A New Vocabulary

At JOI, when we talk about the importance of inclusive language, it usually relates to our use of Hebrew and Yiddish words, organization acronyms and other terms that often go unexplained. When used, they create an expectation of Jewish background and knowledge. But the importance of inclusive language goes even deeper than translating Hebrew, or not referring to those of other religious backgrounds as “goyim.” If somebody doesn’t know what the terms mean, they might feel left out, like they are an outsider. A recent New York Post article about real estate, of all things, brought this point home.

New York City real estate firm Corcoran recently banned the use of over 200 words including, “family friendly,” “professional,” and “walking” in apartment advertisements. While these words are often used to sell apartments and give a sense of value, they can also unintentionally alienate and discriminate potential buyers. Family-friendly building? Does that mean singles aren’t welcome? Not necessarily, but the marketing of a building as such could raise a perceptual barrier for those browsing the classified section.

These same perceptual barriers exist in the organized Jewish community. This article reminds us that many of the words we readily incorporate into our marketing to paint the value of a specific program or offering, make implicit - or explicit - assumptions about who the organized Jewish community and its offerings are for. While JOI definitely advocates for identifying target audiences for program offerings (families with young children for instance), it is important to keep in mind the unintentional consequences of language in all materials, and always remember to welcome all!


  1. I doubt there are too many non-Jews who don’t know what ‘Goyim’ means, but if there are, they certainly know what ‘Gentiles’ (an English word) means because it is in Christian scriptures.

    So what word would you use to identify non-Jews? (And don’t just say the bland ‘non-Jews’ or the long-winded ‘those of other religious backgrounds’)

    Comment by Dave — March 22, 2009 @ 9:28 am

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