Tone-Deaf Jewish Marketing

I began haphazardly collecting the advertisements a number of years ago. The first, which appeared at the end of Tammuz in a Jewish periodical, touted an eatery. It was apparently aimed at carnivores troubled by the restrictions of the imminent Nine Day period of mourning over the Bais Hamikdash’s destruction. Beneath a photo of a full plate of food was the legend: “Siyum Nightly for Meat Lovers!” Really.

More recently, I was struck by a full page come-on just around this time of year featuring a bottle of kosher for Pesach potato-based vodka over the legend: “Finally, shulchan oreich is a pleasure.”

Finally? I dunno. Somehow, my family’s sedarim have been immensely pleasurable, even vodka-free.

Between those offensive bookends I incredulously encountered many other Jewishly tone-deaf ads, in print or pixels. Like one advising how you can “steal the show” with some fancy table adornment or another; another one that proudly announced an all-you-can-eat “Fleishfest!” (though for a worthy cause); yet another letting the reader know that there’s a way to “Experience the real simchas yomtov,” by spending Pesach at a particular hotel. (Who would want a fake simchas Yom Tov, after all?)

And then there was the ad (for another away-from-home holiday locale) assuring us that “The only thing you should have to give up for Pesach is chametz.” Presumably, the message was that one shouldn’t have to spend his hard-earned free time – the holiday, after all, celebrates freedom, no? – cleaning, changing over the house and cooking for Yom Tov.)

And Sukkos really seems to bring out the best (so to speak) in Jewishly clueless marketing.

One late summer ad for a labor-free temporary tabernacle offered to end, once and for all, the dreaded “hassle of sukkah”; another dangled the lure of a getaway to a Florida Keys hotel featuring its own “air conditioned Sukkah!” (Good she’eilah there: If the AC is too strong, is one considered a mitzta’er?) And yet another invited readers to a glatt kosher vacation for the Yom Tov in the Bahamas, assuring them that “Sukkot Never Got This Good.” (After inviting Ushpizin, one supposes, he can, as the ad continued, “swim with dolphins!”)

That particular advertisement went on to modestly self-identify as “the most luxurious and extraordinary resort on Planet Earth.” Remind you of “So that your generations may know that I made the Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkos when I brought them out of Eretz Mitzrayim” (Vayikra 23:43)? Me neither.

We Jews in America today are beneficiaries of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s kindness beyond measure. We live in a time and place where we are not persecuted, have freedom to practice our faith and to engage in professions and businesses without hindrance –seldom if ever the case in our previous sojournings in galus.

But with plenty come plenty of challenges. The Shabbos before last we read in shul of the egel hazahav, the Golden Calf. It was said in the yeshiva of Rabi Yanai that Moshe attributed that sin to Hashem’s having bestowed much gold and silver on the people (Berachos 32a). It’s hard to be poor, but wealth carries dangers of its own.

I don’t want, chalilah, to injure any Jew’s livelihood, and have nothing against meat (though the less of it one eats, it’s increasingly clear, the better) or vodka, kosher for Pesach or otherwise; I’ve been known to occasionally splash a bit in my grapefruit juice myself. And there may well be people who, nebbich, need to spend Yomim Tovim in hotels.

But none of us should covet any of those things – or seek to stir covetousness for them in our fellow Jews. And, no less than we care about where our children receive their educational instruction we should care about the “chinuch” they receive from the pages of the periodicals we welcome into our homes. And we shouldn’t be sheepish about letting advertisers know when we feel their blandishments have crossed lines.

Yes, yes, I know that advertising is part and parcel of contemporary business, and what keeps Jewish papers and magazines afloat. But there is a stark, qualitative difference between ads that offer information, opportunities and products, on the one hand, and those, on the other, that shamelessly exaggerate – or, worse, that promote values that are, politely put, less than consonant with Torah-informed values. Or, worse still, that promote violation of one of the Aseres Hadibros’ “Thou shalt not”s (see “steal the show,” above).

There is ample room for creativity – photographic, linguistic, humorous and otherwise– in producing memorable advertisements for most anything. A Jewishly responsible ad doesn’t have to be bland.

But it should be becoming.

© 2018 Hamodia

We The People, They The Elites

I’m not one to spy anti-Semites hiding under the bed. When I was a high school Rebbi, sometimes, when erasing the blackboard (remember blackboards?), I lost control of the wood-and-felt eraser and it landed on the floor. I would look down at it and growl “antesehMIT!” – not just as a joke but as an indirect lesson to the class that not every obstacle a Jew might face is necessarily sourced in Jew-hatred.

But my antenna for subtle prejudice against Jews nevertheless functions well. And a recent speech by longtime National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set it vibrating intensely.

