search

Ryan Revisited…and the Orthodox Jewish All-Stars

I rarely reread the columns I wrote that have been published … by the time they are in print, I am already thinking of what I must write for the following week.

However, I did make an exception recently.  Last month I was extremely privileged to be recognized with an honor awarded by the American Jewish Press Association, for a column I wrote last year about Ryan Turell and the challenge of Modern Orthodoxy.

The column created quite a storm among readers. I received more than a dozen emails about the column – about half were complimentary, but the other half were strongly critical of the position I took. The Jewish Link, which is where the original article first appeared, also published three letters to the editor that also took offense to the column, claiming that Turell playing basketball on Shabbat was making Orthodox Jewry look bad.

After I received the award, I decided to reread the column. And I think that my position might have been somewhat misunderstood. I wasn’t putting Ryan Turell on a pedestal for his decision to play basketball on Shabbat and finding a halachic way to do it. On the contrary, I specifically said that what he was doing would be difficult for most observant Jews to do, and I mentioned that many would see his actions as a chillul Hashem and not a kiddush Hashem.

Instead, the focus of my column was the following: that no longer will youngsters in Jewish day schools with a dream of pursuing careers in sports, music, theater, and other professions that were previously off-limits be told that they cannot pursue their dreams because they are shomer Shabbat. That was Ryan Turell’s enormous contribution to the Orthodox world – and the main point I was trying to make in the column.

In addition to Ryan Turell, there are many other successful Orthodox individuals in various fields previously off-limits to Jewishly observant folks. And there is a woman who is doing her best to bring this to the forefront. Allison Josephs, founder of Jew in the City, has done a marvelous job promoting the accomplishments of those Orthodox men and women who have reached success in their fields while remaining faithful to their religious practice.

For those who don’t know, Jew in the City is an organization dedicated to re-branding Orthodox Jews and Judaism to the world through digital media. The organization reverses negative associations about religious Jews by highlighting an approach based on kindness, tolerance, sincerity, and critical thinking and makes engaging and meaningful Orthodox Judaism known and accessible. Jew in the City is reshaping the way the world views Orthodox Jews and Judaism by publicizing the message that Orthodox Jews can be funny, approachable, educated, and open-minded.

Several years ago, Josephs created a video depicting several Orthodox Jews who reached the top of their professional fields, naming them Orthodox Jewish All Stars.  The video was released at a splashy premier party, which was covered by the Wall Street Journal. Since then, Josephs and her team select new Orthodox Jewish All Stars each year.

Past Orthodox Jewish All Stars have included former Senator Joseph Lieberman;  Olympians A.J. Edelman and Bat-El Gatterer; the Honorable Ruchie Freier, the first Hasidic female judge; David Mazouz, teen star of the hit Fox drama Gotham; Shulem Lemmer, the first born and bred Hasidic Jew to sign with a major record label; Emmy winning co-executive producer of the hit TV series Modern Family Ilana Wernick; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew; National Highway Transportation Administrator Stephanie Pollack; Creative Director of BCBGeneration, Joyce Azria, and Chief Risk Officer at the NSA, Anne Neuberger.

“My mother raised my sisters and me to be excited about famous and successful Jews,” said Josephs. “We weren’t frum. We didn’t know Torah. But seeing Jews succeed was a real source of pride. I think the All Stars tap into that. Jews get excited when we see our own succeed … especially when they keep Shabbat, too.”

Josephs’ main objective in honoring a group of Orthodox Jewish All Stars each year is to increase Jewish pride and create a kiddush Hashem. Said Josephs, “We don’t care if a person follows every halacha – no one does. But any line of work that would cause someone to break halacha are categories we avoid.”

In 2022, Jew in the City launched the first and only Jewish Hollywood Bureau (the JITC Hollywood Bureau) to advocate for authentic depictions of Jews directly to the studios. Said Josephs, “We discovered that every other ethnic group has had one of these bureaus for decades or at least many years. We have now met with nearly every studio, held the first panel at Sundance on Jewish representation to standing room only, and are building a fact sheet on Jews with a group that sends minority fact sheets to all the studios.  We are also about to launch a study on secular and Orthodox TV characters with the Norman Lear Center at USC, one of the leading academic entertainment groups.”

Did Josephs consider naming Ryan Turell as an Orthodox Jewish All Star? Said Josephs, “We got behind in hosting our seventh event due to launching the Hollywood Bureau. Ryan wasn’t known when we last chose our list a couple of years ago. He’s terrific! The next awards we give out will be the All Star and Media Awards. We held the first JITC Media Awards in 2022 to honor positive Jewish representation. Starting in 2024, the programs will be combined.”

So instead of worrying whether or not Ryan Turell should be playing basketball on Shabbat, let’s celebrate the fact that Orthodox Jews are now succeeding in politics, the arts, sports, and other fields that previously could not be navigated by individuals while they remained observant.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
Related Topics
Related Posts