(New York Jewish Week) — A Brooklyn-based Orthodox activist wants her community to be the last one targeted by a possible serial flasher who crashed an online chat she was leading last week.
Adina Miles-Sash, who is known to her 61,000 followers as Flatbush Girl, also says her community’s reaction to the flashing incident underscores the changes needed if women are to feel respected and secure.
In the past, Miles-Sash has battled for women’s representation in Orthodox media, where their faces are frequently blurred or omitted; advocated for Orthodox victims of sexual assault, and joined an Orthodox women’s ambulance corps that fought for its right to operate. So after a man exposed himself to more than 3,000 viewers on an Instagram chat she was hosting with Shifra, a support group for Jewish women with unplanned pregnancies, she knew just how to spring into action.
She gathered information about other online sessions that had been infiltrated by a flasher in an apparently identical space and pose — even finding one featuring “Bachelor” contestant Chelsea Vaughn. She contacted both the NYPD and FBI, concerned that the presence of minors among the viewers elevated the disturbance into a more significant crime.
She even floated hiring a forensic analyst to try to piece together other clues from the limited view captured on tape — though she moved away from the idea after posting that it would require a $15,000 retainer just to subpoena Instagram to find the flasher’s IP address and when the majority of her followers said they would not donate to cover the costs.
On Tuesday night, she revealed a breakthrough: screenshots from a third event interrupted by what appeared to be the same man. This time, the host was Daryl-Ann Denner, a Christian influencer in Southern California with 1.3 million Instagram followers.
“I’m assembling soooo much evidence you have no idea,” Miles-Sash told someone who messaged her with praise about her detective work, according to a screenshot she shared.
For Miles-Sash, the incident and its aftermath suggest both the strength and the challenges of the tight-knit online Orthodox community.
“I just really hope we can crack this case as a COMMUNITY cause he has done this to NUMEROUS other groups but he messed with the wrong crowd!!!” she messaged the fan.
But she also has been vocal about how the reaction to the initial interruption from some quarters of Orthodox social media had disappointed her. A handful of commenters blamed her for the interruption, citing what they said were her transgressions of mainstream Orthodox norms, and some even suggested that she had fabricated the incident to draw attention to her favored issues.
“Sorry, but u had this coming,” said one message that Miles-Sash shared with her followers. (Miles-Sash did not post the names of the accounts that sent the messages she shared.) “U knew eventually things like this would pop up. Esp the fact that you talk about sex and bisexuals on ur platform.”
“You definitely set that up on purpose to try and make men look bad,” read another direct message that Miles-Sash received, sent from an account whose profile picture showed a man praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “We’ll expose you for exposing the young and innocent to such horrible acts.”
Miles-Sash and her allies also said they expected more denunciation of the incident from rabbinic figures and other Orthodox leaders.
“Here’s a presumably Orthodox guy who’s literally naked and swinging himself in front of a camera,” said Shoshana Keats-Jaskoll, an American-Israeli activist on Orthodox women’s issues. “And instead of the Orthodox world screaming that is not OK, they’re actually accusing Adina of having set the whole thing up.”
Miles-Sash reserved particular scorn for Laibel Weiner, the host of the Orthodox comedy podcast MisLaibeled, who joked about the size of the man’s “shlong” on his Instagram page the day after the event. Many comments on that post condemned Weiner’s comments, including YeahThat’sKosher, a popular food blog in the Orthodox community.
“There is nothing humorous about this,” the comment said. “Get your priorities in check.”
Weiner said later in the week that he continued to find the whole situation humorous — but that he also valued Miles-Sash’s advocacy.
“There are times in life where jokes surrounding bad things that occur can be funny. I think this is one of those situations,” Weiner said. “That’s my personal opinion. I appreciate that Flatbush Girl has been able to use her platform to bring attention and awareness to important issues in our community. It doesn’t matter what her opinion is on a particular matter, I am glad she has the opportunity to share what she feels is right.”
Many of Miles-Sash’s followers expressed support all along, and particularly after she criticized the response from within Orthodoxy, some produced videos denouncing attacks on women, which she shared.
“Please know that you are in the eyes of so many women a true warrior,” wrote Melissa Chapman, an Instagram influencer with over 100,000 followers. Using a Hebrew name for God, she added, “May Hashem continue to give you the strength and fortitude to continue doing the life changing work you are so committed to doing.”
Whether the flasher targeted an Orthodox women’s event in particular and whether the flasher has any connection to the community is unclear. He used the name of a friend of Miles-Sash to enter the Instagram chat — but he had done the same thing in previous interruptions, she said. Nothing in the limited view of the man’s room indicated a Jewish identity.
To some, the incident was a reminder of lessons learned during the pandemic’s pivot to online events: Be wary of Zoombombing, as it takes only a single bad actor to derail thousands of people’s experience.
“I tried to kick him off the screen as fast as I could, but even within that full five or six seconds, a lot of damage was done,” Miles-Sash said.
“These women have more followers than any rebbe,” Keats-Jaskoll said. “If Jewish leadership was smart, they would harness the power, passion and potential of Jewish women to improve the community.”