The NRA boss was addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and he didn’t mention the words “Jew” or “Jewish” at any point. But my radar strongly registered his words all the same.

The speech was a fiery one, an ultra-conservative cri de coeur that went far beyond defending gun ownership and opposing even reasonable gun control measures. It was a call to arms (maybe even literally – I’m not sure) for patriotic Americans to resist liberal societal forces – “European-style socialists,” as he called them – that he accused of being determined to destroy America from within.

Deriding recent efforts at tightening gun restrictions, he asserted that “The elites don’t care, not one whit, about America’s school system… For them, it is not a safety issue. It is a political issue. They care more about control and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

“History proves it,” he asserted. “Every time, in every nation in which this political disease rises to power, its citizens are repressed, their freedoms are destroyed, and their firearms are banned and confiscated.

“It is all backed in this country by the social engineering, and the billions [of dollars], of people like George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and more.”

He went on to single out Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer as one of the Democrats who, he claimed, are anti-American and “liars to the core.”

And, for good measure, he namechecked Karl Marx, Bernie Sanders and 1960s community organizer Saul Alinsky.

“These intellectual elites,” he charged, “think they’re smarter than the rest of us. And they think they’re better than we are. They truly believe it… They think they deserve to be in charge of every lever of power.”

“But you know what?” he challenged his listeners, “We the People are in charge of this country!”

He characterized the Democratic Party as “infested with saboteurs,” and the student-propelled resurgence of gun-control advocacy that followed the Parkland, Florida school shooting as a “shameful politicization of tragedy… a classic strategy right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement.”

Then, noting how there are armed guards at some jewelry stores and sports stadiums, he asked his listeners, “Do we really love our money and our celebrities more than we love our children?”

Practically every sentence he uttered drew resounding applause.

Now, few if any of us Orthodox Jews are fans of George Soros or Saul Alinsky, and we certainly have no sympathies for Karl Marx. Most of us, moreover, are politically and socially conservative. But is it unreasonable to be concerned by the fact that all of the names Mr. LaPierre cited are of Jewish ethnicity?

To be sure, Jews are prominent in American philanthropy and politics, and, whether or not we like it, most American Jews are of liberal bent.

But billionaire gun-control and “social engineering” proponents also prominently include people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos. And, in Congress, many similarly non-members-of-the-tribe, like Senators Jack Reed and Richard Durbin, and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Carolyn Maloney, are at the forefront of the effort to enact gun control legislation.

Mr. LaPierre likely has no great affection for those people or others like them. Why did he omit them from his jeremiad?

And why did his gun control enemy list not include “usual suspects” like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence or The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?

Why did he reference… only people known as Jews?

Then there was the comment, in 2010, by the NRA’s spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, in which she lamented the dismissal of a sports broadcaster for some intemperate words by writing that “I bet” he “was fired by a Jew.”

Mr. LaPierre may be no more anti-Semitic than my old blackboard eraser. Maybe I’m reading into his recent screed’s references to Jews something that isn’t really there.

But my antenna won’t stop buzzing.

© 2018 Hamodia


Amusing, And Then Again, Not So Much

You’d think it was a Purim joke. But, no, “Operation Schtickle Pioneer” is a thing.

At least in one person’s mind.

Did you know that a Jewish cabal is planning to make “large areas of public property… [into] extension[s] of private Jewish households,” and that concerned citizens are, as a result, “under siege by members of religious groups backed by the Agudath Israel of America”?

Neither did I. But one anonymous New Jersey activist, the baal habayis of a new website, knows better. He informs us that the Agudah has “instructed its followers to start taking over areas within 1.5 hours of Manhattan in an attempt to ‘convert’ them to the Hasidic way of life.”

And that the national Orthodox organization has named its nefarious plot, yes, “Operation Schtickle [sic] Pioneer.”

A moment’s thought and a bit of imagination yield the realization that that Mr. NoEruv is referring to the scandalous practice of putting pieces of plastic piping on some utility poles to serve as lechis for eruvim. Indeed, he christened his site “NoEruv.” And he has a warning for us plotters: “We have you and know how you operate.”

Confused? Let us, as the Chinese saying goes, feing ohn fun der unfaing, or start at the beginning.

That would be Agudath Israel 93rd national convention, which took place in 2015. At one of the many sessions during the multi-day event, long-time Agudath Israel Vice President for Community Services Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz addressed the topic of the Orthodox community’s “Growing Pains” – the unaffordability of housing born of the tzibbur’s growth.

Rabbi Lefkowitz made a radical (well, to some) suggestion, namely that people who were raised in places like Borough Park, Flatbush, Manhattan or Lakewood consider living in somewhat off-the-beaten-track locales. He didn’t go quite so far as I once did when I suggested establishing Satmarer in Sioux City, moving Telshers to Tuskegee and Y.U.ers to Wyoming. More modestly, he simply asked his listeners to consider buying homes in outlying boroughs and suburbs in New York and New Jersey.

