Filling two vacuums at once – one of Orthodox women taking a more public role and a second of Modern Orthodox Jews demonstrating the merits of religious Jewish practice – Allison Josephs has transformed her sweet and engaging webisodes and blog into a larger force. Jew in the City is now a franchise.
This heightened prominence was on full display two weeks ago when Jew in the City hosted its second annual “Top 10 Orthodox Jewish All-Stars” awards evening, this time at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.
In attendance were some of the current crop of all-stars like Issamar Ginzberg, a prominent marketing guru, and Sarah Hofstetter, who was promoted last month to CEO of the advertising firm 360i, as well as some of last year’s all-stars like celebrity chef Jamie Geller and members of the a capella group Maccabeats.
After the festivities The Jewish Press caught up with Josephs for some questions.
The Jewish Press: The celebration on Sunday was beautiful and well attended – kind of a coming-out moment, or perhaps another in a line of moments. Would that be the way you view these celebrations – as a statement that you’ve arrived?
Allison Josephs: Thank you. Last year, because it was the first year we did such a party, was a feeling of arriving. This year felt more like we’re getting bigger and better. It felt more like the crazy things I dreamed could be possible – getting media attention that Orthodox Jews can have fun, live out their dreams, and be “normal” – is actually happening. We had a CNN reporter at the event and I was interviewing Sarah Hofstetter, one of our all-stars, about how she breaks down stereotypes about Orthodox Jewish women in corporate America as the CNN reporter’s camera was rolling. And as it was all happening, it felt surreal.
The ethos of the party seemed to follow that of Jew in the City’s – that Orthodoxy is not limiting and not monolithic. Thus, there was an Orthodox DJ playing “kosher” music, a full wine and cheese section, etc.
We wanted the party to be both frum and fabulous. We made sure to invite a range of people, from chassidim to Sephardic to Chabad to modern to non-Orthodox. And we wanted it to feel like the place to be, but also to remember that we have a message and a purpose.
Is an Orthodox Jewish all-star a contradiction in terms?
Not in my mind. Yosef was probably the first Orthodox Jewish all-star, Rambam another. There are different models within Torah Judaism and if someone chooses to partake of the world less, I have no problem with that. But for the people who want to be a part of the world, inasmuch as it’s kosher, why shouldn’t we encourage people to be themselves? Quashing dreams doesn’t often lead to the most positive feelings for Hashem. And in terms of reaching out to the non-observant, we want them to know that should they want to explore their heritage more deeply, they need not sacrifice their professional success – for most industries, not all.
As you become more well known, and as you throw more of these events, you increasingly move front and center. Is that difficult for you personally? And is it difficult to balance that with your own sense of tznius?
As people start to treat me differently, I feel weird. I’ve been stopped on the street for photographs, asked for autographs. I kind of want to tell these people, “Hey there, I’ve got a secret – I’m actually just a regular person!”
The funny thing is that as a kid I dreamed of being famous. It’s one of the major goals of the secular world. Be in the spotlight. Have cameras on you. Did you ever notice how people rubberneck when there’s a camera crew around? There’s nothing terribly deep or meaningful about it. It just means that you “matter.”