At Jew in the City’s 4th annual Orthodox Jewish All Stars Premiere Party, the all-stars and the guests all mingle indiscriminately as the symphonic undertones of Jewish identity echo throughout the room. The guests, who span the vast spectrum of Orthodox Jewry, seem to set any differences they may have to celebrate a night of Jewish perseverance and brotherhood. In one corner of the red carpet affair a Gerrer chassid shares a couple of drinks with a modern Orthodox gentleman at the open bar, and on the balcony, overlooking the Hudson River, an ultra Orthodox woman takes a selfie with a woman who is a strong believer in Torah Umadda. It’s astounding how some well-prepared food, fine wine, and purpose brings all sorts of people together.
“I should say that this is better than winning an Emmy,” Ilana Wernick, co-executive producer of the hit TV series Modern Family and other prime time TV shows, says about being an honoree and one of ten Jewish all-stars. A smile playfully spreads across her face as she jokes, “I should say that, but I’m not going to say that, because it just isn’t true, but this is almost as good.”
Wernick and nine others are being honored for their tremendous contributions to humanity, the arts, and rising to prominence in the gentile world while refusing to compromise on their Judaism and religiosity by Jew in the City, a non-profit organization – the brainchild of Allison Josephs – which promotes Orthodoxy in a world where many have negative connotations about the Orthodox, seeing religious Jews only as the few fanatics who are cherry-picked by the media for ratings.
“It’s funny how everyone here is kind of the same,” ponders all-star Gail Hoffmann, treasurer at Columbia University after having an in depth conversation with fellow all-star Baroness Ros Altmann, the United Kingdom’s Minister of Pensions and member of the House of Lords, whom she met only moments before for the first time at the VIP pre-party, over glasses of bubbly.
“Yes,” agrees Altmann who flew all the way from London for this event, “Orthodoxy needs to be represented in a positive light. I’d never even heard of this event and now I’m here. No one ever seems to hear about us Orthodox Jews who do good, and we need to be represented.”
The theme of tonight’s event is Orthodox ingenuity and faith rolled into one, and it manifests itself in the venue (the Museum of Jewish Heritage), the food (prepared by “Top Chef” Alex Reznik), and the guests (many of whom have reached the pinnacle of success while remaining resolute in their religiosity). Famous Jewish hymns and oldies complete the vibe and add an aura of appreciation for the Jewish arts.
After schmoozing with a majority of the honorees in the fuchsia colored spotlights of the dinner hall, I noticed a common cord which seems to connect them all. The honorees have nearly unanimously agreed that when they are staunch in their Judaism, they not only gain the respect of their non-Jewish peers, they prosper.
“At first I was scared to death about being Orthodox in this business, and that has gotten easier with age. But they all respect me since I’ve laid out my boundaries. They don’t question you if you’re good,” says all-star Gregory Zuckerman, finance reporter at the Wall Street Journal, who many on Twitter have compared to MLB pitcher Sandy Koufax.
“I’ve never wavered. If you’re strong in your belief and you’re not wishy-washy it’s not a problem. All the people I work with are absolutely respectful, especially when you’re good at your job,” agrees Ilana Wernick about remaining Orthodox in the eat-or-be-eaten world of the TV industry, while caring for her adorable little daughter, who looks exactly like her mom in their matching pink ensembles.