Fashion designer Zac Posen adjusts orthodox teen contestant Esther Petrack before one of the final runway competitions on ANTM
If you’re anything like me, you’re just dying to hear impassioned opinions on ANTM (that’s America’s Next Top Model, for the non-cognoscenti among you) from someone who has never once watched the show.
What follows is based on a controversial clip featuring an Orthodox–or more specifically, a Modern Orthodox–Jewish contestant from the recent cycle of the CW reality show and the virtual ruckus it caused among the online community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.
In case you have not seen this yet, here are some…visuals:
18-year-old Maimonides alum Esther Petrack was recently eliminated from the popular CW reality television show and has finally spoken out to dispel the rumors about her and to address the damning insinuations circulating among the blogosphere and beyond. In a Nov. 3 article in the Jerusalem Post, for example, the Orthodox Jewish reality TV star responded to a rumor that she had lived in Mea She’arim and was excommunicated by explaining that she had never lived there, and adding: ““How did they even find out about me? The video was on the Internet, which they’re not fans of, anyway.”
Indeed in that same interview, Petrack explained that she is not, nor has she ever been haredi. Yet despite this, the media persists in sensationalizing her story by describing her as haredi or ultra-orthodox.
Amusingly, the Israeli news reporter here also describes the school she attended in Boston (Maimonides–one of the bastions of so-called Centrist/Modern Orthodox Jewish education in the U.S.) as “haredi.” Haredi or not, Petrack’s appearance on the show created a stir among many in both the US and Israel who self-identify as “frum.” The infamous clip of the show went viral in the Orthodox community over a month ago, causing outrage and declamatory, self-righteous tongue wagging wherever it raised its scandalous head. One can understand why such provocative television might elicit a raised eyebrow or two but, in all honesty, I think such righteous indignation is misplaced. In all of the online discussion of this admittedly rather ridiculous episode, search though I might, nowhere could I find condemnation of what seemed to me to be the most shocking moment of all: an instance of blatant religious discrimination. In the video clip above, Tyra Banks makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that all contestants, irrespective of their beliefs or practices, are expected to conform to the show’s 24/7 work schedule, religious observance be damned.
While the norms and mores of civilized life are often suspended in ironically titled “‘reality” TV moments like these make me squirm more than scenes of so-called survivors consuming their own feces in order to prolong, for just another glorious week, their “15 minutes of fame.”
If an employer in the US today denied work to a prospective employee based on her/his religious practice, the almost automatic result would be a job discrimination lawsuit with an expectedly grim outcome for the employer . While, just under a century ago, pious Jewish immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat from Europe would routinely lose their jobs and face poverty and even starvation if they did not work on Saturday, thankfully times have changed dramatically, and now religious tolerance is a blessed norm in the US: no longer does a Jew have to choose between starvation for him/herself and his/her family and Sabbath observance. (Thanks is of course also due to courageous labor unions for more humane work hours and weekends off.) The apparent demand of the show’s creator and hostess, Banks, that Petrack chose between “honoring the Sabbath” and being part of the show, would seem to be a throwback to “bad old times” before anti-discrimination laws established norms of fairness and equality in hiring.
As to the “case” itself, we can hardly blame an 18 year old for the offenses of a crassly sensationalistic, heavily edited, celebrity-powered televised competition. While the wisdom of entering such a competition might be questioned at the outset, what Petrack does is her personal choice; she is not forcing anyone – Orthodox or not — to watch or to sanction or imitate her actions.
Much of the online uproar surrounding Petrack’s supposedly hypocritical activity as an Orthodox Jewish young woman is actually misinformed. We later learn, via a blog comment posting by Petrack’s mother (or someone posing as Petrack’s mother. However you please), that her daughter’s statement, “I will do it,” (viz., desecrate the Sabbath by working) was actually edited out of context. Upon re-watching the clip, you can see the response, indeed, was edited. Despite the remaining tsniut (modesty) issue, Esther’s Shabbat observance may very well have been ‘technically kosher’—contrary to the way several articles (even some sympathetic) suggest.
A good part of me empathizes with Petrack. How many of us can readily recall certain decisions and activities undertaken at the tender age of 18 that we would not exactly wish to immortalize on video? Especially for those of us raised in Modern Orthodox milieus, the eternal saga of rationally reconciling the two (modern and orthodox) is a plight that strongly resonates. Granted, at least in my line of work, this doesn’t generally involve lifting one’s shirt on television…..at least not as far as I can remember, anyway.
