Taking it Home

June 30, 2022

The Nekadesh Event and Its Aftermath

Shoshana Itzkowitz

If you were there, you’ll know these words do not begin to do it justice. If you were not, these words will certainly be insufficient in describing it. Black-on white, single-dimensional print is utterly inadequate to paint a picture of the atmosphere, energy, and inspiration of Nekadesh.

Leap of faith

TAG’s Nekadesh event for women was revolutionary in that it was the first asifah of this magnitude exclusively for women. For TAG to take such an enormous leap of faith and secure a venue for two nights in a row for 20,000 women each night was no simple matter. Besides the deposit for Prudential Center to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars was another $1 million in bus reservations for the largest amount of buses reserved for one event by one client, with 175 buses from Williamsburg alone! How did they have the confidence to jump into something so huge when there was no guarantee that this would even take shape?

One factor was the knowledge that though the Satan has been honing his craft for almost 6,000 years, we are a holy nation that seeks to do Hashem’s will, and though he is old and experienced, the Satan is no match for Klal Yisrael.

But the most significant factor in TAG’s leap of faith was that it wasn’t their own idea or their own doing. Several months ago, TAG’s Rabbi Nechemiah Gottlieb and Rabbi Moishe Drew traveled to South Fallsburg rosh yeshivah Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel to discuss various she’eilos. As they entered the room, the Rosh Yeshivah looked at them and said, “It’s been ten years since the Citi Field asifah. We have to make another kinus!”

By the time the men left, they had plans for a women’s asifah in their hands. They had been charged with a mission.

They would soon see that this mission was beyond their capabilities to accomplish, beyond derech hateva. It was as if Hashem Himself carried them through to the finish line.

Beyond all expectations

Many women share that before attending, they had no idea what to expect of the asifah.

“I didn’t know if I should go; the timing was so hard, and no one knew what to expect. And I have a basic dumb phone anyway; it probably wasn’t meant for people like me…”

“I learned this all in twelfth grade. I know it already. What will I hear that I don’t know?”

“I’m not interested in hearing that I need to get rid of my internet. It’s not for me.”

Yet in the end, by 24 hours prior, the event was sold out and organizers scrambled to open more seats on the floor and secure a second venue for overflow.

At the start of the program, Rabbi Gottlieb shared his dream that everybody would walk out with a resolve to reach higher in her own way. This evening was not about learning the specific dangers of technology or about how to use technology properly. It was, he explained, an evening of “nekadesh,” on focusing on being a goy kadosh in the face of an onslaught of technology.

Following were passionate speeches by renowned Torah personalities. Witnessing great roshei yeshivah dedicate a night to this event was awe-inspiring; who could not be moved by the sight of the senior rosh yeshivah of America, the great gadol Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, sharing divrei brachah not via pre-recorded clip or long-distance hookup but from that very room? In addition, there was a table filled with rabbanim and roshei yeshivah who came to be part of the event but did not even speak.

The program also featured incredible messages of overcoming technological challenges given by real, everyday, could-be-your-next-door-neighbor women and girls. They spoke of the struggle, the fight, the unease of stepping out of their comfort zones in order to fuel their desire to Live Higher.

“No one told us!”

The first speaker, Rabbi Joey Haber, asked three questions: Why are we here? What needs to change? And why does it need to change?

“I’ll tell you why we’re here,” he said. “We’re here because we were fooled!

We lost our yishuv hada’as, said Rabbi Haber, because we were fooled by developers of technology, who robbed us without our realizing it. We didn’t know that by having phones in our cars we’d never again have a peaceful ride. We didn’t know that by buying a phone, we’d be unable to pick up our heads; that by having texting, our fingers would be glued to our devices; that with cameras on our phones we’d never again experience anything with our eyes; that our hearts would beat differently when we’d get a notification on our phone; or that Silicon Valley would spend trillions of dollars trying to harvest our brains and sell our brain space to advertisers based on our Instagram patterns.

