Allison Josephs’ first impression of Orthodox Jews was formed in her childhood, based on her secular physician father’s complaints about treating his Chasidic patients. He would come home after work, she recalled, and make disparaging comments about them, claiming that they were ignorant and dirty.
Now, years later, not only has Josephs adopted an Orthodox lifestyle for herself, but she is on a mission to dispel misconceptions about the community through her online presence, Jew in the City.
Josephs will be bringing her message to Pittsburgh on May 12 as the featured speaker at the eighth annual Women’s Spring Dinner at Chabad of the South Hills.
While in town, Josephs will also address female students at Hillel Academy.
Josephs and her colleagues at Jew in the City are seeking to dispel myths, she said, noting that when she was a young child, the only information she had about Orthodox Jews came from stereotypes portrayed on television and in the movies, newspaper headlines and the reports of her father.
“I never had any personal interaction to counter these things, and I assumed they applied to all Chasidim and all Orthodox Jews,” she recounted.
But after dealing with the death of a friend at the age of 8, Josephs began seeking answers to larger questions, she said, and by the time she was in high school she had connected to the Orthodox world. She has now fully become a part of that world herself.
“I wanted to get involved in Jewish outreach and education,” Josephs said, “and change the perception of people who others see as the guardians of the Torah.”
She noted that when many people think of the Orthodox, they think “nut job” or “fanatic” or “anti-woman,” she said.
“I wanted to address these stereotypes head-on,” Josephs continued. “I wanted to have an honest conversation.”
One aim of the website is to provide a venue where people can “explore,” she said.
Visitors to jewinthecity.com can find content ranging from quirky man-on-the street interviews concerning preconceived notions of the Orthodox community, to blogs on such issues as sex and vaccination, to sections on spirituality and conversion.
The website attracts 25,000 distinct visitors a month, according to Josephs, and she has received feedback from a wide range of people, from Muslims who write to acknowledge commonalities to secular Jews who say that after visiting her site, they have more respect for the Orthodox.
Josephs recalled that her secular parents thought she “was crazy” when she first began observing Judaism in the Orthodox tradition. Eventually, they began investigating that world for themselves, though, and now her whole family, including her parents, have all become Orthodox.
>> To RSVP for the Women’s Spring Dinner, call 412-344-2424 or email Batya Rosenblum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.