“You Mean Not All Orthodox Jews Are Crazy?” He Asked Me.

I was recently explaining JITC’s mission to someone I had just met at a party. And this wasn’t just anyone: this was a doctor who has lived and worked in Manhattan – presumably around many Orthodox Jews – for years. “JITC’s goal is to show the world that there are many educated, open-minded, kind Orthodox Jews out there.” I told him.

The gentleman interrupted me, “So is this a new group within the Orthodox movement?”

[Awkward silence.]

I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by his question. I mean, I started JITC precisely because several years ago I realized how many people misunderstand our community. But to see the misunderstanding so blatantly and from such an educated person living amongst Orthodox Jews, well, it surprised even me.

“No,” I explained. There have always been “normal,” balanced, open-minded Orthodox Jews out there. But you never hear about us in the media. The headlines always capture the worst in our community and well, in really every community, I guess. The TV shows and movies always depict us in the most over-the-top ways. Because traditional media isn’t interested in covering the boringness of our “normalcy,” for many people, it’s as if we “normal” ones don’t exist.”

I went on, “And in terms of real life, for those of us who “blend,” you might not have realized that we are Orthodox. For those who blend less, you probably never got a chance to speak to them and understand that while they might look different than you, there’s a lot you have in common with one another.”

The doctor was intrigued.

I was inspired all over again. Our brand has been hijacked by criminals and extremists, and it is up to us to reclaim it.

“Judge all men favorably.” “Distance yourself from dishonesty.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “[The Torah’s] ways are those of pleasantness, its paths are those of peace.”

These are foundational Torah principles which guide the lives of many, many Orthodox Jews. Are there bad guys out there, who dress the part, but don’t live up to these values? Of course. Are they the majority of the Orthodox community? The cynics tell me they are. I don’t believe that is the case. I’ve never done a formal study, but I believe that when you keep hearing about the bad guys again and again, it feels like they’re taking over.

And that is why the good guys must make more noise. Normalcy and decency may not be enough to make the headlines in old media. But thankfully, and with your help, we are making tons of headlines in new media!


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  • Avatar photo jasmin says on January 30, 2014

    way to go, allison! never underestimate the power of one person to change the world! 🙂

  • Avatar photo Karen L says on January 30, 2014

    Please stop trying to convert people. Please stop going to parties and trying to bring people over. Just be a good person and stop trying to make others be like you. The kiruv sickens me. Leave them alone. Do you want us coming to your schools and enlightening your kids about the beauty of a secular and free life? Do you want us coming to your parties and intruiging you with the beauty of our free lives and the truth as we see it? Life as you wish but stop trying to convert us. We are not bothering you so leave us alone!!

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 30, 2014

      Thanks for your comment, Karen L. The guy I was speaking to wasn’t Jewish. I wasn’t trying to convert him, I was simply at a holiday party and we were talking about our careers. You make a whole lot of accusations for such an “open-minded” and “enlightened” individual.

      I do try to be a good person. Which is why I don’t accuse other people who I don’t know at all of bad things. I try to judge all people favorably. I’m not “trying to make others like me” I’m here to tell my story for whomever cares to hear it. I’m also here to speak out against the problems in the Orthodox world like closed-mindedness, homophobia, dishonesty.

      I’m not “coming to your schools.” I’m on the internet and sometimes I even step into the world when “the men” let me! 😉 You have a lot of interesting assumptions about me. I’m a formerly non-Orthodox woman who attended an Ivy League University who is living her dream sharing her story with the world. I have a husband (who was raised Hasidic – he no longer is) who when I told him 7 years ago that I wanted to quit my job to live out my dream (even though I was the sole bread winner as he was in law school) he told me to “go for it” and we’d figure it out later.

      And my children know all about the secular world because we live in it! I do not go around bashing my old way of life. There are many wonderful things about the secular world. But what was missing from it for me was a deeper purpose. My parents gave me an incredible childhood but when I was 8 years old, a classmate of mine was murdered by her father and I was thrown into an existential crisis. I had a nice, happy life, but I realized that it wasn’t adding up to anything more than what I was doing here and now. The goal was good grades for a good job, marry a nice guy, have a nice home, but then one day I’d be 6 feet under and I wondered what the point of it all was.