And he said, several times, without a hint of ominousness, “You can be a shtickel pioneer.”

Thus – under the direction, presumably, of the Elders of Zion – was born “Operation Schtickle Pioneer.”

Our anonymous anti-eruvite managed to mangle, if only in his heady head, an innocent endorsement of Jews’ setting their homestead horizons a bit beyond their comfort zones into a nefarious plot by scheming rabbis to “instruct their followers on how to convert townships in New Jersey.”

The would-be lechi-liquidator is understandably frustrated. Several weeks ago, the township of Mahwah, New Jersey, which had halted the building of an eruv, reached a settlement that included not only the resumption of the eruv-building but also the town’s pledge to not interfere in its maintenance and upkeep, and to provide a police escort for any such work (as vandals had previously torn down lechis).

It also agreed to pay the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association at least $10,000 in legal fees.

For its part, the Eruv Association agreed to switch the white PVC pipes it had been using for elements that better blend in with the utility poles.

The settlement was the result of a lawsuit last October by then-State Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, charging the town with violating the rights of religious Jews. Then-Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet and then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie supported the suit.

All of which apparently made Mr. NoEruv unhappy. He insists that the Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of an official religion for the U.S., thereby forbids the erection of eruvim on public property.

But the Mahwah eruv opponents didn’t stand a chance in court, as those supporting the ordinance forbidding the eruv clearly aimed to prevent Orthodox Jews from moving to the town – rendering the question not one of establishing a religion but rather one of preventing citizens’ free exercise thereof, the other part of the Establishment Clause.

In any event, it’s pretty clear that more important to Mr. NoEruv than any Constitutional issue is the sneaky way Jews are bent, as he sees it, on… taking over and “converting” others.

I can’t know the mind of Mr. NoEruv, so I can’t opine on its state. But I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: That a man would so dislike religious Jews that he would intentionally misrepresent an innocuous statement as something devious, or that a man might actually believe that the statement is in fact devious.

Either way, and amusing as his imagined plot may be, people like Mr. NoEruv are no joke.

© Hamodia 2018


Surveying Some Surveys

The imbalance itself didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been observing the political scene in recent years, but the degree to which Democrats’ support for Israel has dropped and Republicans’ has risen, as revealed by a recent Pew Research Center survey, was striking.

A mere 27% of the 1503 respondents who identified themselves as Democrats told the pollsters they sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, and 25% said their sympathies lie with the Palestinians.

Among self-identified Republicans, those numbers were 79% and 6%, respectively.

In 1978, 49% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians. And in earlier years, it was the Democratic party that was perceived as the most supportive of Israel, and the Republican as a less reliable friend. Times, and parties, change.

Vital, though, for all of us who care about Israel to remember is that political parties, as has been asserted repeatedly in this space, are not sports teams. It would be mindless, in fact counterproductive, for Jews to become “fans” and brand either party as “pro” or “anti” Israel, and unthinkingly vote accordingly.

For what the poll reveals is just that the pool of Americans who are less sympathetic, or hostile, to Israel has gravitated to the Democratic party – not that Democrats in Congress, or Democratic candidates, are in sync with those misguided citizens.

Of course, that gravitation is worrisome in itself. But we must remind ourselves that some of Israel’s most stalwart and ardent supporters in Congress are Democrats, and that Congress as a body is unmistakably friendly to Israel and supportive of her security needs.

Resolutions and legislation favoring Israel routinely pass both houses of Congress with little to no opposition. And among the 18 states that have passed laws against the BDS movement, nine are blue, nine are red.

The Pew survey, moreover, shows that sympathy for Israel remains greater than that for the Palestinians among men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, the educated, the uneducated, Protestants, Catholics and even (if at a disturbingly slim margin) Democrats.

More concerning to me than the Pew survey, though, are the results of another recent one, from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which found that, while 77% of older evangelicals – the largest identifiable strongly pro-Israel group –say they support the existence, security and prosperity of Israel, the percentage drops to 58 percent among younger evangelicals, those 18 to 34.

“For the most part,” said Scott McConnell, who directs that research center, “younger evangelicals are indifferent about Israel.” That’s not good news.

And more disturbing still is yet another recent survey, this one conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen and social researcher Jack Ukeles, of 3000 respondents in the Bay Area.

They found that a mere 11% of Jews ages 18-34 said they were “very attached to Israel.” Even more alarming was their finding that only 30% of American Jews in that age cohort said that they sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians. And, most startling of all, that only 40% of those surveyed said they were even “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”

Now, the Bay Area isn’t exactly representative of the nation. Were Northern California (my home for 7 years a few decades ago) a state unto itself, its capital would be either San Francisco or Berkeley, whose latitudinarian reputations are legend.