“No one told us,” Rabbi Haber cried, that with the introduction of social media into our lives “society would be gripped by competition, jealousy, insecurity, and…depression. They fooled us!”

“Tonight,” said Rabbi Haber, “The women of Klal Yisrael unite to change.”

He challenged us to change our perspective, to reorient our focus. Ruchniyus used to dictate a frum person’s life. Yet now technology has overtaken us, dominating us, and we try to fit our ruchniyus through the cracks. This perspective needs to change.

The goal, he concluded, is not about saying no to a phone; it’s to say yes: yes to our families, yes to a smart life, yes to freedom, yes to ruchniyus, yes to kedushah, yes to being the reason the next generation will look back and say, “You were the ones who stayed committed, who understood that you’re here to be tasked with ‘nekadesh,’ who made the shift to focus on ruchniyus. You were the ones who said, ‘Yes, I know it’s hard, but I was born for something higher.’”

Crowning our King

Rebbetzin Rena Tarshish exhorted women to join the malachim who coronate Hashem, as it says, “Keser yitnu Lecha, Hashem Elokeinu, malachim hamonei ma’alah im amcha Yisrael kevutzei matah.”Each and every one of us, she said, can coronate Hashem as our King.

Every person has their own personal circumstances and nisyonos that they have to overcome, and that particular nisayon is a way for them to achieve greatness. Likewise, every generation has its own unique challenge, and that challenge is specifically where that generation can make a kiddush Hashem.

The gedolim have all said that the nisayon of our generation is technology, but the nisayon is also our greatest opportunity. When Esther was taken to Achashveirosh’s palace, Mordechai didn’t say to her, “Oy, nebach on you! Look what you have to deal with!” Instead, he said, “U’mi yodei’a im ka’eis hazos higat l’malchus”—you have the opportunity to bring malchus to Hashem in a way that no one before was able, because no one ever had this nisayon before.

But how can we coronate Hashem with this particular crown?

The first step is a change in mindset: How do we look at technology? Which life do we choose—a life of being enslaved or a life of coronating Hashem, keeping gedarim in place?

A rav once asked a group of girls, “If a smartphone cost one million dollars, would you buy it?” Of course they replied no—it would be too expensive. He responded by saying that it is too expensive! It’s costing us our sons and our daughters; our children are at stake.

Oversharing is costing us our gadlus, our malchus, our kirvas Elokim, our children. Our starting point in everything we do is kirvas Elokim, and only after do we say, “And how does this fit in?”

Rebbetzin Tarshish suggested taking on one kabbalah that adds our “signature” to the coronation of Hashem.

How high can we go? Take your hand, she said, and reach as high as you can. Now, reach just a bit higher. We can always stretch just a bit higher when we want to bring kavod Shamayim.

The strength to overcome

Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel noted that everyone has wonderful and noble reasons as to why they must have and use technology the way they do. But despite all the great justifications, despite all the good, we need to understand that the flip side of technology constitutes the worst ko’ach hatumah of today’s generation—it is evil itself.

It can be overwhelming, said the Rosh Yeshivah, to realize that the Satan has let out his full arsenal on our generation; it is written that the Satan does this to a tzaddik at the end of his lifetime. How can we, as such a weak generation, possibly overcome him?

The Rosh Yeshivah emphasized that if Hashem gave this nisayon to our generation, we have the power to overcome it. In this area we are the strongest generation, and the ko’ach to subdue this particular yetzer hara was given specifically to us.

How? By trying to control ourselves, by breaking our patterns, we can overcome it.

“You know who you are”

Rav Ephraim Wachsman began by acknowledging how difficult it is for mothers, who otherwise would give their very lives for their children, to be strong in the area of technology, even when the fate of their children might be at stake.

“We need to understand the grandeur, the cosmic significance of what’s facing us—and of what we’re capable of,” said Rav Wachsman. Quoting Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, he noted that the challenge of the dor acharon will be that we will not believe that we are capable of great things. “We will think that our lives are petty and insignificant—What, we should be the generation to bring Mashiach?

