Sarah Encaoua-Guigue is an Instagram influencer, actress, and businesswoman making waves in the Lubavitcher Orthodox Jewish community. Posting from the handle @hassidic.hipster.girl, she invites the internet to follow her daily routine of prayer, spirituality, fashion, and more. We spoke with her in NYC to see what life is like for a Hasidic woman creating a name for herself online.
Banter: How did you choose the name Hassidic Hipster Girl? What elements of hipster culture do you identify with?
Encaoua-Guigue: So, for me hipster just means secular and the outside world, and Hasidic represents the Jewish religious culture that I was raised with and the richness of Judaism. And, I believe that it is easy to blend the two despite the fact that a lot of people might see them as separate. My goal for my Instagram page was to merge the two worlds together. I find that Hasidism and hipsterism have a lot in common. Take avocado toast, trendy in both cultures, easy to keep kosher. Keeping my last name is another one of them. When I got married I didn’t just want to identify with my husband’s name, I wanted to keep my maiden name as well, because I find that in religious Jewish culture women tend to follow what their husband says, be submissive etc. But, I believe that as human beings we each have something to share with the world as whole individuals.
Banter: That is out of the ordinary for married Orthodox women, to keep their maiden name, correct?
Encaoua-Guigue: It is very out of the ordinary in the culture because you get married and then automatically you are one with your husband.
Banter: You don’t see that as a compromise?
Encaoua-Guigue: No, and another thing I find that hipster or outside culture has is this trend with decluttering and meditation, which is something that we have too. Ritual aspects of the culture, you know, being more free with your mind, your body, your soul, being interconnected. That I find is very similar they just use a different language to communicate the same concepts. Also, hipster culture places a big emphasis on culture and the arts and we do that as well, specifically in Hasidism in ultra-orthodox Judaism: kabbalah, music touching the soul (which is especially prominent in Chabad Hasidim): for example certain Rebbes have dedicated songs called nigunim that really connect with the soul. Basically you could name some aspect of hipster culture and I could definitely find you a parallel in Hasidic culture.
Banter: In terms of an audience, are you more excited to see yourself as a role model for young Orthodox women or women and girls in general?
Encaoua-Guigue: I definitely do feel like my audience is female oriented simply because I’m female myself and I speak about my personal struggles. Like hair coverings (men don’t really struggle with that) and mitzvot (daily observances) that women are obliged to perform. But I do get men who share photos of their prayer books or their practice of spiritual Judaism. I do focus on Jewish values but I think they are mostly universal values. Yes, I pray with a Hebrew siddur (prayer book), but I believe that prayer is a beautiful universal value. I even have Christian and Muslim followers who have messaged me saying that they’ve incorporated more prayer into their daily routine. And I also believe that hipsters pray in their own way, you know meditation is very popular right as a tool to remove anxiety, connect with ourselves and the things around us.
Banter: How does Judaism inform the way you cultivate your online persona? Is there a spiritual ethos you look to when deciding what you find personally acceptable in the realm of IG, influencing, acting/modeling?
Encaoua-Guigue: Yes, I make sure to stick to my personal guidelines. You can never please everyone but it’s important to set your own personal standards. And, it’s interesting for me because I straddle two worlds: within the Hasidic community I’m considered quite modern, but within the hipster world it’s obvious that I’m a religious Orthodox Jew. I almost felt the need to create a place for myself because I didn’t have a precise space in either world. So, I’m creating a following and a tribe that relates to me, a tribe that also feels like they’re not so religious but not so secular either.
Banter: Was there any point in your acting or other careers where you thought perhaps the path was too tricky to walk and that it might be easier to balance your professional and religious life by doing something else?
Encaoua-Guigue: 100%. My dream was always to be an actress but people in the [Hasidic] community told me it’s not possible, “you have so many guidelines, you gotta be modest, they’re gonna tell you to wear certain things.” And I said, “If I really want something, it is possible.” There’s actually a Hebrew quote “there is nothing that stands in front of the will of a person.” If someone is passionate about something they will get there, and I believed that I would get there. Values shouldn’t stop me from doing what I want, they should enhance my life.
Banter: Do you have an anecdote for that, a moment where it was obvious to you that you might be put in a difficult position?
Encaoua-Guigue: Yeah for sure. I’m on Backstage [the audition/casting platform], and I do get gigs, and one of the gigs told me to come as I was, they saw that I was modestly dressed, but when I got there they wanted me to do the scene in a sleeveless dress. And I’m very comfortable with myself but I rejected the offer even though it was a great opportunity because it clashed with the values that I’m very passionate about. Like I said, I’m so grateful for digital media because I can create my own projects. I don’t have to read someone’s script that’s not kosher so to speak, I can create my own kosher script.
Banter: Do you have to deal with the typical Instagram routine of clearing creepy dudes out of your DMs?
Encaoua-Guigue: I think everyone faces that. It’s very draining to answer DMs, but the short answer is yes, I definitely deal with that from time to time. I think extremists from any community have a hard time believing that you can merge worlds.