It’s often said that one can find two items all over the world – Coca Cola and Chabad, as even Oprah Winfrey discovered this week, while touring Crown Heights. Authentic religious Judaism needs to do a better job of marketing itself – of showing the beauty and warmth of Judaism – and there are precious few doing a great job of it. The perception of the noninvolved, non -religious Jewish community is that Judaism is boring, closed and dry. While for many that may be the case (this includes the local synagogue I myself have entered at least 25 times to nary a smile, handshake or welcome) it’s not the rule – and certainly not the path which will allow American Judaism to continue to thrive.
Let’s first accept the words of (the anything- but- Orthodox) Michael Steinhardt: “All would agree that Jews in America are demographically endangered. In addition to the usual suspects of assimilation and intermarriage… When we remove the Orthodox, the picture becomes that much bleaker for those American Jews who are most at risk. Fifty-five to 60 percent of non-Orthodox Jews are marrying ‘out;’ only 15% of total Jewish philanthropy goes to Jewish causes; -non-Orthodox Judaism in America has been, and continues to be, an abysmal failure.” Basically, Steinhardt, and every single survey conducted on the subject states that Orthodox Judaism is the only future in which American Jewry can thrive.
As one who was educated solely by the New York Public School system through University level, I am blessed today to have my children educated in an Orthodox day school. As owner of one of the 25 largest PR firms in the U.S., I may be singularly qualified to offer practical guidance on how the religious community must improve its marketing in order to display the beauty of authentic Judaism. Below are examples of unique success stories:
Chabad: Engage a Chabad emissary in discussion – and you will see these warm holy people engage Jews of all ilks- all backgrounds, all styles of dress – as long as you are Jewish, you are welcome, no questions asked. Chabad emissaries are everywhere in the world and their sole, and simple, mission is to encourage Jews to learn more about their Jewish heritage and to practice Judaism. They assist Jews with their religious needs, as well as with physical assistance, spiritual guidance and teaching.
Chabad rabbis invite guest for Shabbat dinner to their homes, aware that the guest will drive to get to his or her home, not within walking distance. The simple concept that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson stated was, “Begin with a mitzvah (good deed) — any mitzvah — its value will not be diminished by the fact that there are others that you are not prepared to do.” Step-by-step one grows closer and it’s a beautiful success story – one I am sure will continue to grow. Russian billionaire, Gennady Bogolubov’s recent speech is a great eye-opener for all to watch about the magical power of Chabad to affect change in Jews.
“Carlebach-style” prayer service is something which will open any heart to Judaism – regardless of one’s religious background or knowledge. I often attend Shabbat Services at the Carlebach Shul on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and it is as Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt said, “[Carlebach] changed the expectations of the prayer experience from decorous and somber to uplifting and ecstatic as he captivated generations with elemental melodies and stories of miraculous human saintliness, modesty and unselfishness.” Come prepared to sing, clap and dance- or close your eyes and meditate to the beauty of the prayers in song. It’s simply awesome, fun and enjoyable and opens one’s heart.
Different synagogues and religious organizations that step outside the traditional box yet are Orthodox:
The Soho synagogue where Rabbi Scheiner says they wanted the space to echo a hotel lobby or chic boutique, so that young, mostly lapsed New York Jews, who probably haven’t set foot inside a temple since their bar or bat mitzvah, would feel at home. “We had to offer a space they were comfortable with,” says the rabbi, who wears Converse sneakers and jeans on most days. “People don’t go to Temple because it’s not relevant or exciting or engaging or social. So we’ve made it all of those things. If we offer them a place that looks like the synagogue they were dragged to by their parents, they’re going to have nervous breakdowns and never come back.” He’s right, and with the help of donors like Moshe Lax and others, it’s working.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, the national Jewish leader who runs the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale often states that “…he is an Orthodox rabbi, but he is a rabbi for all Jews.” His synagogue, he refers to as “Bayit”-(home)- as a welcoming place of love, so too he says, must all Jews be loved and welcome. The special way in which Weiss brings spirituality into his synagogue, its activism, its learning programs, and its work on behalf of the elderly, the home-bound, and others is unique and very special.
YJP (Young Jewish Professionals) – which serves as a hub of activity for Jews of all backgrounds has hosted events including a Mumbai fundraiser with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, mixers with hedge fund gurus, and honored NYC nightlife mogul Mark Birnbaum with their 2011 award. It’s an especially nice way to open the doors to many whose doors (and hearts and minds) are closed to Orthodox Judaism.
Forget about what you think you may know about Chabad, Carlebach, or Rabbi Avi Weiss – or the many great rabbis and community leaders like them- these are people who open their hearts and cause other Jews to open their hearts and minds to Judaism – and in the world of marketing and public relations, that’s a big initial step towards success.