Our story, a response to Hollywood’s portrayal of the formerly Orthodox

While many were mystified by the window into a world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism with which they are sadly unfamiliar, the heroes of Hollywood are consistently those who leave religion (any religion)

Unorthodox stars Amit Rahav and Shira Hass (photo credit: NETFLIX)
Unorthodox stars Amit Rahav and Shira Hass
(photo credit: NETFLIX)
In the last several weeks, a mainstream Jewish news service distributed an article highlighting Hollywood’s newest Jewish character on a hit network TV series. This new character is described as caring, noble, a good person; one who happens to have a back story of rejecting his Jewish upbringing and is now a self-proclaimed atheist.
The booming, sweeping success of Unorthodox, which aired earlier in 2020, received not only accolades but an outpouring of love by the news media – particularly the Jewish news media. While many were mystified by the window into a world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism with which they are sadly unfamiliar, the heroes of Hollywood are consistently those who leave religion (any religion) to adopt the “new truth”: a world without G-d.
The entertainment industry has long been a market of “push technology” in which we have to consume what “they” offer us (i.e., those who produce it). And the “they” have a certain worldview, a certain set of values that is a constant narrative woven into most of what is available. Right now, the stereotype of Jews Hollywood is comfortable with is a pervasive one.
The new character on a TV series isn’t the problem, or the point. The tragedy is the reason why Jewish characters who choose to deliberately leave religious practice behind are consistently the celebrated standard. The real question is, why is it a positive feature story in JTA?
These are the “positive Jewish role models” and the stories that make the headlines because they are the stereotypes with which most Jews in America feel comfortable. This is a story of someone leaving a world that secular Jews do not understand, joining them where they are. There is a reason that Netflix et al keep producing shows that bash Orthodoxy. They sell to uncommitted Jews and reinforce their feeling secure in their non-devotion.
But the world has changed. Media has changed. The democratization of content production and the widening of the field means we have more power than ever before to have an impact, to change the conversation. And we have to combat this with every fiber of our being. It isn’t enough to tune out, or to write emails of complaint. Not anymore.
We need to offer better examples of who we are. We need to offer those beautiful examples where people will see them, not just among ourselves.
We know that in the world of Israel advocacy, we have had to contend with the criticism that as long as we let our enemies be the more active participants in creating an image of Israel and building the narrative of our existence, we will always lose the hasbara (public diplomacy) war. So too in the battle for simply wanting Jews to feel proud of being Jewish, we must actively and passionately be involved in building the image and creating the narrative of what it means to be a Jew.
THE GOOD NEWS is that this is now more possible than at any time in history. The potential to address the problem with creations of our own is more possible and pressing than ever before. The mission, the obligation is upon us.
We are only at the beginning of this new frontier of freedom in media. This week, Ben Shapiro’s news outlet, Media Wire, announced its official foray into entertainment. As Mr. Shapiro expressed it in his announcement, “Like this first film, our entertainment content won’t be overtly political, but it will reflect our values. Our mission is simple: We will make great entertainment that all Americans can enjoy, regardless of their political views. If you’re fed up with the cultural edicts of our country’s self-appointed moral overlords in Hollywood and legacy media, stay tuned.”
What is important to note is that an independent media platform that grew out of the podcast and views of one individual now has the ability to acquire and produce films and distribute them to the public, competing with larger platforms. This is one example of the global shift to “pull technology.” People have access to movies, television, articles, stories and much more – where, when and how they want them. We now watch/read/listen on demand.
That public demand has included traditional Torah values for 3,000 years. We know this. That demand has not, and will not, abate. Sadly, more people than ever have no idea what Torah wisdom is, and therefore don’t know why they should want it. They can’t know if we don’t create the content for them. They can’t ask for answers if we don’t start suggesting the questions they should be asking.
So it is incumbent on us to be telling the story, our stories; examples of heroism; the beauty of tradition; of whole, healthy, loving families; of intergenerational understanding and appreciation (even respect) of the Almighty and His hand in everything; of how He loves us and what it means to be a Jew and what it means to recognize that.
Outlets like the Daily Wire understand – as we should – that entertainment, not education, is the primary gateway to forming values in today’s society, in many cases swaying public opinion and moving “moral norms.”
We are initiating the creation of volumes of content; long-form, short-form, scripted, unscripted, specials, series, documentaries, podcasts, and yes, we hope, movies; content that shares the beauty of Torah wisdom and values with the world, and reminds them that the answers have been there all along if they know where to look. We are looking to partner with others to do the same and to shepherd projects and assist in the production and distribution of compelling, quality content. Because those of us who know the story have an obligation to share it with those who don’t know where to look, or even why they should.
Rabbi Steven Burg is the CEO of Aish Global. Jamie Geller is the CMO of Aish Global and CEO of Kosher Network International.