Yes, said Rav Wachsman, we have the ability and the siyata d’Shmaya to rise above this nisayon and reach greater heights than before, but we need to understand the ways of the yetzer hara, who tries to fool us.

“But you!” he called out. “You know who you are! Anochi LaShem, anochi ashirah—I belong to the Ribono shel Olam! My life is a song for Him. I am not a follower; I am not an influencer who devotes her life to getting another follower—I’m a follower of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. I am a bas Yisrael—I’m not pathetic, I am prophetic!”

There are those who are told that they are not living in today’s reality, when really, there is only one reality: emes Malkeinu, efes zulaso—that’s our only reality!

“We’re in a time of crisis,” said Rav Wachsman. “Don’t be on the wrong side of history… Get into the trenches with honesty and courage and guts, and fight for our children, fight for Hashem—it should be the main reason for your existence!”

Powerful silence

The evening culminated with a unique kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim.

Rav Yitzchak Kolodetsky, son-in-law of Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, who traveled all the way from Bnei Brak, led the tefillah.

The Rav cried out, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!”

There was silence as thousands and thousands of women and girls, standing in a massive stadium, responded in a whisper.

The Rav continued, “Baruch Sheim kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed!

You could literally hear a paper rustle; the eerie silence was one thousand times more thunderous than if everyone had been answering aloud. One could feel the holiness of 20,000 women and the monumental kiddush Hashem they made in the silence of those moments.

Later, Rabbi Drew related that the feedback on the immensity of that moment was intense; many felt that that tzinah was the most pivotal moment of the entire evening. As one person said to him, “It was appropriate that this was such a private moment: the nisayon of technology is a very private one—it fit that our kabbalas ol should be private as well.”

Finally, as per a request by Rav Wachtfogel that the evening should end with singing as a form of tefillah, all of the women who had been silent just moments before joined voices and sang words of tefillah u’bakashah.

Rabbi Gottlieb ended the evening by asking the women present to take home two messages: First, that technology should continue to be an area of growth for each person, and second, that Rav Matisyahu Salomon said, referring to technology, that no one can be sure that they will be able to protect their children in this generation. Yet if we hearken to the words of our gedolim in these matters, we will have the zechus and the ability to ask Hashem Himself to protect them. May all our tefillos be answered!

The aftermath

Rabbi Drew shares that TAG was completely unprepared for the deluge of feedback they have been contending with in the aftermath of the asifah. They had hoped for subtle, personal growth where people would reevaluate their personal perspective and life choices and take steps toward a higher level of living with regard to technology. What they have been hearing, however, is way more than they ever imagined.

“We never could have dreamed up the level of mesirus nefesh we’re seeing,” he says. “Do you know what it means for someone to give up WhatsApp, Instagram, texting? After Citi Field, men filtered their devices, but people didn’t cut off a finger. We’re seeing ladies cutting off pieces of themselves, and it’s hafleh va’feleh! This was unanticipated.”

He relates that a Verizon salesman told TAG that hundreds of women traded in their smartphones and bought flip phones.

The stories are rushing in. Girls who removed texting from their phones. Women—true influencers!—who closed down their Instagram accounts. Girls and women of all ages and stages who traded in their smartphones for flip phones. Mothers who have committed to leave their phones at home when they take their children outside to play. Myriads who removed WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, or TiKTok from their phones. Women who have taken on to be the only sister not on their sister chat or the only neighbor not on their neighborhood chat. Mothers who reevaluated their shopping habits. Girls who have decided to leave their phones outside their rooms when they go to sleep at night. Women who flooded TAG to filter their phones, disable their browsers, and shut down their Facebook accounts. Girls whose phones are their identity who chose to power down—like a machsom of sorts—for two hours a day, no exceptions.

Klal Yisrael has chosen to Live Higher.