pictures by Rachel Renov Photography
Listen to “Jew in the City Speaks” above or here.
After months of round the clock planning with my friend Chanie Waxler of Buds Events Design (event planner and florist extraordinaire) and chairwomen Rena Kutner and Shoshie Manela, we had an incredible party last Tuesday night at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan for the Third Annual Orthodox Jewish All Stars Awards. Nine of this year’s All Stars were in attendance, and several previous year’s All Stars returned. With decor by Ruth Fischl, production, lighting and sound by Olam DJ and Production, food by Legendary Affairs (including latkes being fried on the spot!), sushi by Eden Wok, and Natural and Kosher Cheese, dessert sponsored by Gali’s Couture Wigs liquor by Nahamias et Fils Distillery, and wine by Royal Wine, the feel, tastes, and sounds of this Chanukah bash where all at the place where kosher meets hip. (Everything we stand for at Jew in the City!)
Besides celebrating the achievements of talented, hard working individuals who have stayed true to their Jewish values as they’ve made history or climbed to the tops of their industries, some- thing else which made this party so special was that every group of Jews was represented: From Hasidic to secular, formerly observant to Chabad, modern Orthodox, to yeshivish, to sephardic – as I made my rounds greeting guests and taking pictures, the diversity of the crowd, coming together for a joyous occasion filled my heart with so much light.
The evening’s guests flew in from ALL over the place – Los Angeles, Toronto, Norfolk, Boston and more! We also had many members of the media as well – both secular and Jewish outlets including the New York Times and New York Post!
The program began with a hysterical act by 2012 All Star Mendy Pellin and ended with each of our All Stars accepting their award with a short (and very gracious) speech. Joyce Azria was our keynote speaker for the evening and told guests that “If you don’t stand for something, people can’t stand you.” At the end of the program, we premiered our 2014 All Stars film. It is our longest (16 minutes) and most ambitious video to date where we interview five of this year’s All Stars to learn how they’ve balanced career with observance.
Since many of you were not able to be there with us last week, we are offering another way to see this film. (For a tax deductible donation of $36 to Jew in the City (our 501(c)3 status just cleared!), we will send you a sneak peak of our film. Please email info@jewinthecitydotcom for more information).
All of our guests left with gorgeous hand painted Jew in the City mugs by Not 2 Shabbey filled with delicious homemade cookies by Baker’s Dozen. For our VIP’s, their SWAG bags were filled with gift cards from BCBGeneration, Breezy’s, Maccabeats CD’s, cosmetics by Make it Up, Jew in the City pens by Debbie’s Closet, and prints by Carly Q Creation. Other sponsors included Hydrochic, Arts Events, Kosher Scene, Great Kosher Restaurants and Rabbi Daniel Cohen.
I kept my speech short because “people love long speeches” said nobody ever. Here’s an excerpt of it: As I look out at this crowd tonight, and see so many people of all backgrounds and walks of life coming together at such an incredible party, I am filled with trepidation because I have no idea how on EARTH we will top this next year! I have always had a problem NOT thinking about the future. My propensity towards worrying about what will come later is probably the reason we’re all gathered here tonight – why Jew in the City exists at all. Let me explain:
While December is a festive time for most people it was a dark time in my childhood. At 8 years old, the happy and stable life my parents had built for me was pierced by tragedy when a classmate’s father went crazy one cold December night 26 years ago and killed both of his children and himself.
Little did my parents realize that the murder of an acquaintance would have such a profound impact on their young daughter. These untimely deaths were my first realization that life was finite and that my end too would come one day, perhaps without warning. No one had ever spoken about what would happen after this world was over, but at 8 years old, I realized that no one had ever spoken about what I was meant to do in this world either. Was there some greater purpose to my existence?
It was this search for meaning spread over years of sleepless nights (driving my poor parents crazy) that led me to stumble upon my Jewish heritage in my late teens. It was rich and profound and it was mine, but despite my parents affording me every opportunity in life, I had somehow missed out on my birthright. I was raised as a proud Jew and my parents wanted me to live a Jewish life – just not TOO Jewish. Indeed, some of my earliest memories were of my father disparaging the Orthodox Jewish community for being extremists and fanatics.
But when I started personally meeting religious Jews in my late teens, I was shocked to discover how many nice and normal ones there were. Why had I never heard about these people? Why was their story never being told? Jew in the City is a social media movement dedicated to reclaiming the Orthodox Jewish brand that has been hijacked by the creeps, crooks and extremists of the community who dominate the headlines. The idea to start it came to me when I realized several years ago, that much of the world has never seen the many many the positive parts of the religious jewish world.
In fact, a year ago, as I was speaking with a non-profit attorney in order to get our 501©3 – it just cleared this week – and we are OPEN for donations! This attorney had lived and worked in the city for 15 years and when I explained to her that JITC was established to introduce the world to all the open-minded, non-judgmental, balanced Orthodox Jews out there – she asked me if this was a new branch of Orthodoxy.
In Pirkei Avos – Ethics of the Fathers “R. Shimon says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah and the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship, and the crown of a good name (a keter shem tov) rises above them all. Our keter shem tov has been sullied. We must speak out against the problems that exist – we are not a perfect community – but we must publicize to the world and even remind ourselves all the goodness that exists. A woman named Perle who grew up Orthodox in NYC wrote to us recently:
I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you are doing. I know this is meant to be for the non-Orthodox and to clarify our religion to non Jews, but you have no idea how many regular, religious from birth Jews there are who need this! Being exposed to some off the disgruntled members of our community who spew hatred and disgust at my lifestyle had done a lot of damage to me. You have given me my former pride and sense of security back.
You – our all Stars – are helping us to reclaim our “good name” – you are talented, sincere, living with conviction and pride. You are hard workers and dedicated to your roots. You are the living proof that having the best of both worlds is possible. Getting honored is not easy, dealing with my lack of organization is also not easy, but I and the Jew in the City team – want to thank you so very much for letting us showcase you and your achievements to the world. The bad news makes itself – thank you for letting us create positive news stories around your achievements.
It is more important than ever to increase Jewish pride – as anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise since the war in Israel this summer, it is becoming more and more dangerous to openly be a Jew. The natural reaction would be to cower in fear and hide one’s Jewishness. Thank you for proudly leading and wearing your observance as a badge of honor and inspiring the rest of the Jewish people to do the same.