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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Extreme Makeover: Orthodox Edition 2012


Allison Josephs

Allison Josephs

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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.”

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12 Responses to “Extreme Makeover: Orthodox Edition 2012”

  1. Debbie Rabinowitz says:

    Yay! Finally the positive side of being oryhodox.

  2. Allison, I like your site. You do a fantastic job of explaining the meat and bones of Orthodox Judaism to a population who would otherwise remain ignorant. I really disagree with your comment about the sikrikim's "shenanigans." They are a violent group of men who have committed terrible crimes. They don't get a pass just because they dress like Chassidim. It is unseemly to whitewash their actions by labeling what they do as shenanigans, as if they were a group of high school teenagers, who were caught toilet-papering their principal's yard. Orthodox Jews need to stand up against their brand of abuse, not give them tacit approval and blame the media for covering it.

  3. I appreciate your comment – I am *completely* against what the Sikrikim did/do which you can see from my post calling for Sikrikim to not even be considered Orthodox any more http://www.jewinthecity.com/2012/01/whats-in-a-name-a-call-to-re-brand-the-extremists-in-israel-from-ultra-orthodox-to-sikrikim/ I was looking for a word to describe to describe "bad behavior." I didn't mean to imply there's anything silly about what they do. However – I think the secular media had a field day with the story because they love to make us look bad.

  4. Allison Josephs Thank you for the clarification. In many instances, I agree that the secular media does exaggerate and goes out of their way to portray Orthodoxy as archaic, but I also believe that we need to take responsibility for our failings. Pointing our finger at the media and claiming anti-semitism won't make our own faults vanish.

  5. Aviva Bursten Cohen says:

    Two smart women having a decent, thoughtful, respectful discussion.
    Bracha and Allison, I'm proud of both of you!

  6. Bracha Bennett-Garland instead of just covering the story objectively, I felt that in many instances the media was reveling in the fact that "religious" Jews were behaving badly. BUT I completely agree – there's a serious problem, and we must take responsibility for our faults, media aside.

  7. Aviva Bursten Cohen Thank you. I left my boxing gloves in my other office.

  8. Tzvi Fishman says:

    Yasher koach on your efforts, but looking over the site, I was pained to see that you have removed Eretz Yisrael from your discussions, even though establishing a Torah life in the Land of Israel is the goal of Judaism and the focus of all of my prayers. What a shame!

  9. Rifki Orzech says:

    @aviva – agreed :D. You two would make a good team actually :-P

  10. Joan Michel says:

    Pretty much the same thing is happening to me in, but in the other direction… my son became frum and much of it is rubbing off on me, so I'm getting there. However, the feminist in me is still much alive so I'd like to suggest that you add "and her" to "how beautiful his heritage is." :….. these misunderstandings prevent many non-religious Jews from ever exploring Torah Judaism. Something had to be done. Every Jew deserves to know how deep and beautiful his heritage is.

  11. The book is not an attack on Orthodox Judaism or even Haredi Judaism, but most specifically a strong criticism of Satmar Judaism. It is largely negative but there are also positive elements as in the author's portrayal of her grandparents. It does however show the fanaticism, narrow- mindedness, and essentially erroneous view of the world of Satmar. It shows their hateful relation to their fellow Jews who they call Zionists, and their total misreading of Jewish history.
    As for Deborah Feldman she does not appear to be tzadikus- ha- dor either But she had the courage to confront a world which she felt was oppressing her, and take action against it.

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