I was shocked to see a recent flyer for an organization called Project Inspire, which is a project of Aish HaTorah. The flyer advertises their upcoming February conference, and it prominently features male speakers with their headshots, while listing women in smaller font with no photos as “presenters.” This implies that the men are more important and worthy than the women.
How can these men be presented on a flyer that denigrates women as second-class citizens? I understand the purpose of this program is to encourage the Orthodox community to be engaged and become partners in the mission of trying to reach unaffiliated Jews. Additionally, I understand if there is a need to reach these partners, in a way that is considered modest, and therefore not to have pictures of women to offend them. However, I do not understand why women have to be nameless, faceless, “presenters,” while the men are displayed, with their headshots, in a bigger typeset and designated as “speakers.”
Rabbi Weinberg, the founding rosh yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, treated everybody equally. He was a visionary, and most importantly, he was someone who understood the value of every single Jewish person and their contribution to the Jewish people. I came back from an Aish fellowships program many years ago and, inspired by the rosh yeshiva, went back to my small university town in Australia and started organizing events for young professionals. The city we lived in had not had a Jewish wedding in over 20 years, despite many Jewish people living there. Intermarriage was close to 100%!
My husband was working as a doctor and people would come in and see his kippa and say, “Oh, you are Jewish? My mom is Jewish.” Gavin would reply, “That means you are Jewish too,” to which they would reply, “No I am not — just my mom is.” Soon, our programs were very popular and Aish asked me to help them run programming in Sydney and Melbourne too.
After I completed my MBA, I spent three weeks a month traveling around the country for this mission. One day, when I was on a trip to Israel, I went to speak to Rabbi Weinberg. I shared with him my concern that I was running a branch of an international organization, but I was wearing jeans and did not cover my hair. He did not skip a beat. He looked at me and said, “Jodi, G-d doesn’t judge his soldiers and neither do I; just like an army needs all kinds of people to protect its people, so does the Jewish people.”
Though I am sure that Rabbi Weinberg would wholeheartedly support the mission of the ultra-Orthodox being part of his army, I can’t imagine him ever agreeing to some people being portrayed as second-class and less worthy.
Aish has recruited a crew of top marketing people. They have invested considerable resources in creating an excellent social media strategy and presence and revamping their online platform. However, when values are confused, the organization can lose its way. All the senior leadership I reached out to either ignored me or defended the position.
Let’s be honest they would never use the reverse argument and post immodest women with the justification that that is how you reach secular audiences. The organization could easily stand on the side of what is right without compromising its mission or respect for the needs of the ultra-Orthodox community. Simple solution no photos of anyone just a list of names all under the tile “Speakers.” An organization that has the vision to reach 3 million people and wants to have a legitimate voice in the struggle to connect with unaffiliated Jews needs to address these issues.
I am particularly livid because I feel that there are so many people like me, who volunteer thousands of hours every year, trying to bring Jewish people closer to Judaism. When an organization like Aish claiming to lead this initiative fails to do what is right, they fail us leaders and the people we are all collectively hoping to reach.