One day, when I host a Jewishly-observant-themed talk-show entitled Halakhically Incorrect, I think Petrack should be a guest.
Anyone who has, at some point, lived a genuinely modern and Orthodox existence knows that certain actions, on paper, (or, in this case, video edited out of context) could easily baffle others. Or, as one of my good friends from college whom I recently visited remarked while laughing with a glint in his eye, “Remember when I used to sin for you on Saturdays?” referring to my Shabbat observance in which several of my more keyed-in non-Jewish friends and living-mates knew to flip the bathroom switch on before I ducked in on the seventh day of the week.
In short, the real judgment in this case should be against Banks for issuing such a shockingly intolerant ultimatum, not against an 18 year old struggling to reconcile traditional religious observance and modernity. But Banks is “nit fun unzere” (translation: not one of the “tribe”). So why attack her, right?
Next Wednesday (11/10) at NYU:
Full details are available on RHR-NA’s blog
The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and Natan.TV Present:
A Debate on Israel’s Image in New Media:
Perspectives from a Government Insider and from an Activist Outsider
Wednesday, November 10 at 7:30 PM
at NYU Meyer Hall, Room 122
5 Washington Place, between Broadway and Mercer Street in New York City
Open to the Public
Featuring David Saranga (Former Consul for Media & Public Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in NY)
and Noam Sheizaf (Journalist, Blogger and Co-Editor of +972 Magazine)
Moderated by Natan Edelsburg
Do you perceive Israel as a country of social liberalism, technological and scientific advancement and beaches full of sexy men and women or do you see Israel as a country of eroding democracy, militarism and human rights abuses? Hear from two people who play a pivotal role in shaping what we hear and see from Israel in the West. Find out how new media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs and more) are being used to amplify messages and images about Israel and cover controversial topics. Do these tools help or hurt Israel’s image? Do they make it more honest? Difficult and exciting questions will be asked of both panelists.
David Saranga: David Saranga is a career diplomat and a leading figure in the nascent diplomacy and social media arena. He recently ended a four year-term as The Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the Consulate of Israel in New York. In that capacity he was responsible for Israel’s image in the U.S. and was the main Israeli contact person for national American media outlets based in New York. David was the first diplomat to create an official blog of a country, a MySpace page, YouTube channel, Facebook page and press conference via Twitter. He was a key media spokesperson for Israel about International Court of Justice hearings in The Hague, the West Bank barrier, and the 2008 war with Hamas in Gaza. His initiatives to transform Central Park into a Tel Aviv Beach Party for Tel Aviv’s 100th Anniversary, to promote LGBTQ tourism to Israel and to invite Maxim magazine to Israel generated significant debate about the definition of public diplomacy. David is currently leading the Digital Diplomacy initiatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, he is a professor at the School of Communications at IDC Herzliya and an Instructor for “New Media, Social Networks and Public Diplomacy” at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Annenberg School, University of South California. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Communication, Bar-Ilan University.
Noam Sheizaf: Noam Sheizaf is an Independent journalist and editor who was born in Ramat-Gan and now lives and works in Tel Aviv. After serving in the IDF for four and a half years, he worked for the Ha-ir local paper in Tel Aviv, for Ynet.co.il and for the Maariv daily paper; his last post with Maariv was as a deputy editor of their weekend magazine. He currently serves as an editor of the new +972 Magazine, runs the Promised Land Blog, and writes for Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and other Israeli papers and magazines.
Moderator – Natan Edelsburg: Natan Edelsburg is a senior in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. He is the the Founder and CEO of Natan.TV. Natan has been an intern, student and entrepreneur in media, technology and entertainment while serving as a contributor to different news sites including Huffington Post, The New York Times’ Local East Village blog,Appmarket.tv, Examiner.com and NYU Local.
On a technical level, this comes as no surprise—there is certainly no shortage of beautiful actresses who happen to be Jewish: Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Mélanie Laurent, Hollywood ur-Jewess Natalie Portman (whose name I can never hear without a preface of “why can’t you be more like …”). But they rarely, if ever, play explicitly Jewish characters—sainted Holocaust victims notwithstanding. Hollywood’s repulsion isn’t directed toward actual Jewish women, but toward its image of the “Jewish Woman” who even in 2010 is still consistently portrayed as bossy, obnoxious, pushy, materialistic, shrewish, gauche, and impossible to please: Mrs. Ari on Entourage, Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jill Zarin from The Real Housewives of New York (a real person playing a fictional character playing a real person). Real Jewish women can laugh at these depictions, but they can sting, too, not least because they are so often manufactured and promulgated by Jewish men: our brothers and our cousins and our dads. I mean, is that what they really think of us?
