Rabbi Linda Goldstein is a busy man. Well, Michael, the man behind the popular parody account is. Michael, who asked us not to disclose his last name, is a Modern Orthodox NY-based big-law lawyer, husband, father, and dog owner. Still, he somehow finds time in between parenting and 3AM work nights to craft satirical tweets as the fictitious Jewish Twitter icon Rabbi Linda since creating the account amidst the Israel-Gaza conflict in May of 2021.
By posting as the ‘Chief Rabbi of Gaza’, Michael has amassed almost 7,000 followers, some of which include Fleur Hassan, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and Disturbed lead singer David Draiman. While poking fun at the often careless ignorance of anti-Israel progressives, Rabbi Linda has duped ‘Tinder Swindler’ Simon Leviev, Jewish Currents, former British MP Thelma Walker, and most notably, New Jersey congress hopeful Imani Oakley.
I sat down with Michael to talk about creating the account, the shenanigans he’s been up to as Rabbi Linda, and the astute political commentary behind them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about when Rabbi Linda was born and what inspired you to create her.
I’m normally scrolling through Twitter, but during the last flare up in Gaza back in May, I was seeing so much hate and disinformation coming from progressive circles. I’m thinking of people like Ariel Gold, for example, who just seem like a parody even though they aren’t.
Why not have a character that takes these anti-Israel positions to the extreme and attempts to predict the future on antizionist positions? And it happens. Rabbi Linda will say something absolutely crazy, and then a real person comes along and inevitably says the same thing.
I’ve been having fun with it. It’s taken off more than I expected. I did it as a sitting-on-my-couch kind of thing. But now she has a bit of a following, and people expect her to tweet about certain things. I’ll get messages all the time from people asking me to respond to something or to support something by highlighting it in an outrageous way.
Can I ask about her photo? Is it from one of those AI websites that generates a realistic fake face?
Yeah, I definitely didn’t want to take anyone else’s image or get in trouble for that. I was refreshing the website for about an hour until I found the right picture of what I imagined her to look like. And these websites have gotten better since then, but I can’t change it now because you know her face. Like, punchable with the sunglasses…
Yeah, you can’t change it anymore. She’s so recognizable, and people on the Jewish enclaves of social media have become quite attached to her.
For sure. In the beginning, when I would go dark for Shabbat people would be asking, “Why aren’t you tweeting?” I think the Imani Oakley story was actually published once Shabbat had already started. I’m not online on Shabbat, so I didn’t see anything. Once I came back I had like 50 DMs from people being like, “Are you suspended? What happened to your account? Why haven’t you tweeted yet?”
The Imani Oakley story was incredible. Did you expect to be duping people and pranking public figures since the beginning or is that something that came later on?
That came later. My earliest tweets were about organizing a Tehillim group for Hassan Nasrallah when he was ill, and then trying to organize a Gaza Pride Parade. I think the Pride Parade was what really made the account take off. Pinkwashing was a big thing at the time, and I was just trying to highlight how ridiculous that is when Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBT friendly cities and Gaza is very much the opposite.
I was honestly expecting the account to move around the anti-Israel circles and instead it was noticed by pro-Israel people, which I guess are the people who get the joke.
With Imani Oakley, I was inspired by some previous disastrous interviews by AOC and the founders of Ben and Jerry’s that illustrated that they just parrot talking points and they don’t have any substantive understanding of Israel. I thought it would be fun to test the empty suit theory on Oakley.
How much background went into creating Rabbi Linda? This character has a lot of detail and it’s all very consistent.
It’s loosely based on my life. I am married. I have a wife, so Linda has a wife. She has a daughter. I have a daughter… Unlike Linda, my daughter’s name is not Leila Khaled.
The parallels make it easier to keep the details consistent. But she does have a lot of backstory, and part of it is remembering it. There’s the name of her shul and her OnlyFans page and all that ridiculous stuff that she does. Part of what makes her fun is that she has a real story.
So you’re also a nude yogi like Rabbi Linda?
Not a nude yogi. I have tried yoga, and I’m not the biggest fan. But it’s those kinds of things that make Linda realistic. There was one time when Jewish Currents retweeted Rabbi Linda not knowing she is a satire account after they had posted an article about at home abortion guides. I had thanked them and said how helpful it was for sex workers like myself.
I don’t care if someone wants to get abortion, but I wanted to show the ridiculousness of a rabbi being a sex worker and they just took it at face value. It was up there for a while before they took it down.
The ‘nude yogi’ thing comes from that. I’m trying to make it obvious for anyone looking at the page that this is satire. I hope that gives it away.
And yet there’s still people who are consistently falling for it. They don’t know that these things aren’t true and they are confidently engaging.
That’s the fun part. Her bio says “Chief Rabbi of Gaza”. There are no Jews in Gaza. It says “Jewish Issues advisor to Ismail Haniyyeh,” who is a senior political leader of Hamas. That’s obviously not a thing. Just the idea that there is a shul in Gaza [laughs]… People have asked me privately who I serve there, and I tell them there’s plenty of UNRWA workers who are Jewish.
It just shows that many people are completely ignorant of all these issues. Jews are not permitted in Gaza, and in any future Palestinian state, there would be no Jews there either. As a base point, if you don’t understand that Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel in its entirety as an open, safe society for Jews, then you’re not really getting it.
