NEW YORK – A small group of Orthodox Jews pitched a canopy tent with the banner “Meet a Jew, Make a Friend” in East Harlem on Monday, as a gesture of outreach amid the recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents in the area.
The initiative was organized by Jew in the City, a group dedicated to reversing negative attitudes about Orthodox Jews. It hopes to forge new connections in the neighborhood as a small-scale response to the recent uptick in violence.
“Because things have kind of gotten to a new level of scariness and higher tension, we decided to come out here today and really create conversation,” Jew in the City founder Allison Josephs told Haaretz, standing on the corner of 106th Street and 3rd Avenue. “We're not planning to solve world peace today, but just move the needle just a little bit.”
Josephs founded the organization in 2007 after herself becoming an Orthodox Jew. Growing up, she admits that her father, a neurologist, had perpetuated negative stereotypes about Orthodox Jews.
A ‘Jew in the City’ placard outside a tent set up to talk to residents in East Harlem, New York, January 13, 2020 Danielle Ziri
“My earliest memories from childhood were of my father coming home and telling me about his Hasidic patients: ‘They’re dirty, they’re smelly, they're ignorant, they can’t speak English,’” she recalled. “So as a fellow Jew, I looked at Orthodox Jews [that way], and it was only when I met some up close and personal, when I ate their rugelach and drank their coffee, that I saw them as human beings and I was able to see how many beautiful people there are in the community.”
Since then, Josephs’ father has also become Orthodox and she has made it her mission to fight negative stereotypes through social media and events she organizes – an approach she believes is vital to help build bridges between communities.
At least a dozen passersby stopped by on Monday, where they were offered free coffee and pastries. Two informational signs were also placed beside the tent: One explained the foundational principles of Judaism; another laid out the differences between various Orthodox Jewish groups.