Your editorial of apology is an example of journalism of lowest, most cowardly order. Journalists publish corrections when they get the facts wrong–but we never apologize for it. Worse than that, you did not even apologize for factual inaccuracy. Instead, you apologized for offending someone. Get over it. We are journalists. Sometimes people get mad at us.
But I should hope that if you continue in this groveling manner, you at least have the decency to do so with some consistency. And if you do that, I have a prediction for you: Next week, you will be apologizing to the wider Jewish community for jumping at the snap of some Orthodox bullies’ fingers. You will be forced to apologize to unaffiliated, non-denominational, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews for forgetting that they are the vast majority of the community.
Despite your otherwise pusillanimous handling of this journalistic catastrophe, you somehow managed the chutzpah to apologize for the “pain and consternation” you caused a few noisy homophobic readers. When can we expect your apology to the gay community for the pain and consternation you have no doubt caused them? And when can we expect you to stop running photographs of women? Some Jews find that offensive too, I hear.
Sincerely praying for the return of your journalistic chutzpah,
David A.M. Wilensky,
Features Editor, The Acorn, Drew University, Madison, NJ
I’ll save you the click. The link is to a statement signed by the paper’s editor, Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, saying the following:
We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.
A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.
The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
This is outrageous on many levels, and I’m sure I don’t need to go into them in detail here. But seriously? The decision is bad enough, but to apologize to “members of the traditional/Orthodox community” for “any pain we may have caused”? (And to implicate the entire “traditional/Orthodox community” in this decision is unfair and damaging to many people in that community as well.)
But if there is a happy ending (or, hopefully, a happy middle) to this story, it’s the inspiring way GLBT Jews and allies sprang into action across the internet today. My Facebook feed was overwhelmed with people posting outraged comments and committing to write to the paper. I posted a message about my outrage on the paper’s Facebook page, and dozens of others followed suit. Disappointed messages have been tweeted at the paper’s Twitter account all day. And although you wouldn’t know it, because no one has been approving comments on the original article’s webpage all day, I know dozens of people have been leaving messages there.
A wise person I know says “Whenever I read articles where I know something about the content, I always find mistakes or misunderstandings, which makes me wonder how many mistakes there are in articles where I’m not familiar with the topic.” We get to see this principle in action as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz tackles American independent minyanim.
Over the last 10 years, the massive surge in independent minyanim has attracted media attention from both the American Jewish press and the American secular press. (After a while, this has converged so that they seem to write the same article over and over.) But this Ha’aretz piece might be the first time this phenomenon has reached the Israeli media.
The author of the piece, a self-identified secular Israeli, visited DC Minyan, and apparently did little or no research or fact-checking beyond what she saw and heard there. Thus she arrived at the unsupported conclusion that all or most independent minyanim (which in reality display a great deal of diversity) are similar to DC Minyan.
(However, on the plus side, this may be the first news article on 21st-century independent minyanim that doesn’t include a quote from Jonathan Sarna!)
To set the record straight, I’ll give the article a mild fisking: More »
Eight more states – DE, HI, MD, MA, NH, NY, RI, WI – have primary elections this week. (Hawaii’s is on Yom Kippur – DOHT!) Have you fallen into the trap of praying for peace and prosperity but haven’t checked your local polling location?
Rock the Mitzvote reminds you to get off your tuchas and get out there. Use their free High Holidays e-card to encourage everyone you know in these 8 states to hit the polls – let’s pray with our feet, people!
Who says popular culture can’t teach us something valuable about tshuvah, repentance?
As a way to kick off her new-ish release Forgiveness, Sarah McLachlan is launching a forgiveness contest. That’s right, this month, you can enter Sarah McLachlan’s Forgiveness Contest by sending in a postcard that somehow conveys the theme of forgiveness. The deadline, curiously enough, is September 8. Begin the new year with a bang (and maybe even an autographed copy of Laws of Illusion, a tote bag, and a pair of SMcL tickets too). Should you feel compelled to enter, here are the rules.
I’m always afraid of saying anything about women on the internet because obviously I’m a moron with the wrong junk between my legs. But I gravitate toward saying things about rabbis. Especially lists of them. So here we go.
The results got us thinking about all the female rabbis whose influence cannot necessarily be measured by their national/international profile, their media presence or the size of their constituencies — some of the criteria on which Newsweek bases its rankings — but who, nonetheless, are playing important roles in shaping the Jewish story.