      I was raised to think of Orthodox Jews much how you seem to! 😉 But I accidentally met an Modern Orthodox teacher when I was in high school and he was none of the awful things I assumed he’d be. He was a lot like me – just living with purpose. And when I discovered the beauty of an observant life style I decided that I wanted to put it out there so other Jews could have the opportunity to know more about it in case they struggled like I did.

    • Avatar photo Ayala says on February 9, 2014

      Karen, I am really confused. What does an informative, educational website have to do with ‘converting’ and luring people in? Suppose I started a health blog filled with health tips, recipes and my personal journey away from American fast food to eating nutritious whole foods. Would I be ‘proselytizing’, or sharing helpful information?

      • Avatar photo Karen L says on March 3, 2014

        Ayala, I was referring to Allison going to a party and trying to convert this gentleman to her orthodox lifestyle. She is free (as is anyone) to run her business and offer information as she sees fit. I was referring to men on the streets of Miami with tefilin (sp?) trying to stop jewish men to convert them. I’m talking about the cult of Chabad that turns happy families into enemies with its kiruv and outreach tactics praying on vulnerable youth. Allison clarified that in this case, the man she was speaking to was not jewish so it does not apply. But in general there are destructive outreach techniques employed by the orthodox to try and convert normal people into fanatical ones. That is what I was referring to. Not this website.

  • Avatar photo Karen L says on January 30, 2014

    I wish you peace, and I feel sorry for you. But if you feel like you’re living a purposeful life, I wish you success at it. I think I will start a similar website to enlighten religious people about my lifestyle in case they are struggling, as may of them are, with their questions. I’m sure many of them have the wrong impression of secular jews. Oh wait, they can’t use the internet.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 30, 2014

      Oh, Karen L. You are making me smile. You feel *sorry* for me? I just described to you that I’m living a life which I’ve chosen, have an incredible and super supportive husband, a career which I adore and a meaningful existence and *you* feel sorry for *me*?!!

      You should feel free to start a website telling you story. The internet is full of all sorts of websites! And again – you misunderstand the Orthodox community. There are MANY, MANY Orthodox Jews online!

  • Avatar photo You are doing something good here... says on January 30, 2014

    Hi Allison,
    I am glad that you are reaching out to the world, one person at a time & online. There are so many misconceptions about Orthodox Jews. I work in a Jewish, non-religious environment & I have become an ambassador for the Orthodox world, because I am modern Orthodox. My co-workers ask me questions all the time.

  • Avatar photo Ayala says on February 9, 2014

    Allison, I appreciate your post. It is unfortunate that so many people have false, negative stereotypes against Orthodox Jews. However, I think that your message could come across more positive if some sentences would be reworded. You wrote,
    “There have always been “normal,” balanced, open-minded Orthodox Jews out there….”, “for many people, it’s as if we “normal” ones don’t exist.”
    Your essay seems to imply that there are a group of modern-orthodox people who are normal because they are ”with-it” and “out there” unlike the more extreme ultra-orthodox. A more positive and truthful message would be “Orthodox Jews as a whole, yes even those who live very insular lives, are an amazing, incredible group of people. They are so normal because they know how to create amazing, happy, healthy homes based on love, spiritual growth, morality and honesty. Spouses have beautiful, intimate relationships, and children are raised to be respectful, considerate and kind. We are so normal that even in a crazy, immoral, boundary-less world , we continue to walk on paths of pleasantness and peace.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on February 9, 2014

      Thanks for your comment, Ayala. I did not mention “modern Orthodox” anywhere in the post. There are open-minded, balanced Orthodox Jews in every community. But, of course, not ever Orthodox Jew “blends” and looks more like secular people and therefore I wrote: “For those who blend less, you probably never got a chance to speak to them and understand that while they might look different than you, there’s a lot you have in common with one another.”

      This was not a post about modern Orthodoxy. It was about every group of good, decent Orthodox Jews of which there are many.

      Hope that clears it up.

      • Avatar photo Ayala says on February 9, 2014

        Thank you.

  • Avatar photo Chana Parnes says on February 13, 2014

    All too often the media zeros in on the 'bad', 'weird' 'outrageous' members of the Orthodox community. It's great of you to use modern-day media methods to teach Jews and non-Jes alike about the 'normal' beauty of Judaism!


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