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December 4, 2013 10:29 pm

The Ultra-Orthodox Need a Good Public Relations Campaign

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Ultra Orthodox Jewish men and their children in New York. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The recent Pew Report, and every single other study in recent years on the American Jewish community, clearly indicate that the more religiously observant one is, the less likely they are to assimilate. Hence, clearly anyone concerned about the Jewish people would encourage increased Jewish education, observance of mitzvoth, and people becoming closer to Judaism.

Perhaps therefore, one of the many obstacles to Jewish continuity is the “brand” of our ultra-Orthodox (chareidi) Jewish brothers and sisters. Our ultra-Orthodox brethren are regularly perceived in a negative manner, and I wish that could change. An Op-Ed I recently wrote for Hamodia – the largest ultra-Orthodox newspaper in the world – was entitled “An Appeal To My Chareidi Brothers And Sisters,” and sparked a tremendously positive response from the chareidi community.

As I said there, there is tremendous opposition to chareidim from within the Jewish community, and a major reason for that is a lack of awareness. In my professional and personal life, I have spent considerable time in communities such as Williamsburg, Lakewood, and Borough Park – and they are day and night apart from modern Orthodox communities like Englewood, Kew Gardens, or Cedarhurst. This separation isn’t a good thing for the Jewish community.

While bad things that happen in the chareidi community often make the news, every day so many good things happen, which aren’t publicized. Because the community is largely closed to the outside world, these stories aren’t told to a larger audience. While I don’t believe they should engage in widespread media relations, the chareidi community should communicate better to friendly audiences (although I’d advise they stay away from liberal Jewish media outlets.)

As I said publicly and have said privately to many Rabbis and community leaders, chareidim must respond forcefully on behalf of the community when bad people do bad things – even if they happen to be wearing yarmulkes and tzitzit. One cannot be considered “religious” if they are a child molester or a criminal of another sort.

Ruth Lichtenstein, the publisher of Hamodia, recently wrote: “The time has come to shatter the silence. Ignoring these fanatics is no longer an option, since they go out of their way to attract the secular media in order to broadcast their warped messages to the entire world. My demand is from us: How did we, in our naiveté, think that the actions of this fringe group could just be ignored? How did we give them a platform, allowing them to act as the representatives of chareidi Jewry? What we desperately need is a serious media campaign to present the true position of Torah Jewry to the world… we dare not relinquish the spokesmanship of Klal Yisrael to irrational, irresponsible and self-serving fringe elements.”

With the notable exception of Chabad, who largely aren’t a part of the ultra-Orthodox world, there’s a complete vacuum. Issues like metzitzah b’peh, school vouchers, and the like should be explained, whether online, via Op-Ed’s, or other forums to reach involved and concerned Jews. Where are more of these leaders?

A public relations campaign by the ultra-Orthodox community would be tremendously beneficial to the Jewish people. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky said in 1937, “Jewish religious tradition is not an archaic object of our history, but an active pulsating power which exists today and will continue for all eternity.”

Ronn Torossian is a Public Relations executive, author of a best-selling PR book, and regular contributor to The Algemeiner.

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