PR Tips to Counter Jewish Assimilation
by Ronn Torossian
Maybe the time is right for a Judaism public relations campaign to reach the many assimilated Jews around the world.
Growing up, until the age of bar-mitzvah or so, I had little interest in Israel or in being Jewish. Despite my mother’s stories and intense desire to excite me about Zionism and Judaism it just didn’t interest me; nothing captured my attention. Attending public school in the Bronx, only sports occupied my mind. The only visibly Jewish kids I saw playing sports wore black pants and white shirts to the park on Saturdays, and I didn’t know or want to know them.
Finally my mother forced me to participate in the programmes of the Zionist youth movement, Betar. When I arrived I remember seeing Jewish kids I deemed normal – at age 12 or 13, I defined normalcy by one’s ability to catch and throw a ball. Betar changed my life in many ways and opened my eyes to the wonders and beauty of Judaism and Israel.
But what is the Jewish community doing today to reach youth like myself who could so easily have slipped away? I am frightened by the numbers of Jewish youths and young adults who are lost to the Jewish community and have little or no interest in Judaism or Israel. As the owner of a PR agency, I believe marketing tactics should be studied and implemented by Jewish activist organizations- who spend billions of dollars – yet seem to be so ineffective when it comes to reaching Jews between the ages of 12-30.
· Jewish education and outreach must become more sophisticated.
· Learn from Chabad. The largest (and considered the most successful by many) Jewish organization in the world, speaks to Jews of all persuasions. Chabad rabbis work hard to speak in a language that Jews from all backgrounds can understand. Despite their outer appearance, these rabbis are very modern. I, for one, think that this is one of the reasons why Chabad has inspired tremendous growth in communal involvement among unaffiliated Jews. When a Chabad rabbi invites someone for Shabbat, he doesn’t ask by what means one will get there – he just extends an invitation with no strings attached. There are many other authentic Jewish organizations that need to learn from Chabad and do more to reach Jewish hearts on all levels. At the 2010 International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim, Russian billionaire, Gennady Bogolubov’s speech inspired me greatly and showed the unique power of Chabad to reach people.
· Education, business, and fun can go hand- in- hand with Judaism. Groups such as “‘RAJE” (Russian American Jewish Experience) of which I am a board member, sponsors RajeMate, and offers RAJE networking. Young adults learn about Judaism and Israel, but also come to date (mate) and to network with successful Jewish professionals within their own professional fields.
· Israel is the Central Point in Modern Jewish Life. As Birthright has successfully proven, there’s nothing more inspiring than visiting the Jewish State. Taglit-Birthright Israel is one of the few successful Jewish charitable programs, which has changed the course of Jewish history by providing the gift of educational, first-time trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26. There’s no PR like seeing Israel with your own eyes. It’s breathtaking and forever changes one’s view on Judaism.
· Seductiveness sells. There’s no denying that Israeli men and women are outrageously gorgeous. A few years ago the Israeli Consulate in N.Y.worked with Maxim Magazine for a cover story on beautiful, alluring Israeli girls. I’d rather look at Bar Rafaeli than Tzipi Livni any day of the week – and no angle should be off-limits when it comes to capturing young minds, hearts and souls, considering the staggering rates of assimilation.
· Celebrity and Heroes Work. How many Jews have a Jewish hero? A public relations campaign that highlights the contributions of the great Jewish heroes through the years – from prophets to rabbis and students to modern-day IDF soldiers. There are so many great Jews, and we just don’t hear enough about them.
· Have fun. Whether it’s listening to Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song or attending a Carlebach Synagogue, there are many fun Jewish endeavours that could light the spark in a soul.”Defiance,” a movie which shows Jewish resistance in Nazi Europe, and other similar Jewish pop culture creations, can light that spark.
As the owner of a U.S. PR firm, in many ways, it is my job is to shape people’s thinking on issues. I believe that the Jewish community must do a better job shaping Jewish minds if we don’t want to lose even more of them.
Let each of us take to heart the words of the holy Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic movement: “‘Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, if you light one small candle, its light will be seen from afar. Its precious light will be seen by everyone. Your mission is to light a candle for truth and the Jewish people.’
By lighting that spark we can keep more Jews Jewish.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR in New York City.