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March 8, 2020 6:59 pm

Popular Blogger Hosts ‘Meet a Jew’ Pop-Up in Midtown Manhattan to Fight Rising Antisemitism

avatar by Gary Shapiro

The tent on 42nd Street at Third Avenue was aimed at introducing passersby to Orthodox Jews face-to-face and one-on-one. Photo: Gary Shapiro.

Call it sidewalk schmoozing.

A tent with the words “Meet a Jew, Make a Friend” stood on 42nd Street at Third Avenue on Thursday in an unusual effort to introduce passersby to Orthodox Jews face-to-face and one-on-one.

Its goal was to counter negative impressions of Orthodox Jews, during a period of rising hate incidents.

“We don’t expect that we can change the world overnight, but we hope to strike a chord with a few hearts,” said Allison Josephs, a popular blogger whose organization Jew in the City planned the surprising meet and greet. “We’re saying that we are also human beings sharing the world with you.” Its a proactive approach that “leads with kindness,” Josephs told The Algemeiner.

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The place was purposefully chosen. It was near the scene of an antisemitic assault in December of a 65-year-old man wearing a Yarmulke.

Begun in 2007, the group Jew in the City engages in a charm offensive in its goal of reversing negative views about religious Jews. In its words, the effort “publicizes the message that Orthodox Jews can be funny, approachable, educated, pro-women and open-minded—and that Orthodox Judaism links the Jewish people to a deep and beautiful heritage that is just as relevant today as it ever was.” Jew in the City has also given out awards.

When one of her board members talked about expanding Jew in the City’s online focus to one in real life on the streets, Josephs recalled reading about an exhibit in 2013 at Berlin’s Jewish Museum which was colloquially called “Jew in the Box.” It consisted of a Jew sitting in a glass box answering people’s questions about Jews. Thus, the inspiration for the “Meet a Jew, Make a Friend” campaign was born.

Josephs said, “I grew up with negative thoughts of the Orthodox community. I really only knew them from the worst headlines and I had no personal interaction with them.” She is now Orthodox herself. Josephs said Orthodoxy is a wide spectrum. At one end, people blend in and one doesn’t even know that the person is Orthodox.

Stopping by the tent was Robert Halabov, who told The Algemeiner that anything that tears down barriers preventing understanding can be good. “Information is a powerful thing,” he said.

A volunteer Eric Feinstein said, “It’s always good to reach out and build bridges.” He added that he hoped the initiative would instigate a domino effect whereby one act of kindness engenders others.

Josephs likewise said that she hoped everyone they had the good fortune to encounter will pass along that experience to each person’s orbit of friends.

After they tried a “Meet a Jew, Make a Friend” event in East Harlem last month, Josephs said she was heartened by some of the responses from participants. One said, “I’m your neighbor, I want to be your ally.”  About the uptick in violence against Jews, another said, “Our church is praying for you.”

“We have more things that connect us than divide us,” Josephs said.

Josephs has since heard from people from places such as Melbourne, Cleveland, Chicago, London and Los Angeles about bringing such an event there. She hopes this is a “stepping stone to a global movement.” Josephs said that they are trying to perfect the model.

To allay any coronavirus fears, rugelach were packed in individual bags that were given out. Asked how conversations often begin under the tent, Josephs said, “How do you take your coffee?”

A board member of Jew in the City, Daniella Wrubel, said, “We are a friendly people who want to unite with others in friendship.”

Rabbi and artist Yitzchok Moully said it was nice to be outside sharing good vibes and free coffee. “It’s important to break down stereotypes,” he said, adding, “If you have a positive interaction with an Orthodox Jew, it’s harder to turn around and be antisemitic.”

Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Medgar Evers College, Ethan Gologor, stopped by the tent. He said, “One of the origins of prejudice between groups is the lack of contact between them. So one solution is bringing them together.”

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