Collective Change

June 22, 2023

It’s a year after Nekadesh. What does the world look like today?

R. Silver

Employees are demanding filters on their computers.

Users are dialing from flip phones instead of iPhones.

Mothers are tucking their cells out of sight for suppertime.

Acquaintances are asking, “Do you text?” instead of saying, “I’ll text you.”

Societal changes are happening on all levels.

Because a kabbalah doesn’t just affect the one who commits to it. Its impact leaves an impression on others, which in turn creates ripples of far-reaching change.

Drop by drop, each commitment resounds with joy.

It’s the reminder that under the distractions and diversions, beneath the thrum of life and living, a neshamah cries out.

It’s the voice calling for clarity, for connection; the willingness to reconsider and reevaluate, to break through the noise and confusion; the yearning to transcend the everyday and touch greatness.

A paradox at play

“There’s an interesting paradox playing out today,” says director of TAG International Rabbi Nechemiah Gottlieb. “As the world is spinning in an out-of-control downward spiritual spiral, many people see the situation as bleak at best. Like drivers on a collision course, they duck and brace for impact, hoping that their injuries will be limited to broken bones.”

But there’s another side to the story—the side that not only isn’t cowering and afraid, but is taking the opposition head-on.

“There are people—you, the women of Lakewood—who are finding strength in the battlefield. You are a force to be reckoned with, uncovering fearlessness you never knew you possessed. You are striving and growing, taking real, quantifiable steps in your avodas Hashem. You recognize that you’re being challenged by the Ribono Shel Olam—and you’re ready to take on the test.”

Knocking on an open door

“We were knocking on an open door,” Rabbi Gottleib says of the Nekadesh women’s asifah, spearheaded by Rav Eliyahu Dov Wachtfogel last year.

As the crowds poured in, it was clear to Nekadesh organizers that the women had come with open hearts and minds.

“You showed a raw ehrlichkeit, a true desire for growth. You were willing to hear emes and inspiration. You were ready to step up to grapple with the challenge and find a path forward. You were able to seize an opportunity to grow. Twenty thousand women saw how doable, manageable, and winnable this fight can be if we take it on together.”

Nekadesh is now a part of Klal Yisrael’s lexicon, shorthand for yearning and connection and growth. Its aftereffects are profound and ongoing.

Bridging the generation gap

Technology is a relatively new challenge, and one of its unique aspects is the divide it’s created between the younger generation and the older generation. Particularly in recent years, the awareness raised has created a dynamic where the younger generation is often more careful than its seniors in regard to technology. As the issue of technology is emphasized and explored for both bachurim and girls, they emerge into adulthood with the knowledge and the resolve they need to navigate the nisayon. On the other hand, the older generation hasn’t received the same education.

“Before the Nekadesh asifah, the spectrum of people interested in learning about technology excluded most of the older population. Either they were completely uninterested in any technology or they didn’t see any problem with it,” Rabbi Gottlieb explains.

A monumental shift took place after Nekadesh, which spoke to all stripes and stages in the frum community.

“Suddenly, we had older women coming in and giving up their smartphones. They wanted to learn; they wanted to upgrade.”

This shift led to one of the most groundbreaking new initiatives: Hineini L’doros.

For years, the Hineini program has educated high school girls about the challenges of technology. Now, the demand for clarity is coming from their mothers.

“The goal of Hineini L’doros is to give over that same hashkafah that we teach in schools—geared to an older group. We have arranged Hineini classes in Lakewood, Monsey, Baltimore, and Dallas. There are so many people who have a thirst and a desire to learn,” says Mrs. Penina Rosenberg, a Hineini supervisor and teacher.

Mrs. Rosenberg describes the impact of these classes. “In every L’doros group, I have at least one woman who says she was dragged in by a friend. And it’s always that woman who is blown away by what she hears. When we get to the ‘halachah l’ma’aseh’ piece of the class, she is up in arms, asking why we don’t publish a kol korei so everybody knows this information. I always tell these women that Hineini L’doros is writing a kol korei one woman at a time.”

A message of empowerment

Thousands of women walked out of Nekadesh with the commitment to raise the bar on their standards of kedushah.

Today, in her way and at her level, each woman is tending to the flame that was lit last year.

