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Show Your Credentials at the Door

When should it matter whether or not your mother was born Jewish? That’s the question we at JOI found ourselves asking after receiving a mass email from Aish NY about an upcoming “Young Professionals in Entertainment” mixer here in New York City. The application form has a series of standard questions like name and address, plus an essay box asking what field of the entertainment industry you’re in—but also included the question “Was your mother born Jewish?” This question seems oddly out of place.

Ostensibly, the event is about “innovative networking for uniting Jewish Young Professionals in the Entertainment industry,” and includes a dinner where you change tables three times for the three courses, allowing you to meet and mingle with different people at each new table. If the sole rationale for the event is professional networking—as the marketing would have us believe—the question about participants’ mothers is irrelevant. Perhaps there is an additional unwritten rationale, to get young Jews to meet and marry each other, and the question about mothers’ religion then becomes one of Orthodox authenticity as to “Who is a Jew.”

We don’t object to Aish trying to facilitate marriage among young Jews, but this is an example where their normally sophisticated marketing not only falls short, but actually delivers an exclusionary message despite their claims to be a pluralistic outreach organization. Will Aish disqualify an “applicant” from the event if his or her mother was not born Jewish? When we called to find out, the answer was quite simply, yes. We were told it’s the policy that “all participants must have a Jewish mother.” If the applicant’s mother was not born Jewish but had an Orthodox conversion or if the applicant himself or herself had a similar conversion, they can register. But if the conversion was under the auspices of a Conservative or Reform rabbi, the applicant must put that on the registration form and the folks at Aish will “have to talk to their rabbis.”

These requirements are nowhere to be found on the registration page. We only learned this after calling. Imagine how many people end up disqualified for a professional networking event because Aish doesn’t recognize their Jewish background. If Aish has a definition of “Jewish” when they say their event is for “Jewish Young Professionals,” they should simply define who they consider Jewish rather than ask a question that creates doubt, confusion and self-consciousness among a substantial percentage of their stated target audience. At the very least, Aish should include an explanation of why they’re asking the question. But the ethical thing to do would be to simply state who is eligible for this event, period, rather than make people jump through hoops.



7 Comments

  1. Unbelievable!

    Comment by Helen Karl — November 5, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

  2. aish is a cult.

    you should visit one of their indoctrination centers and ask a few questions about judaism. ask something kinda advanced that goes beyond what is taught to high school kids.

    its fun to watch their rabbis attempt to change topic really fast.

    Comment by complex manifold — November 6, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  3. talk about poor marketing techniques…many outreach organizations that claim to be pluralistic are often not…and most of their programming does have the not-so subtle objective of “hooking up young Jews.” there’s obviously nothing wrong with this, but if a networking event is geared towards a professional sense it should be just that. it should not be a guise for matchmaking. Aish is an Orthodox-run organization, so naturally they are going to disqualify or be unappealing to a significant portion of the Jewish population. it would make more sense for Aish and other like-minded groups to be more concise in their marketing, that way people will know not to go there if they feel it’s not the right environment for them and can avoid any uncomfortable situations like the one stated in this blog.

    Comment by h. — November 6, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  4. >> despite their claims to be a pluralistic outreach organization.

    Where does aish make this claim? It is unlikely anywhere, as “pluralism” in this context is largely a reform innovation.

    Comment by pupil of eight — November 6, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

  5. >>If Aish has a definition of “Jewish” when they say their event is for “Jewish Young Professionals,” they should simply define who they consider Jewish…

    Err, Aish has a standard for Jewish-ness: maternal descent or halachic conversion. This standard is not their innovation by any means, nor is it radical. If anything, it is implied by ALL Jewish orgs that have a traditional bent…

    Comment by pupil of eight — November 6, 2008 @ 9:49 pm

  6. I understand Aish’s standard for Jewishness. That’s not my objection. If you look at the form I linked to, it gives potential participants to this event a choice. Why give people the choice, if you’re going to exclude EVERYONE who answers “no” to having a Jewish mother? Why not simply state who is or is not eligible to participate in this event! That’s what I’m objecting to. Why they would make it seem like those whose mothers are not Jewish may still be welcome is up for conjecture; I have my own theory. But regardless, the current form is unclear at best, and deceptive at worst. They can simply state: “We adhere to a traditional view of who is Jewish, meaning your mother must be Jewish or have had an Orthodox conversion for you to participate in this event.”

    Comment by Paul Golin — November 6, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

  7. Poor marketing? Aish seems to be doing quite well, and like Chabad has been growing quickly.

    In fact the more traditional outreach groups seem to be growing faster than the less traditional.

    Comment by Dave — November 9, 2008 @ 11:28 am

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