Jess Green, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Baltimore’s Challaback Girls, has big plans to stop Baltimore’s anti-Zionism.
She and two friends created the group a little over a week ago but have already gained thousands of followers on Instagram. The group, coincidentally named after a popular national organization (they found out a week after naming it so!) is focused on education around anti-Semitism and Zionism.
Green, of Baltimore, founded Challabackgirls with Simone Stoyen who she met in Israel, and a friend she met through Chabad who prefers to remain anonymous to avoid anti-Semitic hate mail. All three girls had noted an increase in misinformation and anti-Semitism. Green said that she was disheartened particularly to see this sentiment in Baltimore.
“I would say anti-Semitism in Baltimore presents itself as anti-Zionism,” she said. “People don’t realize the link between the two. When they denounce Israel, which is not to be confused with criticizing Israel, which you can do, it is inherently anti-Semitic. I have seen people who I graduated with from Beth Tfiloh think Israel should not exist. Living in Baltimore safely is a privilege, and they don’t see the importance of Israel to that safety.”
What spurred their action most immediately was the spread of misinformation on social media.
“Especially after George Floyd died, and those social injustice instances happened, online there was a shift from social justice to anti-Semitism and we felt we should jump in,” Green said. “We came together and decided we can’t fix the internet but we can help.”
They created the Instagram account to respond to misinformation and share facts and commentary. Quickly, Challabackgirls received more than hundreds of messages from people about anti-Semitism. They shared these stories on Instagram, and even started a hashtag trend, #IWontStaySilent, in support of the Twitter walkout last week.
“It’s our passion project that blew up,” Green said. She calls all three co-founders big dreamers because their long-term goals for the organization include a tour of the U.S. and Israel.
For now, Challabackgirls would like to get their website launched August 9, before school resumes. It will be a blog where they can expand upon the info-bytes they share on social media.
“We also want to include recipes and fun facts, and eventually start our own merchandise line with T-shirts and mugs,” Green said. They decided they wanted to expand into merchandise because, she said, if you Google Zionist on Amazon, only anti-Zionist merchandise come up.
Though it is unaffiliated with the Baltimore Zionist District, the BZD supports Challabackgirls’ mission.
“We are trying hard to raise awareness and be a platform for people to voice their concerns, share articles and help fight anti-Semitism,” BZD Executive Director Caren Leven said. “And [we] love when people post and use our platform for inspiration and new ideas.”
If you are interested in sharing your experiences or information about Israel or anti-Semitism projects, Green recommends you message their Instagram @challabackgirls or email [email protected] “We’re open to everything there is to offer,” Green said.