secret, and keep it small and intimate – or allow those Jews who may need to have the connection to find us and join our family. And to me, once I read those messages about needing a Jewish connection, there really was no longer a choice. And so, we allowed the group to continue to grow. And grow it did. About a year ago, when JWTAA (as we often refer to it) hit 16,000 members, we added a third admin, Leah Stein, to help with what has become a part time job for us three. And when Rachel asked to step down as admin, she became a moderator along with Chani Friedman, Terisa Schor Grumer and Natalie Ell-Ell. To me, our group really became legitimate, when, after several sub-par cover photos, talented illustrator Talya Weinberg produced a gorgeous original piece of art showing just how diverse our group has become.
So here we are, nearly 4 years later we have reached 30,000 Jewish women sharing, laughing, loving, fighting and talking about – well – almost everything. There have been some low points in the group with intense discord, especially with regard to some sensitive political and religious topics. Sometimes the extreme differences between the various religious groups proved to be great and painful. We came to a realization a while ago that we cannot make everyone happy, but we do aim to take the feelings of the majority into account when running our group. Some members could not handle the extreme differences and left on their own accord. To some, JWTAA got a reputation for toughness and fighting and there are numerous posts in the tens of break-offs discussing how negative it is. Although, speaking of breakoffs, not all stemmed from annoyance, some were just a natural progression of wanting a smaller cluster of women in your circles or a more private place to air sensitive information. Here are over 15 breakoff groups with the words ‘Jewish Women’ in it though there are countless others that are secret or named differently. Note the “Actually” and RESPECTFULLY. I think those are my favorites 😀
But those who really know our group can attest to the fact that there is SO much positive and good, even amid the tension. So much learning and friendship and sharing and laughter and love. Women going through difficult times were able to get support, love, advice and resources. There have been menorahs of all sizes and Sukkot of all styles displayed, and Shabbat and Passover tables shared; latke recipes exchanged, shidduchim suggested, baby names discussed, friendships formed, and sometimes – simple questions like how to wash tzitzit answered. And so many times women went above and beyond to help members who posted about difficult situations, whether anonymously posted or not. A woman with a negative Mikveh experience got not just suggestions for better options, but volunteers to personally take her. Posts that started asking for ideas of frugal Chanukah gifts during difficult financial time resulted in a massive toy drive for kids who needed it. A women fighting for her get (Halachic divorce) got so much backing, that her get was given the following week. Women have asked for prayers for illness they are going through and good deeds done in the merit of loved ones. And many have shared photos of their healthy babies born after rough pregnancies that they posted about months before. And besides for all the intense stuff, there have been hundreds of jokes passed around (though some were inevitably offensive to some), tens of prizes won through JWTAA giveaways, and some pretty cool threads of getting to know one another (‘Name something that you have done that you believe no one else has done” was a great one). Really, at the end of the day, there is no other place that Jewish women of ALL ages and backgrounds can come together to discuss things and they are all on the same playing field. I never meant to start a ginormous group for Jewish women to talk about anything in. And I think its largely luck and surrounding myself by the right people that I am where I am today. And I really feel humbled and blessed that God chose me to be the creator and leader of such an amazing group of women. Now that it has become what it is, I feel an awesome sense of responsibility and always hope and pray I’m doing good with this opportunity given to me. Because at the end of the day, we are all Jewish sisters and are there for one another. And when the negativity seems too intense, I pull up those wonderful emails and messages like the one recently from my new friend, Shari.
Moving forward, we are looking forward to see what the group is going to continue to bring. We’re hoping this website of JewishWomenTalk.com will be an added opportunity to keep connecting Jewish women and allowing us to do what we do best – talk….and hopefully listen and learn as well. But no matter how big widespread this group or website ever becomes, I’ll never lose sight of the fact that it really all started with women’s underwear….