June 24, 2024
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June 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Creating More Accurate Depictions of Orthodox Jews

As you may have recently read in The Jewish Link, last month, our organization Jew in the City, surfaced a clip from the NBC show “Nurses” that had a libelous and incendiary storyline about Orthodox Jews. The backlash that came next—1 million views of our clip on Twitter in a couple days, numerous organizations condemning the episode and NBC pulling it down 26 hours after the clip was posted—was nothing short of historic. Although the original producers (Entertainment One) issued an apology and a commitment to do better next time, they didn’t respond to our offer to help, and NBC still hasn’t acknowledged the need to learn more.

So a small group (for pandemic safety reasons), consisting of Jew in the City staff members, volunteers representing a diverse cross section of frum communities and some students from Kushner Yeshiva high school, created an event outside of 30 Rock last week to keep the conversation going. We recognize that the tired tropes of Orthodox Jews having no personality and always being pedantic and preachy, and almost only being featured as chasidic, come about due to ignorance rather than ill will in many cases. In fact, many of these negative portrayals are created by fellow Jews. In order to combat the lack of information that exists, our event was an “ask us anything” livestream program, which lasted an hour, drew over 2000 views in the first day and got picked up by numerous media outlets. Many Orthodox Jews seemed resigned to getting depicted badly, they reason, “Eisav sonah es Yaakov,” but I don’t believe we should give up so easily.

As someone who was raised to be a proud Jew, but hated Orthodox Jews growing up, it is so clear that education and building bridges is a crucial way to transform perceptions. Why does accurate media representation matter? First off, if you think this problem doesn’t concern you because it’s only about “the ultra-Orthodox,” you’re wrong. Most people see anyone who falls under the Orthodox umbrella as belonging to a monolithic, extremist group, no matter how modern you are. Second, when we are dehumanized, the possibility for violence increases. Chasidic and Orthodox Jews are in fact being attacked in the streets with greater frequency. According to the ADL, anti-Semitic assaults rose by 106% in New York in 2019, and in the first three quarters of 2019, constituted 54% of all hate crimes in New York, despite the fact that the Jewish population is only 13% of the city.

Additionally, from a kiruv perspective—which was my initial motivation in creating Jew in the City—an observant life remains extremely unappealing to most Jews, as they only see Orthodox Jews who leave their community or depicted or crooks, creeps and extremists. Relatives of baalei teshuva also often think their family member went off the deep end because they believe what they see on TV applies to all Orthodox Jews. Keep in mind that as we are such a small group, only found in select cities, most people will never meet an Orthodox Jew and simply base their understanding of us from the media.

And finally, quite shockingly, we’ve heard from numerous FFBs over the years who have reported that the continuous negative portrayal of the frum community in news and fictional media has harmed their personal relationship to Judaism. As one of our readers told us, “I didn’t sign up to be the laughingstock of the world.”

The Muslim, Italian, Black and many more minority communites have rightly made their voices heard and demanded Hollywood and the news media do better. We should too. And Jew in the City will be leading that charge.


Allison Josephs is the founder and director of Jew in the City.

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