Where’s the eye-rolling, the let’s-not-be-extremists attitude that was common a few years ago?

“People often feel that they are being judged and told that they are bad,” says Rabbi Gottlieb. “No one wants to hear a message when they feel criticized or condemned.”

Which is why once, many would have been cynical of the idea of attending a technology-awareness class. But not anymore.

As the Nekadesh event so clearly proved, when people are inspired and encouraged, they can reach unprecedented heights. The Nekadesh asifah didn’t just create awareness. The entire attitude toward learning about technology use has changed as well.

The goal of the gathering wasn’t to delineate what should be done. Instead, it was for each person to uplift herself, no matter where she is on her journey. The focus was on growth.

Mrs. Esty Weldler, Hineini teacher, shares, “When I walk into a classroom to deliver a Hineini lesson, I see that the girls come in excited. They’re eager to get clarity about it. I tell them it’s like a ‘v’zakeini’ moment; it’s like lighting Shabbos candles. It’s a mitzvah we want to do. That used to be true only of the girls, but now it’s happening to mothers in the Hineni L’doros classes too.”

Mrs. Rosenberg agrees. “I hear from people that they feel that instead of being looked down upon for taking on higher standards, they get admiration. People tell me that when their flip phone breaks for the third time and it’s hard to stick with their commitment, they remember the decisions they made at Nekadesh and they strengthen their resolve.”

One of Mrs. Rosenberg’s students put it in succinct teenage terms: “It’s become ‘socially on’ to be ‘socially off.’” In other words, growth in regard to technology has become the norm.

Businesses pivot

The shift in business owners’ perspectives toward using social media is one example of our changing communal view of technology.

Social media is used as a free or low-cost marketing tool by business owners worldwide. Since Nekadesh, the notion that “it is impossible to do it without an active account” is being disproved over and over again by frum entrepreneurs.

Moonlight Layette, a baby boutique, completely shut down its Instagram account. Their page now has a year-old message to join them on WhatsApp; nothing has been posted since.

A realtor who was new to the business had been encouraged to make use of Instagram. While she was still learning about the platform, the realtor attended the Nekadesh asifah. She never did start using Instagram.

Lil Legs, a popular children’s clothing store, put out a statement after Nekadesh that they wouldn’t be answering private messages between the hours of five and eight p.m. It might sound small, but it’s game-changing.

“I feel as if Hashem gave me a brachah,” says one business owner who, as a result of Nekadesh, massively scaled down her use of Instagram. “My company used to be all-consuming. This was the first year that it hasn’t taken over my life. I can leave work at 2:30 and not have to check my phone again all day.”

This brachah isn’t limited to the lives of those who made the choices. There were many who were quietly inspired by those who made the hard decisions, by those who seemed as if they had much to lose, and they too made changes.

Looking to the future

Looking at past trends assures us that technology is a battle that constantly needs new weapons to fight its unknown dangers. We need to keep asserting ourselves, reminding ourselves of who we are and what we stand for, and making use of the protective resources available to us.

“As the world is sucked into a vortex of illusions, as society is pulled lower every day, the nshei Yisrael are reaching ever higher,” Rabbi Gottleib says.


From the people

“I switched from a filtered smartphone to a flip phone after Nekadesh. I originally tried it out just for a day, and then for a month. I then decided to wait until Rosh Hashanah and then until Chanukah. By the time Chanukah came around, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be continuing with my flip phone.” —Sari

“My business uses Instagram. As per our rav’s guidance, we outsource the social media marketing. The person that runs our online account told me last week that since the ‘TAG thing,’ Instagram is a less effective marketing tool in the frum community.” —Esther

“After Nekadesh, I decided that my kabbalah would be to stop checking news sites, which I used to do just as a distraction. It’s months later, and I don’t even have any cheshek to look at them anymore.” —Atara

“I wasn’t at the technology event, and I didn’t even listen to the speeches, but I heard about it from my friends who did go, and that made me think about my own device usage. I still have a smartphone, but it’s filtered now. I no longer have Google or the App Store on my phone. More than that, my life no longer revolves around my phone. Yes, I still have a smartphone and I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of it. But for now, I’m learning how to use it in a better way.” —Riva