NEW YORK - If Hollywood were to meet the high society of the Five Towns or Borough Park, it would look like this. Kosher wine from boutique wineries spilling into shiny glasses, designer dresses and custom wigs, schmoozing with VIP's, waiters offering Glatt gourmet dishes and photographers who try to capture all this glamor in their lens.
Welcome to Jew in the City's Fifth Annual Orthodox Jewish All Stars Premiere Party. The event took place Sunday night just beside Times Square, honoring an "accomplished and diverse group of individuals who have achieved great success in their relevant fields while maintaining a Torah-observant lifestyle." With a crowd of nearly 500 guests (many of whom paid the full price of $125 a ticket) it was the largest All-Star party yet organized by Allison Josephs, the founder and director of Jew in the City.
This year's honorees were David Mazouz, teen star of Fox's Gotham
; businessman A. Zayat, owner and breeder of the Triple Crown winning racehorse American Pharoah; Neil Schloss, VP and CFO, Mobility, Ford Motor Company; and the Honorable Ruchie Freier
, the first Hasidic female judge. Other current honorees included David A. Adler, best-selling author of the Cam Jansen books; Frayda Ginsburg, former director of legal at Burberry Americas; Chaim Lebovits, CEO of Brainstorm Technology (a pioneer in initiating a phase III trial in a treatment for ALS); and Sam Rascoff, former director of NYPD's Intelligence Analysis Unit.
Each one of the "stars" went on stage to get a statue by Josephs and gave a short speech. All of the winners talked about their Orthodoxy and Jewish identity.
"Make Kiddush Hashem out there because the opportunities are incredible," said Judge Freier in her speech. The Hassidic mother of six, who was elected justice in Brooklyn in 2016, said: "Each and every one of us - be the most you can be, and with your emuna
, with your faith, you will be successful." Relating to her fellow winners, she said, "We are all different people; we come from different backgrounds and different communities, but we all have our own standards. Stick with them. Do not feel for one second that you have to compromise any of your religious standards."
In the lobby outside the hall, Israeli pop in the background, decorative stars swung from the ceiling. This created the "star boulevard" of American Orthodoxy, and soft spotlights revealed that every star had the name of a man or a woman who was among last years' winners
: Ilana Wernick, co-executive producer of prime-time TV shows; best-selling novelist Faye Kellerman; Senator Joe Lieberman; professional boxer Dmitriy Salita; Ambassador Norm Eisen, and others.
Jew in the City is active on social media, with 90,000 followers. Its goal, Josephs told The Jerusalem Post
, is to "change the meaning of the word 'Orthodoxy.' The word 'Orthodox' is only used when people are talking in the media about people who are molesting children or throwing rocks. When you do something good, you're just a person or just Jewish, you are never Orthodox. We want to use it davka
[deliberately] in a positive and good way." When questioned who would she consider Orthodox, Josephs paused to consider. After thinking about it, she said she wanted "a big tent" of observant Jews.
This year, Jew in the City collected donations for a relatively new project, Makom, which focused on people who left ultra-Orthodoxy and are still looking for a Jewish Identity and a community. Josephs said she thinks the story of people who went "off the derech
" [off the path] has often also been told in a distorted way that illustrates the Orthodox community negatively. She had the same criticism of the documentary series One of Us
, broadcasted recently by HBO. On that topic, she told the Post
, "There are real issues that need to be dealt with. No one can deny that, and if we're on the subject of making Orthodox Jews look good, my rabbi says the greatest kiddush Hashem
we can make is owning our problems and fixing them."
"That being said," she continued, "none of the good hasidic stories, of which there are many, ever make the news. And the Project Makom stories- people who had difficult lives and left the hasidic world, but choose to stay religious - don't get nearly as much press as the 'off the derech' stories. So, it is a bit frustrating when the whole picture is not shown. This is not said as an attempt to shirk responsibility to improve - we must. But outsiders get a skewed view of a community if only the worst is constantly reported."
Still, Orthodox All Stars seems to be a good start at addressing the issue. According to Josephs, she has already received incredible praise for the event. "One person told me," Josephs said, "'It was amazing. The only thing I can say is that such a kiddush hashem should be held in the Citi Field Stadium.'" Josephs's response? "I think I just accepted my next challenge."