Monday, May 23, 2011

Someone is Paying Attention to Marketing

I'm not telling you anything new when I say that Jewish publications and organizations have gone slightly batty in what they consider appropriate pictures. Where once pictures of women and girls routinely appeared on the pages of the publications, today they are photoshopped out as a matter of tsnius, or so they say. And it's also no secret that this attitude is causing a further breach between the more left and more right wings of frum Jews.

Enter money. Sure, there are some in the most right sectors of the frum world with some money. But given attitudes towards education, training and working in this sector I'd venture to say that there is more money among those in the groups more to the middle and the left of the frum world. The right wing elements aren't stupid--they know where the money is--and they routinely approach those of the middle and left for donations to support the structures of the right. A lot of those so approached are not giving any longer or have greatly reduced what they are giving, not liking what they see happening in the far right.

Well, someone on the right finally figured out that "tsnius" is going to have to take a backseat when money is involved. I received in the mail a full-color 5x12 postcard, printed on both sides, reminding me about the 103rd Anniversary Dinner for one of those truly to the right schools. And yes, my mouth dropped open. I know this school rather well, and what I was seeing on that postcard was not what you would see in the school.

First, one one side there were pictures of girls and on the other side there were pictures of boys. Pictures of girls? Okay, the girls were fairly young--maybe in the 4-7 range, but still. The boys looked a bit older than that. But here is what was truly puzzling--not a single picture showed a student wearing the school uniform, nor were the students pictured wearing what we usually think of as right wing dress. Two of the girls were--gasp!--wearing articles made out of denim. The outfits were in a variety of real colors. Of the six boys pictured only one was wearing a white shirt--the others were wearing colorful plaid shirts, one wearing an obvious hoodie.

Yup, I'm truly suspicious as to why this postcard was sent out. Further, I wonder if everyone got the same postcard or if this postcard was mailed only to those not in the yeshiva's "family." The whole presentation reminded me of the type of literature you still might get from a kiruv organization, showing children who were being brought back into the fold but not yet right wingers.

As I said, I know just what position this particular yeshiva holds in the frum world, and it isn't anything like what is pictured on that postcard. But for someone who wouldn't know, the postcard makes the school look like a middle of the road place, someplace the middle of the roaders might want to give some money, or even those way to the left.

Amazing--when it comes to money then hyper tsnius takes a seat so far back on the bus it isn't even a passenger.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like the types of photos and illustrations certain well-known kiruv organizations use on their websites -- an unsuspecting unaffiliated or moderate who finds his/her way to those sites would never know that they are ultra orthodox or even orthodox or what their true attitudes are toward issues like women's rights and zionism.

Tuvi said...

We got that same postcard (how many schools could there be celebrating a 103 anniversary?) I grew up in Brooklyn not far from this school and no way do the students pictured represent the students in the school or the way they dress.

Have to agree that they are looking to get money from people who wouldn't send their kids to this school by sending out pictures that might appeal to these people. Won't work for Brooklyn people but it might for those who don't know what the school really represents.

JS said...

I don't know the halacha, but isn't there some moral or ethical issue with misrepresenting yourself to solicit funds? A form of false advertising perhaps? Again, I have no idea what the halacha is, but it doesn't sound right to my ears.

How is it any different from knocking on a person's door asking for tzedaka for a sick child when there really is no such child?

In a society where we have chumra upon chumra to prevent an action 10 degrees removed from the actual forbidden act, I don't see how this can be justified.

efrex said...

If memory serves, there's some precedent for this back in the alter heim. As I understand it, R' Elchonon Spector (I believe) sent a representative from his Eastern European kollel to fundraise in Frankfurt. The representative implied that R' Spector's students were engaged in secular studies a la R' Hirsch's Torah im Derech Eretz model. Hirsch, enthralled with the idea, wrote a letter of approbation for the representative.

Was this completely false? No; R' Spector was a moderate Eastern European gadol whose attitude towards secular studies was not as beligerently negative as many of his contemporariries (there's a reason why YU named its rabbinic program after him). At the same time, his institutions were certainly not engaged in active encouragement of secular culture.

So long as these modern equivalents stop short of outright lying, I can't find myself getting too worked up.

Tali said...

If the school is that old then maybe those pictures are of students from decades back when they might have had that type of student. Seems a little strange though to use pictures that old when I would guess that plenty of people know what the school is like today.

Anything to make a buck.

Trudy said...

Curious Efrex how you would define outright lying if this is not an example. Yes, we do tend to judge a book by its cover. So, if a girl sent a picture to a shadchan of herself that she had photoshopped so that certain features were changed or enhanced or showed her wearing one kind of dress and a boy saw that picture and said okay to the date and then found out that the girl and her picture didn't match, would he have been lied to? Why should this be any different?

Anonymous said...

Do people really give to schools that they are not familiar with? Don't we all know enough worthwhile charities in great need where we already know them and/or can do some due diligence?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they use the same mailer and pictures to solicit from the right wing crowd?

Miami Al said...

My wife's grandmother got many Jewish solicitations. As they came in, she kept them in a pile. At the end of the year, she went through them all, and sent everyone a check. It might have been $18, it might have been more, but she was meticulous about sending money to every charitable organization (Jewish or otherwise) that asked her.

Most of the organizations were non-Orthodox organizations dedicated to helping others, but I'm sure various "Frum" organizations were in her pile.

I believe that this methodology works.

92% of American Jews are non Orthodox. 96% of American Jews are non Rightwing. Between 92% and 96% of American Jews have no clue what is going on between various "wings" of Brooklyn Chareidism.

No offense, but in the tapestry of American Jewry, the Agudah guys are Other*, with the asterisk explaining that these groups are separate organizations all grouped under one umbrella.

Lying, cheating, stealing, all acceptable. How they are considered Orthodox is beyond me.

Mike said...

Don't know where you are getting your figures from Al but they don't mesh with the figures given by the reliable organizations/bureaus that chart these things. Orthodox Jews comprise some 11 percent of all U.S. Jews, and 16 percent of 18-29 year-olds. Among even younger Jews, the percentage of Orthodox is even higher. Add in that non Orthodox Jews leave the religiion at a much higher rate than Orthodox Jews do and add in the higher birthrate among Orthodox Jews and you get a different picture. Orthodox Jews aren't just an asterisk saying other, if they ever were.

Miami Al said...


No credible study has put Orthodox Jews at over 20% of "affiliated" Jews (normally around 16%). Given that affiliation rates are below 50%, that puts Orthodox Jews are 8% or lower.

Of those considered Orthodox in these surveys, include many people that you would not consider Orthodox. There are plenty of 2 times/year Jews that go to a Shul that is Orthodox, maybe not in NYC, but elsewhere.

When you leave the greater NYC area, or inside the greater NYC area and outside of the Frum bubble, people just don't make a distinction between these various tiny groups. You have "movements" with a Rebbe and his Chassidism, or a Rosh Yeshiva and his Talmidim, and you're talking a group of a few hundred people including children.

That's Other with an asterisk.

I didn't say Orthodox Jews were an asterisk. I said the Agudah Jews as a shorthand for the RW Orthodoxy, that is, quite frankly, an asterisk.

Abba's Rantings said...

wouldn't it be a great if tomorrow a parents with a daughter in this school sent her wearing the type of clothing in the pictuer. let the school send her home for being dressed inappropriately!