The word melech means king in Hebrew, but there’s nothing too precious or pompous about Melech Zilbershlag, a 20-year-old, kippah-clad Israeli who’s quickly becoming a Hebrew-language YouTube sensation. His fast-talking yet eloquent demeanor is helping to bridge the gap of understanding between Orthodox and the secular cultures in his country.
Zilbershlag’s videos, which typically run about two minutes long, are published by Kan 11, the newly established Israeli Public Broadcasting Corp., which recruited Zilbershlag as new talent. In them, Zilbershalg refers to taking selfies and using Tinder, a dating app typically affiliated with hook-ups, as easily as he talks about Passover-friendly foods. He touches upon many topics often unspoken of in the Orthodox society, like romance (and Tinder, for that matter) and celebrating Independence Day (many Orthodox Jews do not identify with this secular holiday). He also doesn’t shy away from clichés or stereotypes about the Orthodox community, which he quickly—and charmingly—dismantles. Other topics include: the Orthodox “dress code” and how to create a WhatsApp or a Snapchat story, exclusively in Yiddish.
Here, below, Zilbershlag talks about shidduchs, the matchmaking “phenomenon,” and debunks the stereotype many secular Israelis hold as true: “The only people who decide to get married are the future bride and groom. We’re never forced to marry,” he says.
In a June 2017 Haaretz profile, Zilbershlag said he wants to make the Haredi world(s) in Israeli “more approachable and less intimidating.” Indeed, Zilbershlag’s clarity and frankness about the seemingly complex traditions and nuances of Orthodox Judaism are disarming and engaging. For example, he has made videos about choosing the right kosher Hanukkah doughnut, grooming one’s peyot, and taking a selfie with a girl while keeping modest. Here, below, Zilbershlag explains why “smartphones are as popular among Haredi millennials as fidget spinners are among 5th graders,” while dwelling on the dos and don’ts of Internet usage in the Orthodox society.
Zilbershlag grew up in Haifa, as part of the Seret-Vizhnitz Hasidic society. The son of the political adviser and advertiser Dudi Zilbershlag and a mother he calls “very liberal and strong,” he spent a few years in Jerusalem and studied in a Bnei Brak Yeshiva between the age of 13 and 18. “We didn’t have a television at home, but were never afraid of media and read the newspaper,” he shared in a Hebrew profile on Xnet, an Israeli website. While still in the Yeshiva, Zilbershlag gradually rose to Internet fame after opening Twitter and Facebook accounts in 2013, first anonymously and later under his own name.
Like many young Orthodox Jews, Zilbershlag saw the Internet as a potential canvas. “I had opinions and wanted to express them, representing myself and my added value, [like] no one else in Orthodox society,” he told Xnet. Despite this, Zilbershlag is the ideal poster child to inform non-Orthodox viewers about the Haredi community. He speaks the right slang-peppered language, his attitude is humorous and self-deprecating, and his political awareness is never preachy or demeaning. “I don’t speak like your average Orthodox, and I don’t exactly represent the Facebook generation too,” he told Xnet. “The Internet has its own rules.” And these new, unwritten rules are currently working in his favor.
Flora Tsapovsky is a San Francisco-based food and culture writer.