Do you ever worry about how coverage like this interview, or the New York Post article might make tricking public figures more difficult?
That was one of my biggest hesitations with the New York Post. If I let them write about this, I will be able to do this less because a quick Google search now shows it’s a parody account. But there are other parody accounts out there that no matter how big, people fall for it. So I just figured, if they can stay relevant, then I can do it too.
And Rabbi Linda is in more of a niche space. How many Zionist Jews on Twitter care to follow an account like this? There’s only so far she can go, and she’s gone pretty far. Yeah, I guess it will be harder to do those kinds of things, but at this point, I’m over that concern.
Rabbi Linda’s account is critical of the left-wing Israel-Palestine discourse, but it’s also critical of the woke-type rhetoric that often comes attached to it. For example, she writes Torah as “TorXh,” which I’m guessing is alluding to the controversy behind the term “Latinx.”
That was in response to an article about the Torah being gendered. Somebody re-gendered the whole Torah and switched all the genders around. So then I responded by asking her not to gender the Torah at all. She asked how you would do it if it wasn’t gendered, so I made it “TorXh.”
I’m just trying to keep the character consistent. There are real rabbis that she may or may not be modeled after who are much more interested in fitting Judaism into progressive politics than actual Jewish traditions. It’s the woke types who engage with Rabbi Linda. I just go where the audience goes.
People’s observances are between them and God and I’m not critical of how someone practices their faith, but it tends to be antizionist Jews who are the type to do these things, so it blends in. And so the people I’m trying to parody don’t recognize it either. It fits into their circle perfectly. They have no idea.
There’s some sort of a mess of ideologies and a rebranding of Judaism in a way that perhaps makes space for anti-Israel views.
It’s putting an American progressive lens on everything Jewish even if it’s not taking place in America and trying to fit everything into that mold and hierarchy, which doesn’t really apply… It’s just how it works. People impose their views on anything and it happens on the right too. I’m not opposed to criticizing Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. I’ve definitely done plenty of that too.
Maybe the next step for Rabbi Linda is beef with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
I don’t think she’ll engage with me. I’ve tried on Twitter a few times. But the space laser thing was pretty amazing. There’s just always good content with her.
There was also Thomas Massie, a Kentucky congressman who has voted against Iron Dome funding, when he tweeted a picture of his whole family holding guns. Some of them were Uzis, which are Israeli made weapons, so I attacked him for that. He also didn’t respond.
Maybe the left is more gullible here because they’re excited to see someone else on their team.
There’s more of a platform for the squad-type people. It’s Ilhan Omar who serves on the foreign affairs committee, even after saying we shouldn’t send weapons to Ukraine and whatnot. Then there’s people like Steve King, who is on the right, and he was stripped of all of his committee assignments when he said something antisemitic. Both parties definitely have a problem with antisemitism, but I think some tend to have a bigger platform. In this case, it’s the squad, where it seems like they can just say anything and get away with it.
I honestly think we’re not very far behind what happened in England with Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. Our progressive wing is maybe four or five years behind.
I’m sure many British Jews would agree with that assessment. There’s been a lot of criticism on that end because it feels like Jewish community is splitting off here and many are blinding themselves to it, while in the UK, there was more unity.
When you are too steeped in ideology, whether it’s far left or far right, it takes over your Jewish identity. It takes priority over it. So I think in this country, the Jews who are giving cover to folks like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are more concerned with being accepted in certain circles than with being Jewish.
What is in the future for Rabbi Linda? What’s the big picture?
I think she’ll be relevant as long as there’s some sort of commentary to make based on what’s happening in Israel. And there are quieter weeks, which are good. I like the quiet weeks. But there are weeks where things are going on and something needs to be said to highlight the ridiculousness of some positions.
I saw a woman holding a sign in Ukraine which had Golda Meir’s very famous quote, which is originally about Israel: “If we lay down our weapons, there’ll be no Ukraine, but Russia lays down its weapons, there’ll be no war.” I’m a huge Golda fan, so I love that quote, and it describes the situation in Israel so well, and I’m happy that it was used in Ukraine too. But the fact that people can understand it when it applies to Ukraine, but not Israel, just shows it’s always different when there are Jewish people involved.
That kind of hypocrisy will probably always exist, and flare ups like the Israel-Gaza conflict last May are bound to happen again, so she’ll always be relevant.
I don’t want her to have to exist, but at this point, I can’t really take her away. Even after the Texas hostage situation… I didn’t expect to say anything. I actually didn’t want to. And some prominent people kept saying, “Rabbi Linda’s got to weigh in here. People are upset.” I was like, “Alright, if it makes light of the situation.” But I felt uncomfortable doing it.
I didn’t want to tweet about Ukraine either. It’s a sensitive situation, but some things just need to be said. I made a situation in which I just have to be consistent with the character even if it sucks.
It’s interesting to hear about how playing this character can sometimes become uneasy, but it just comes with the territory of committing to the bit and the satire. Still, it’s a very Jewish thing to deal with serious situations with humor. I hope we can all continue to do that.
It started because it was just so exhausting to be pro-Israel on social media. Someone’s gotta make light of it a little bit, and be able to laugh at it all.