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How To Sell Judaism

Archie Gottesman got New Yorkers to love a storage company. Can she get Jews to love being Jewish?

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A Manhattan Mini Storage ad from the campaign devised by Archie Gottesman.(Courtesy Edison Properties)

If you’ve spent any time on the streets or subways of New York City in the past decade, you’ve probably encountered the ads for Manhattan Mini Storage. The company is famous for its no-holds-barred billboards and subway posters, which sometimes poke fun at New Yorkers’ over-crowded lives, and other times skewer those who don’t hold unapologotically liberal political views. As chief branding officer of Edison Properties, the parent company of Manhattan Mini Storage, Archie Gottesman is the brains and wit behind those ads. She’s third-generation in the real-estate business and was eager to find a way to make the job of selling storage space more fun.

Gottesman later found herself provoking and entertaining readers with a different marketing effort. Despairing over the take-it-or-leave-it attitude many of her Jewish friends and neighbors held with regard to their religious birthright, she published a call to arms that she dubbed a “New Ten Commandments.” We invited Gottesman to speak with guest host Julie Burstein about this new mission, figuring if there’s anyone who can reengage Jews in Jewishness, it’s the woman who made many, if not all, New Yorkers come to have feelings of affection for a storage company. [Running time: 26:28.] 

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SiegelAcevedo says:

I loved this podcast, especially because it brings together two big parts of my life– branding (my professional field) and an unabashed enthusiasm for Judaism. Archie’s words have a particular resonance for this recently-minted Jew: no one exactly sold Judaism to me but I certainly “bought” it; well, my wife-then-girlfriend did introduce me to Kabbalat Shabbat at BJ and had fond memories of her formative Jewish camp days. The problem is I’m having a hard time reducing my response to those experiences to a tagline or three; another challenge for Archie may lie in the fact that a lot of concerned, intelligent, progressive, canny and otherwise “hip” rabbis and congregations have as much trouble with the shop-talk of marketing and branding as the unaffiliated have with the language of shul and tradition. But she obviously loves a challenge, and her sense of mission is infectious. I for one could probably use an “elevator pitch” approach to explaining to my puzzled secular Jewish friends and family why I converted.

It is great that Gottesman encourages Jewish atheists to celebrate shabbat, but how can she expect them to do so with the traditional prayers that invoke God. By the same token, how can she expect Jewish atheists to be comfortable in synagogue, when she admits that it provides little spiritual sustenance even to religious Jews?
Does she know that there are Jewish secular humanistic communities (including schools, adult communites and summer camps) that provide their members with culturally Jewish, but non-religious ways to cultivate their Jewish identity? For example, there are meaningful sayings for drinking wine, eating challeh and lighting candles that are profoundly Jewish without being prayer or God oriented.

Secular Jews have active secular Jewish alternatives to prayer and God-language! Call it Cultural Judaism, Secular Humanistic Judaism or secular Jewishness, if you like.
See http://www.csjo.org or http://www.shj.or or http://www.circle.org

I only feel like a Jew when I’m surrounded by gentiles. BUT I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!

surfer_dad says:

The problem with sustaining Judaism on the “left” is the carrot vs whip argument.
Are the mitzvot a yoke or a gift? Is our history, our heritage, Israel, the holocaust, emigration, etc … is it a positive or a pain to deal with?

JUDAISM, when done right, “works.”
So why are so many of us embarrassed by our success, the BMWs and big homes and MDs and professors and Nobel prize winners that comes with that?
Why do we not talk about it that way?

Baby namings and brit milah, the “forcing” of hebrew/Torah school, the coming of age of bnai mitzvah, Jewish summer camps, education – it all adds up. It made us into the people we are.

But then it stops until we have kids again. There isn’t a meaningful ritual or institution for the in-between time, exactly the time that so many of us meet and marry our future spouses. We haven’t figured out how to lead from Torah and tradition in our own way, without the “yokes” and so none of it has real meaning and we just drift away.

We need to get past the guilt, past the finger pointing from on end to the other. It’s all so ugly and such a turnoff.

Take shabbat — lovely shabbat. I love starting with my Friday cocktail, quick prayers and candle lighting, having a great dinner, some wine, no TV or screens, always with family sometimes including friends. We do it ALMOST every Friday night. We look forward to it. and I will NOT let ANYONE tell me I shouldn’t “bother” because I’m not shomer shabbos, because I don’t “do it” like they do it. It is our favorite part of the week – a gift from Torah and our ancestors – a gift that “works” even more as our lives get more hectic.

Our halacha, our path is real and meaningful to us. It’s a positive influence on our lives. It’s ok to decide to be a vegetarian but keeping kosher is somehow “voodoo?” Sunday night dinners with family is nice, but God-forbid you do it on Friday night and suddenly you are going “frum?”

Our institutions have become afraid to push the good, the positive. It’s TOO egalitarian and too much emphasis on JUST tikkun olam. I’m all for that, but that is just 1 piece of the puzzle, we need more real ritual defined for our modern lives, everything won’t be for everyone but it’s a start.

BrooklynCouch says:

I agree that Judaism has a marketing problem of a certain kind, but I’m not sure someone proud of her insulting, ignorant sophomoric political subway ads is the go-to girl for this. Those ads make me sufficiently ill to vow to never use MMS’s services.

Why isn’t Judaism cool, or why is it so uncool? My proto-theory involves the Shoah having truncated Jewish culture, and Israel and Aliyah having further “made disappear” those who otherwise would not be secular or too traditional/Orthodox for most people.

I think Shabbat is cool, and being Judaism cool, and yet I feel very alone; essentially obliged to “surf” between praying amongst fairly cool Chabadniks, and secular Jews for non-religious culture; and, alas non-Jewish women for companionship and my libido.

Am I alone in this? Very alone? Unique? I really don’t know anymore. But what I do know is that glib Archie Gottesman isn’t helping much, if at all.

Anyway, rant/cri de coeur over.

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How To Sell Judaism

Archie Gottesman got New Yorkers to love a storage company. Can she get Jews to love being Jewish?

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