Orthodox Jews are taking to the streets in an effort to fight anti-Semitism and build bridges with their non-Jewish neighbors.
By United with Israel Staff
With a warm and welcoming, “Hi. What’s your name?”, Orthodox Jewish volunteers for the non-profit Jew in the City, founded in 2007, strive to build bridges with non-Jews.
In light of the rampant increase of public anti-Semitism and violence against Jews, its staff takes to the streets with pop-up booths that offer friendly conversation and snacks to those passing by, hoping to reverse negative stereotypes about religious Jews.
“Orthodox Jews can be funny, approachable, educated, pro-women and open-minded,” notes the Jews in the City website. And the organization wants to prove that to the world.
Jew in the City founder Allison Josephs, a mother of four involved with Jewish outreach for over 15 years, initially sought to break down stereotypes by offering a humorous, meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism on social media platforms.
However, in light of increasing anti-Semitism and challenges within Orthodox communities themselves, the non-profit updated its mission statement in 2018 to: “Jew in the City reverses negative associations about religious Jews by putting forth an approach based on kindness, tolerance, sincerity, and critical thinking and makes engaging and meaningful Orthodox Judaism known and accessible.”
Through the pop-up event, Orthodox Jews meet and greet non-Jews in order to share views and show what they have in common. For instance, in a video published by CBS New York, featuring a small boy throwing a tantrum in front of the booth, Abigail Gluck, a hasidic volunteer for the organization, comforts the caretaker by understandingly saying, “My son does that every day.”
“It doesn’t create world peace or change the world overnight, but every person that we give a coffee to and exchange some words to, they now become an ambassador for their network of friends,” Josephs says in the video.
New York City is facing a 26 percent increase in anti-Semitic crimes. That reality makes the grassroots efforts of Jew in the City that much more important and timely, the non-profit stresses.
“Nowadays, I see so much polarization, so much hate, so much distrust and fear,” Gluck says. “Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, blacks and whites, Jews and non-Jews, whatever group we decide to stick ourselves in and hate the other. But we are just so similar.”
After speaking with a Jew in the City volunteer, East Harlem resident Lolita Johnson says in the video, “Living in New York City, that’s what we are supposed to do. Everyone is supposed to be welcoming here regardless of race, creed, color or age.”
The NGO plans to continue its efforts to combat hate by placing pop-ups in more locations around the city.