When my mom was a kid, she invented the children’s caucus of the Texas feminist something or other (she’ll correct me in the comments, I’m sure), so I grew up with feminism. I like it. I even like saying I’m a feminist myself. So the idea of The Sisterhood 50 appeals to me. Yet, in practice, a lot of it looks like wishful thinking that only serves to prove one point: There just aren’t that many women in influential rabbinic roles.More »
I can only imagine the pitch meeting: “What if the Swedish Chef was a Zionist?” “But the Swedish Chef is kind of a psycho, totally unaware of the havoc he’s wreaking on everyone around him while he’s trying to make his meal.” “Exactly! It’s perfect!”
I’ll admit, after watching the first one I stumbled across (“Jew Bread“), I turned to my office-mate and asked if she tell whether this was anti-Semitic or Zionist. After watching a few more, I think the answer is clearly “both.”
It’s like a train wreck… Each clip I watch repulses me in new and different ways, but I can’t look away…
So the the question is… who’s funding/making/distributing these?
Have you ever wanted to see how the newly-founded State of Israel looked in colour? Now you can.
During the first few decades of the State, Fred Monosson, a well-healed American Zionist, attempted to capture the everyday life in the newly minted State of Israel and the joie de vivre of the early pioneers on colour film stock. The footage (sampled in this video) also includes images from the ruins of post-war Europe.
The recent recovery of this rare footage—very nearly trashed after being discovered in the attic of the deceased Monosson’s Boston home—constitutes a story in its own right. Thanks to Israeli filmmakers Avishai Kfir and Itzik Rubin, the film and the story of its recovery has been immortalized in a fascinating documentary,אני הייתי שם בצבע, I Was There in Color, which premiered this April in the US.
As producer Itzik Rubin suggests in the video, it is always fascinating how our collective memory of a particular historic period is irrevocably coloured and shaped by the media with which we associate it. We tend to imagine certain periods in the past as eternally “black and white,” with the somber, formal quality of standard history textbook illustrations. Part of the shock and beauty of this footage is precisely the everydayness of the images it offers.
On the other hand, these images are not exactly random or everyday: we see some of the state’s most celebrated political and military figures gracing Monosson’s lens, and the crowd scenes he captures are exuberantly happy—all this during a period of great suffering and struggle.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this clip happens at about 11 minutes in, as current Israeli President Shimon Peres recalls a warmer, less materialistic Israel of a bygone era. Peres’ bittersweet comment about the old mentality, while it may also gloss on the social realities of the times, at least nods to what is not being said elsewhere here, namely, the shifting of attitudes and values in today’s Israel.
Does Monosson’s footage then filter early Israel through rose-coloured glasses?
Perhaps, but this is still some rather remarkable footage certainly worth watching.
“…makes you think all the world’s a sunny day”
(Hat tip to Dr. Grace Cohen Grossman, who brought this footage to my attention.)
Another secret arrest of another Israeli civil rights leader and another gag order secreting the act from public eyes. This time a director of an Israeli NGO working for equality for Arab citizens of Israel, Ameer Makhoul of Ittijah.
And like during the Anat Kamm affair, Israeli news sites and bloggers are fighting against a perception of unwarranted covering up of government wrongdoing. Richard Silverstein translates from Hebrew the defiance by Israeli blogger Rehavia Berman:
Youpost’s editors categorically reject this attempt by the security forces to treat Israeli citizens as they are used to treating residents of the Occupied Territories. We are publishing the news of his arrest and want him to be charged and brought up for speedy, fair trial which preserves the rights of the accused under the law. Conversely, if the authorities are not prepared to conduct themselves in this manner, then we demand that it free Mr. Makhoul and cancel the order restricting his movement.
Other Israeli Arab NGOs issued a joint statement describing the arrest according to Makhoul’s family:
The 16 ISA agents and police officers immediately separated Mr. Makhoul from his family, including wife Janan and daughters Hind, 17 and Huda, 12, and conducted an extensive search of the home. According to Janan, the police confiscated items including documents, maps, the family’s four mobile phones, Ameer and Janan’s laptops, the hard drives from the girls’ two desktop computers, a camera and a small tape recorder containing un-transcribed oral histories Janan collects as part of her work. At one point during the police search, Janan says, one officer violently restrained her, twisting her arm and pushing her when she attempted to leave the home’s living room to observe the confiscations. The security forces also refused to identify themselves and showed her a warrant authorizing Mr. Makhoul’s arrest only after she repeatedly insisted. The order was signed on 23 April 2010 and cited unsubstantiated “security” reasons as the grounds for Mr. Makhoul’s arrest.
