For those who harbor stereotypes about Orthodox Jews and how their beliefs limit their career options, Allison Josephs has created an antidote. The creator and moving force behind the Internet site Jew in the City, Josephs released a video on Dec. 13, “Orthodox Jewish All Stars.”
The video features a range of people from various Orthodox streams, each in some way defying a stereotype of parochialism.
They include retiring United States Sen. Joseph Lieberman, best-selling mystery novelist Faye Kellerman, basketball star Tamir Goodman, Top 10 recording artist Alex Clare, and former HBO senior writer/producer Jamie Geller.
The list goes on: comedian Mendy Pellin, professional boxer Dmitriy Salita, the a cappella group The Maccabeats, Rhodes scholar and Princeton graduate Miriam Rosenbaum, and the founder of Sharsheret, the nonprofit breast cancer support group, Rochelle Shoretz, who was also a Supreme Court law clerk.
Josephs, who grew up in Florham Park, said her Conservative family regarded Orthodox Jews as “weird and fanatical,” totally removed from normal contemporary life. That changed for her in her teens. She became observant herself, and eventually her family came to share her acute awareness of the negative stereotypes surrounding the Orthodox.
“When I started Jew in the City in 2007 I made a list of the biggest misconceptions about observant Jews, and this was one of the worst: So many people believe that all Orthodox men have to be rabbis and that Orthodox women can only be homemakers,” she told NJJN. “I wanted to face that myth head-on.”
Her own spiritual path, Josephs said, began when she was eight, when a despairing father who lived just a few houses away shot his two children and then himself. “I had the happiest life,” said Josephs, “but that brush with death made me aware of the fragility of life, and that nothing I was doing — not my grades or my friendships or my dance class — would last. I had a yearning for to find something that would last beyond this world.”
She found it at the community’s Central Hebrew High School, which was held on the Kushner campus in West Caldwell (and later in Livingston).
“I’d always thought observant Jews were these creepy types, but here were people living with purpose and meaning. I came out of the first lesson” — on Pirkei Avot — “with my soul on fire, walking on air,” she said.
She went on to get a degree from Columbia University, but before that — and ever since — continued her Torah studies. One of her cherished study partners is Mayim Bialik, the star of the TV show Blossom and now a regular on The Big Bang Theory.
Working with Josephs is Hillside native Leah Rothstein, a graduate of the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth. She joined the JITC crew in 2009 and is now its director of marketing and operations. Rothstein also serves as production assistant for some of the videos Josephs posts on her blog, and helped create two of the segments on the “Superstars” video.
Both women have heard objections that their website, in its portrayal of assertive Orthodox women and frank discussion of sexual matters, lacks “tznius,” or modesty.
But, Rothstein said, she believes in “using the power of the Internet as a vehicle for good, such as increased awareness of Judaism and Torah.”
Josephs said while some might disapprove of the public nature of what she does, she is comfortable that what drives her is good.
“My greatest dream,” she said, “is that every Jew should know about the beauty of what Judaism offers and make their own choice whether to be observant from knowledge and not out of ignorance.”