Orthodox Jewish Advocates Launch New Initiative to Correct Dangerous Mischaracterizations of Community

Orthodox Jews have been the target of more than a dozen misleading and one-sided portrayals of their community in the pages of The New York Times for the last four months.

It has become abundantly clear that Orthodox Jews must respond to protect their physical security and to depict Orthodox Jews without a jaundiced eye.

That’s why advocates have launched KnowUs: an initiative to combat negative stereotypes advanced by the The New York Times and others and provide an inside look into the lives of Orthodox Jews. KnowUs just erected three prominent Midtown Manhattan billboards, kicking off the campaign. Already garnering attention, the billboards direct viewers to KnowUs.org, a growing informational website, buttressed by a digital campaign, which rolled out today.

It’s no secret that antisemitism is on the rise in New York City. There were 45 antisemitic hate crimes against Jews in November 2022 alone, according to NYPD statistics, more than double the figure in November 2021. But here’s what’s not talked about much: the overwhelming majority of antisemitic hate crimes and assaults are perpetrated against Orthodox Jews. Agudath Israel of America, a leading national Orthodox Jewish nonprofit headquartered in Manhattan, is deeply concerned. The Times’ apparent obsession with painting Orthodox Jews negatively can only increase animus, and potentially violence, against the Orthodox Jewish community.

“The public has been misled about how Orthodox Jews support their families, educate their children, deal with marriage, divorce, and custody disputes, and participate in the political process,” said Mr. Sol Werdiger, founder and CEO of Outerstuff and chairman of Agudath Israel’s board of trustees. “KnowUs counters misinformation and presents Orthodox Jews, as told by Orthodox Jews.” 

“Orthodox Jews have been under increasing assault in the streets of New York. Now we are under assault by the ‘paper of record.’ The time has come to speak up, lest our silence be construed as acquiescence to the normalization of anti-Orthodoxy. Hence the urgent need for KnowUs,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America.

“The world needs to better know us as individuals and as a community,” said Mitchell Silk, former assistant secretary for international markets at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and chairman emeritus of the Agudath Israel Pro Bono Legal Services Network. “That is one goal of the KnowUs campaign.”

“We don’t understand The New York Times’ obsession with us,” said Avrohom Weinstock, chief of staff at Agudath Israel. “We shouldn’t have to put up a billboard in 2023 to ask people to stop attacking us. Orthodox Jews, like every minority, should not be ‘othered.’”

While introducing our faith to the outside world, it behooves us to remind ourselves that, as Torah Jews, our sense of security comes from our trust in Hashem. At the same time, we must be prepared to engage in battle and to push back against those who threaten us. This hishtadlus is no less part of our avodas Hashem. Agudah has therefore undertaken this unprecedented step.  

In addition to a call of Moisef v’Holech – to increase Torah learning – this campaign utilizes billboards and a website to directly call on policymakers, objective journalists, and all New Yorkers to respect the entire cultural patchwork of populations that is New York, including the city’s Orthodox Jews.  

For more information, visit KnowUs.org.

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