Makhoul was scheduled to participate in a conference on the Status of Women and Advancement of Democracy in Jordan.
Jewish social justice outfit Jewish Funds for Justice decided to fight back by creating a central repository of anti-Beck haikus. And they’re tweeting them at him. It’s all good. Just go to Haiku Glenn Beck or tweet using the #tag #becku.
Some of my faves:
And Jesus said to
All his hungry disciples
“Hands off my fish, chumps”
it used to be just
thirty pieces of silver
but now? sponsor’s gold
Glenn Beck knows that when
Jesus preached social justice
it was sarcasm.
Beckstein reminds me
of the kid in my Jew school
who ate the glue stick
I’m tempted to argue with the whole piece, line by line, but instead, I’m just going to draw out a few problems.
Beginning Monday, university campuses play host to an annual event known as Israeli Apartheid Week, where Israel is assigned the role of Jew among the nations — singled-out, cursed and harassed.
Some Jewish students at Carleton and the University of Ottawa will discreetly choose to stay home, to avoid having to answer for the Jewish state. The whiff of something medieval hangs over this March ritual.
This isn’t about Jews, say the organizers. It’s about Zionists. Problem is, the activist groups behind Israeli Apartheid Week are doing everything to erase the distinction. One of those organizations, the Ottawa Public Interest Research Group, refused in 2008 to promote a lecture on African development because Jewish students happened to be organizing it. The event had zero connection to Israel but OPIRG said it wouldn’t partner with the Jewish students’ union due to the latter’s “relationship to apartheid Israel.”
That’s an ominous introduction to the article. Too bad I need to argue it down. So long as the Canadian Jewish community (like the vocal majority of many countries’ Jewish communities) maintains that Israel and zionism are an integral part of Jewish identity, and are inherently linked, I can’t blame student groups and other organizations for drawing a similar conclusion. So long as Hillels across Canada (and across the US) house Israel advocacy and zionist groups, and many have histories of bashing Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian groups, I see no reason why those groups shouldn’t be able to “retaliate” with Israel Apartheid Week. More »
Sh’ma unveiled its digital edition a few months ago. It’s still laid out just like its paper version, only it’s harder to read on a screen. There’s not even a place for comments or discussion.
The Jewish Review of Books premieres online… stamped “Volume 1, Issue 1.” Oh, I see, this is just the web version of a paper magazine? No place for comments here either… and wait for it – most of the content is behind a pay wall! (I understand this works for the Wall Street Journal, but really, Jewish Review of Books? Is this going to be a successful income-generator for you?)
I guess I’m disappointed in that part of the beauty of the web is that content doesn’t have to come out in “issues.” I’d rather see new content every time I visit than be overwhelmed with content all at once and then have to remember to check back in a month. (Although perhaps on-demand television will break me of this preference, but for now I still rely on my DVR to tell me when there’s new content available.) And we can use space in more interesting ways online! Why restrict yourself to page layouts like a magazine? (I think that Scott McCloud’s books on comics, and his Reinventing Comics in particular, should be must-reads for anyone designing online content, be it “magazines,” online courses, or what-have-you.)
PresenTense released its new issue on Google Wave. They are still stuck with the “issue” problem, but at least they make use of some embedded video and comments…just like on a blog, only uglier and harder to navigate. What are the benefits?
Of course, this is all to say nothing of the content, but I’ll leave that to the rest of you to talk about in the comments section. But you’ll have to do that here, since only one of the three web “magazines” even has a place for discussion.
I rarely, if ever, post about Israel. And in this case, I’m more interested in this story because it’s about journalism than because it’s about Israel. (I’m the editor in chief of my university’s student-run newspaper, hence my interest.)
If you haven’t been following this story, the gist is that The New York Times‘ man in Israel, Ethan Bronner, now has a son in the Israeli Army. Questions are now flying every-which-way about whether Bronner’s coverage of Israel can remain objective.
Regardless of what you think of Bronner’s reporting (and everyone seems to have an opinion about it!), I’m more interested in the theory here. Would an American journalist in the midst of a conflict in which most young Americans were drafted be asked to take a break for the duration of the conflict? Do Israeli journalists take a breather while their son/daughter completes his/her military service?
None of these questions are meant rhetorically. I’m interested in exploring them.