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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776
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Extreme Makeover: Orthodox Edition 2012


Allison Josephs

Allison Josephs

Since that donor has yet to materialize, Jew in the City ran a sold-out fundraiser in Teaneck, New Jersey last year, with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers. Television star (and my close friend and Partner in Torah) Mayim Bialik spoke of how she became observant and how Jew in the City targets precisely those things that had been holding her back.

That event led to some exciting press coverage including articles on About.com and in The Jerusalem Post and Yediot Aharanot (YnetNews). This added publicity put Jew in the City on the radar of the Israeli television channel Hidabroot which has licensed several of our videos that will soon be airing on Israeli TV. A religion show on NPR (“Interfaith Voices”) recently discovered us and I was interviewed about Jew in the City in March for our largest audience to date – 100,000 listeners across the U.S. and Canada. And I was recently named one of National Jewish Outreach Project’s Top Jewish Influencers of 2012, which led to coverage on Yahoo News and the Huffington Post.

One successful fundraiser, however, is not enough to keep an organization running, so in the last few months we’ve been exploring other ways to raise funds for Jew in the City that are more business-oriented. We’ve added Google ads to the videos, which are bringing in some revenue. We’ve also recently begun working with companies whose products I love and was already recommending to viewers who’d ask me for advice.

I’ve been wearing Freeda Wigs since I got married, and every time a viewer complimented my sheitel and asked where I got it, I would send them to Freeda Wigs. So I approached Freeda Wigs a few months ago about putting ads on our videos. They agreed and then a little while later “ambushed” me on the street and offered me a sheitel makeover with a new wig.

This video, “Jew in the City: Freeda Wigs Makeover Edition” has been extremely popular and takes much of the strangeness out of wearing a wig. I’ve received positive e-mails from non-observant friends – and also from formerly observant fans (those who used to cover their hair but no longer do) telling me the video was fun to watch and that it got them thinking about covering their hair again.

As one woman, Elizabeth, expressed it, “If I hadn’t stumbled on JITC, I think I may have just given up on the idea of Orthodoxy before I began. I’m not sure I am ever going to be a full-time head coverer, but I no longer view it as oppression or misogyny.”

Junees, a clothing store I love to shop at, was also interested in working with us by providing wardrobe for the videos. We’re planning to do a collaborative “how to dress modestly and stylishly” video to debunk that myth that Orthodox women must look unattractive.

But before we get to that, the current video that’s in the works is a mikveh video, sponsored by MikvahCalendar.com, where we will take the viewers to a mikveh and show how beautiful and life-enhancing this mitzvah can be.

In an effort to get Jew in the City’s mission to more people, we’ve tried to land appearances on television programs. Every opportunity that arose, though, was connected to cooking Jewish food during a Jewish holiday. At first I thought there was no way to tie Jewish cooking into the Jew in the City message, but then it occurred to me that I have a special brand of cooking – kosher treif.

I started playing around with soy products and fake shrimp and have recreated most of the treif recipes I loved as a kid. I began writing a cookbook memoir that tells of my journey to observance while giving over my favorite treif childhood recipes, now with kosher ingredients. The theme of the book is that being observant is not all about giving things up and shouldn’t be about losing your “flavor.” Indeed, even as one rearranges her life to include only “kosher” components, she can keep many aspects of her old self.

I’ve also started focusing more on public speaking. I was a panelist at the NCSY YouthCon convention, a scholar in residence with Mayim Bialik at Boca Raton Synagogue this past January, and I am speaking at different schools, shuls, and organizations all over the country. This serves the purpose of further spreading the mission of Jew in the City—and of providing a little financial relief.

Speaking of financial relief, why haven’t I quit Jew in the City? After all, isn’t it completely illogical to work for more than four years with no pay?

I haven’t given up because of people like Romy L., who wrote, “Honestly you have changed the way I look at Orthodox people. I used to think they were so much different, weirdly enough! And I kinda secretly feel like I’d want to be more religious when grow up.”

Allison Josephs

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