But an earlier study of the broader Jewish geographical scene, the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews nationwide, yielded a similarly worrisome portrait of young respondents’ feelings. It, too, found that less than a third of young Jews it asked sympathized more with Israel than the Palestinians.

If such young Jewish Americans’ attitude don’t mature, and evangelical support for Israel wanes in tandem, the tight connection between the U.S. and Israel could, chalilah, be threatened.

There is, though, a silver lining to that ominous cloud: Us.

That is to say, the Orthodox community. We are deeply committed to Israel’s security, and we are poised to become a formidable social and political force on the American scene.

Orthodox Jews already represent more than a quarter of American Jews 17 years and younger. Within the past two generations, according to Professor Cohen, the Orthodox percentage of the American Jewish population has already more than quadrupled.  And the trend is, baruch Hashem, continuing.

Our young generation, both in its embrace of Torah u’mitzvos and its support for its brothers and sisters in Israel, is the converse of the one the Pew study described. And will be playing a pivotal role in maintaining a continued strong bond between American Jewry and Israel.

© 2018 Hamodia

Habeas Corpus for Horses?

Over the years, thanks to some creative, unusual talmidim I was privileged to teach when I was a mesivta Rebbe, I have had an assortment of pets (the animal sort). Each of several Purims, my shiur would give my wife and me, in addition to mishloach manos, a living gift.

We thereby became the proud caretakers, at various points, of a goat, an iguana and a tarantula. In addition to the tropical fish we’ve always kept, and the occasional hamster or mouse one or another of our children cared for.

I honestly appreciated each of the creatures; they evoked in me amazement over the variety and abilities of Hashem’s creations. Likewise, the birds and squirrels outside our dining room window during breakfast are an endless source of beauty (and, even sweeter, needn’t be fed). My wife is particularly partial to the graceful deer that sometimes venture from nearby woods to visit.

But animals are animals. Not, as some increasingly assert, beings less sentient than us but no less worthy of being treated as human.

The more than two thirds of American households that own pets spend more than $60 billion on their care each year, up sharply in recent years. People give dogs birthday presents and have their portraits taken by professional photographers. According to at least one study, many Americans grow more concerned when they see a dog in pain than when they see an adult human suffering.

That’s bad enough, but the law, too, is being enlisted to obscure the bright line between the animal and the human spheres.

Last year, the Illinois legislature passed a law that would force courts to give “parents” joint custody of pets in divorce cases. “It sort of starts treating your animal more like children,” says an unembarrassed Illinois State Senator Linda Holmes, the bill’s sponsor.

The nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project promotes the idea that animals should be entitled to the right to not be unlawfully detained without a judge’s order. Habeas corpus for horses.

New York University law professor Richard Epstein sees the implications, and skeptically observes that “We kill millions of animals a day for food. If they have the right to bodily liberty, it’s basically a holocaust.”

Shades of the 2002 book that made precisely that case. It bears a truly obscene title: “Eternal Treblinka.”

And then there is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder and president Ingrid Newkirk’s declaration a few years back that “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses,” and her infamous aphorism “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

We are required by halachah to protect animals from needless harm or unnecessary suffering when they are put to our service or killed for food. But that is a far bark from assigning them “rights.”

We who have been gifted with the Torah, as well as all people who are the product of societies influenced by Torah truths, have no problem distinguishing between animals and human beings.

But some secularists reason that, since animals have mental abilities, if limited ones, they should be treated like human infants.

If such people’s minds are open even a crack, though, they should be able to realize that considering animals qualitatively different from humans isn’t “speciesism” but a truth born of observable facts.

Yes, animals think and communicate. But conceiving or conveying abstract but important concepts like “right” and “wrong” and “responsibility” and “wantonness” – is something quintessentially, and pointedly, human.

Humans, moreover, have what philosophy calls moral agency, the ability to choose to act even against instinct.

And something else.

In a recent conversation with an eldercare professional, I pointed out something she had never considered.

Seen through a secular lens, biological species are “interested” only in preserving their own lives and those of their progeny; their behavior (consciously or not) serves the biological goal of the species’ perseverance. The previous generation has no value; it has served its purpose. Animals care only for their young, not for their parents.

Humans, though, at least in normal circumstances, feel an obligation to care for those to whom they owe their lives.

It will have to be seen whether or not such compelling distinctions will put brakes on the misguided idea of a smooth animal-human continuum. And, if it doesn’t, whether those who see animals as human (and vice versa, the inevitable other side of that counterfeit coin) will be able to enlist lawmakers in their goals.

More than we might imagine will hang on it.

© 2018 Hamodia