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Orthodox Jews Getting a Seat at the Table in Hollywood

Allison Josephs, founder of the website Jew in the City (JITC), has established the JITC Hollywood Bureau, which she views as the natural next step in her organization’s 15-year campaign to correct myths and misconceptions about Orthodox Jews.
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March 3, 2022
Photo courtesy of Allison Josephs

African Americans, Muslims and Latinos have long had their own specialty Hollywood Bureaus. Newer bureaus represent Native Americans and people with disabilities. With today’s emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as well as social impact, Hollywood writers and producers regularly consult with bureau reps to promote positive portrayals of their communities and ensure they are not trafficking in offensive stereotypes.  

But until now, no such bureau existed to represent the Jewish community, especially Orthodox Jews. Allison Josephs, founder of the website Jew in the City (JITC), has established the JITC Hollywood Bureau, which she views as the natural next step in her organization’s 15-year campaign to correct myths and misconceptions about Orthodox Jews. This tireless campaign includes punching back against antisemitic and anti-Orthodox depictions in the media. 

Based in New York, Josephs was in LA recently filming a documentary on negative Jewish depictions, from the days of Yiddish theater in Eastern Europe and continuing today in Hollywood. The film, produced by JITC and Philmco Media, will debut on March 21 at the Florence Gould Hall Theater in New York. This is also the official launch event of the JITC Hollywood Bureau and will feature JITC’s first Media Awards to acknowledge content with authentic depictions. 

The first winner will be “Rock Camp: The Movie” featuring David Fishof. An Orthodox Jew who spent 45 years as a successful agent for athletes and musicians, Fishof has welcomed clients, including Ringo Starr and Roger Daltrey, at his Shabbat table. More recently, he created a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp where regular folks can jam with their rock ‘n roll heroes. The film is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

“I hope that we can help right the wrongs of the chronic negative portrayals of Orthodox Jews and Jews in general in the media.” – Allison Josephs

Josephs also spoke about the JITC Hollywood Bureau at a women’s luncheon at Chabad in Santa Monica on February 13. “I hope that we can help right the wrongs of the chronic negative portrayals of Orthodox Jews and Jews in general in the media,” she said. “‘Ex-Orthodox’ is its own Hollywood genre, and the industry can’t seem to get enough of it.”

She cited a “uniquely awful” episode of the NBC show “Nurses” in which a young Hasidic Jew and his father refuse a bone graft for the son’s leg because it would come from a “goyim leg — a dead goyim leg — from anyone,” they say in the show. “An Arab, a woman.” 

Josephs shared the video clip on Twitter, published a blog post and posted a short video pointing out the “flat-out lies” the segment presented about Jewish views on medicine, as well as the breathtaking racism and misogyny imputed to the male characters. 

“Do some research,” Josephs said. Presenting Jews as ignorant bigots (the Hasids didn’t seem to know what a bone graft was) not only libels Jews but “puts a target on our backs,” she stated.

In fact, Hasidic Jews in New York were experiencing an alarming number of physical attacks on the street at the time. Within 24 hours of the tweet, the clip garnered 1 million views, NBC pulled the episode and the producers apologized after being contacted by B’nai Brith Canada. This was just a few days after Michael Che joked on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population. I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

JITC conducted a survey showing the wildly disproportionate number of community abandonment stories in Hollywood fixated on Jews compared with other groups. With a worldwide population of 2.5 billion Christians, over the last 20 years Hollywood has produced five programs about their adherents leaving the fold; zero shows about the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims doing so; and of a worldwide population of 15 million Jews, 12 shows focused on Orthodox Jews walking away from religious faith.    

“Negative portrayals of Jews and antisemitic jokes have real-world consequences,” Josephs said. “While we can’t rid the world of antisemitism entirely, we can create more authentic, positive, nuanced and humane depictions of Jews. Now with our own bureau, we will join every other minority group in Hollywood and hold producers and studios accountable.” Many Jewish writers, directors and producers in the industry are closet Israel supporters and closet proud Jews, she said.   

According to Josephs, many media outlets that had formerly ignored her efforts to start a conversation about the realities of the Jewish community are now more open. As a result, articles and videos about the work of JITC have appeared in TMZ, CNET, The New York Times and Buzzfeed News.

 “We’re trying to help shape the way stories about our community are told from the start,” Josephs said. “We’re delighted with the warm feedback we are receiving.”

“I don’t judge anyone’s journey, but having a former Orthodox Jew consult on the Orthodox Jewish community is like having an ex-Democrat who is now a card-carrying Republican consult on a movie about Democrats.” – Allison Josephs

She also hopes that producers will seek out Orthodox Jews when consulting on Orthodox Jewish characters instead of always relying on ex-Orthodox Jews. “I don’t judge anyone’s journey, but having a former Orthodox Jew consult on the Orthodox Jewish community is like having an ex-Democrat who is now a card-carrying Republican consult on a movie about Democrats,” she said. “No Hollywood executive would find that to be appropriate, yet somehow the standard has been different for the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Despite preaching about inclusivity, shooting schedules on Shabbat automatically rule out participation among Orthodox actors and consultants. “Declarations of inclusion ring hollow if certain groups continue to be excluded,” she said. “We are working to achieve the same treatment as every other minority group.”

JITC also represents the interests of the broader Jewish community, including non-observant Jews, whose portrayals often pander to nasty stereotypes, as well as Jews of color, who are often invisible.  

Josephs has met with or been introduced to DEI staff in three of the four major networks and has already been invited to consult with one network and offer a training for its head writers. “You can’t just Google ‘Orthodox Jew’ and get it right,” she said.  

She’s also been gratified by warm conversations with reps from other bureaus, including the Hollywood Bureau at Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has been “incredibly helpful,” and the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, which has invited JITC’s Bureau to join them in an upcoming Ally Campaign. 

With this and the growing recognition among networks that they really have gotten Jews wrong but now seem ready to get it right, Josephs said, “I believe we’re just getting started.”

You can get tickets for the JITC Hollywood Bureau Launch online here.

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