What the Jewish Heroes Campaign of The Jewish Federations of North America Tells us About Orthodox Jewry

More than 165,000 votes have been cast for the Jewish Heroes campaign of the Jewish Federations of North America. Angling toward the General Assembly of the JFNA in November, the Jewish heroes chosen (ultimately by a committee of judges) will be awarded $25,000 by the JFNA.
Thought the competition has been a bit unsavory (a pro-boycot pro-Palestinian “hero” was dismissed from the voting), the voting is an interesting experiment in a Jewish social media campaign, and is certainly instructive about what Jews (or at least Jews who participate in these kinds of things) are thinking.
Remarkable on the list(as of the writing of this blog) is the fact that six out of the top ten leaders on the hero board are orthodox. Given that less than 15% of American Jewry is orthodox (and I assume that it isn’t only orthodox jews who are dedicating time and resources to improving the world), it is striking to consider what this says about Orthodoxy.
The first thing one can say is that orthodox jews (or at least four thousand of them) are very cynical. One of the leaders of the Jewish heroes campaign is Mrs. Rubashkin, whose husband had been jailed for a series of illegalities in his meat business.   That a mocking campaign could tarnish an otherwise fun filled social media outlet shouldn’t surprise those familiar with the internet. But that Orthodox Jews would sponsor such a campaign – in order to promote their leadership – is telling. I don’t mean to take away from Mrs. Rubashkin’s plight. But I think on objective terms, she isn’t a hero when compared to others on the list.
A second dimension of the Orthodox dominion of the heroes list is that Chabad has a strong presence. More than any other group of orthodox jews, they have mastered the media of social marketing, and are able to galvanize thousands of people toward their cause. If you thought Chabad’s power was strong because they provide kosher food everyplace (assuming you consider their food kosher), you should experience them on the Web.
Finally, I think that one can clearly see that Orthodox Jews are a more diverse group than one would expect. I love the idea that one of the Orthodox Jews on the top ten list is the Rabbi of the Persian community in LA and clearly is involved in much more than just kiruv. And I am equally enamored that orthodox women find a home on the list, and not only because of their quiet chesed in the home. I’m also taken with the fact that some of the nominees are couples, acknowledging that sometimes heroes need backup.
All these are preliminary thoughts. Stay tuned on
November 8th to hear who wins. In the meantime, kudos to the JFNA for a great gimmick. And blessings to the Orthodox for being willing to participate.