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Changing Our Image for the Better


Allison Josephs' website Jewinthecity.com website educates about Orthodox Judaism.

Allison Josephs' website Jewinthecity.com website educates about Orthodox Judaism.

Note from Harry Maryles: I occasionally talk about Jewish heroes on this blog. I am proud to offer this guest post by one of the more quiet ones.

NCSY alumnus Allison Josephs (seen here with her “Partner in Torah” actress Mayim Bialik) is a unique individual. She is not a talker. She is a doer. Allison noticed a gaping hole in our image as Orthodox Jews. One created by – among other things – one Chilul HaShem after another that I often read about in the national and world media and report on here. We have been damaged by so many negative stories and bad apples that it has hurt our mission as “a light unto the nations”.

Some people have complained that I am one of the guilty parties on this front… that my blog carries more than its share of negativity. I must admit that a very large portion of my posts are negative. But that isn’t because I seek to throw mud on my own people. It is because I am trying to make us a better people.

Ignoring the bad just keeps the bad coming. Sweeping it under the carpet and not protesting it is almost tantamount to endorsing it. Shtika K’Hoda’ah. I would like nothing better than to post one positive story after another. Stories that inspire rather than demoralize. Believe it or not I look for such stories and when I find them I report on them.

Unfortunately there are more of the other kind of stories. But there are some very good people out there that seek to change how the world sees us and at least one person who seems to be doing a good job of it – Allison Josephs. She is doing something very unique that counters all the negativity in our world. But instead of my going on about it – I will let her do the talking. Her words follow.

Hello Emes Ve-Emunah readers! My name is Allison Josephs and five years ago I did something kind of crazy – I quit my jobs (I had two at that time and was the sole bread winner for our family and a mother of two while my husband was in law school) in order to attempt to start an online revolution. The problem: the perception of Orthodox Jews in the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish circles. The solution: a world wide Orthodox image makeover campaign, of course!

The truth, though, is that my degree was in Philosophy, not public relations, and my work experience was in Jewish outreach, not public relations! Fortunately, I’ve always had a flair for the dramatics, and right around this time, YouTube was getting popular. I noticed that the mainstream media basically only reported negative stories about religious Jews and that popular books, movies, and TV shows always depicted Orthodox Jews as over the top and extreme.

But with YouTube, *I* could tell the story myself. I’m a ba’alas teshuva and although the religious Jewish world is far from perfect, living a life imbued with Torah wisdom and observance gives my existence purpose. I was a child who despite having a very happy secular upbringing, spent years searching for the meaning of life and I was delighted to find such gems within my own heritage.

As soon as I discovered the beauty and depth of Torah living and learning, I wanted to share the information with every other Jew on the planet. (I started with my own family, who are all observant today.) Rejecting something with knowledge is one thing, but most Jews in the world today have essentially rejected a life of Jewish observance with very little book or experiential knowledge.

I had seen a YouTube show called “lonelygirl15″ about a teenage girl who brought the viewers into her life through the medium of online videos. Being on YouTube, I saw, essentially gives the viewer a sense of “meeting” the person who’s on the screen. I noticed how when people meet nice, normal Orthodox Jews, the stereotypes just naturally get broken down. Having every person in the world personally meet an Orthodox Jew would of course be impossible. There aren’t very many of us and we tend to live in only certain cities.

But if one Orthodox Jew could make a video that could be watched in every corner of the planet – well then a religious Jewish person and personality could be spread as far as the internet could reach. So I started a YouTube show called “Jew in the City” as I asked myself “who am I?” And the answer was “a Jew in the city.” The show developed into a blog (at JewintheCity.com) which features the videos, articles, and Q&A’s.

We just finished our fifteenth video, have gotten a decent amount of coverage in the Jewish press and have even slowly, slowly gotten some attention in the mainstream media. And the results are just as I believed they would be – as soon as the “scary, black and white clothed” “bearded” “unfriendly” image of the stereotypical Orthodox Jew is broken down and people see a laid back, young Orthodox Jewish woman with a voice and a lot of opinions, the desire to explore traditional Judaism is being awakened in so many viewers.

JITC’s videos and articles have covered topics like science vs. Torah, the myth about the hole in the sheet, mikvah, homosexuality, and much more. We now have a team of interns who are helping to spread this information as far as possible. But an Orthodox image makeover campaign need not only be accomplished through JITC. Each and every one of us can do our part to break down stereotypes about Orthodox Jews in our daily lives.

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