Provocative ads luring New York Jews to engage with Judaism

“Even if you think kugel is an exercise you do for your vagina… JewBelong,” read an ad which was plastered around Manhattan.

October 6, 2019 22:21
2 minute read.
Provocative ads luring New York Jews to engage with Judaism

The rising sun lights One World Trade as it stands over the Manhattan borough of New York, US, November 2, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

What is the best approach to persuade unaffiliated Jews to engage with Judaism? According to the nonprofit JewBelong, the answer is plastering billboards around a city with a significant Jewish population – a.k.a. New York – with a bunch of borderline-inappropriate ads.
“Even if you think kugel is an exercise you do for your vagina… JewBelong,” reads one of such ads, featuring an image of the beloved Jewish noodle dish. Kegel exercises are movements aimed to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder.
According to the New York Post, such an ad was plastered on kiosks throughout the Upper West Side and Upper East Side in Manhattan.
Other campaigns featured in the JewBelong’s website present messages such as, “When you get back in touch with Judaism just to piss off your gentile mother-in-law,” and “So you eat bacon. God has other things to worry about.”

“We have to take a bit of risk and push boundaries to get people to look up,” JewBelong founder Stacy Stuart told the New York Post. “Some criticism is a very small price to pay [to help Jews] find joy in a religion they thought had nothing to offer.”
JewBelong claims to provide “straightforward explanations, readings and rituals to help warm your heart,” with an utterly non-judgmental approach.
Its website offers both short and witty explanations on major Jewish concepts – including Shabbat, mourning rituals, bar/bat mitzvahs and holidays – and more in-depth elucidations.
In the entry devoted to Yom Kippur, for instance, the first description reads: “Even if you only appreciate Yom Kippur because there is no line at the deli.” However, the page also offers detailed explanations on the meaning of the holiday, with hipster-friendly language. “Think of Yom Kippur as a transformational retreat, a little like a fabulous yoga getaway without the yoga,” the opening of the section reads, before delving into the ideas of forgiveness, communal prayers, customs and suggested readings.
Stuart told the New York Post that their mailing list has about 40,000 subscribers.
According to the paper, after complaints about the kugel ad were filed to the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District board, JewBelong had to take it down.
The organization replaced it with the bacon ad

.At least one Orthodox rabbi, Chaim Steinmetz from Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, said that, in spite of some serious reservations about their tone, he could see a positive side to JewBelong’s approach, because the ads might be able to “get someone stop and take just 10 seconds to think about being Jewish.”

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