This Oped Will Not Tell You How Great We Are

What if Jewish Groups Stopped Promoting Themselves

Can You Hear Us? Some organizations rely too heavily on self-promotion.
Thinkstock
Can You Hear Us? Some organizations rely too heavily on self-promotion.

By Ken Gordon

Published April 06, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Let’s begin with a truth: Much of what gets published by and in the Jewish communal world is pure self-promotion. Look around, and you’ll see articles, comments, essays, posts and tweets whose chief purpose is to extol the virtues of this or that Jewish communal organization or program. Most authors of this material don’t even try to disguise their motivations. They might think of it as “thought leadership,” but it’s really selling by another name.

Note: As a Jewish communal professional, I have engaged in this kind of activity myself, and I will surely do so again in the future. But for the moment, let’s hit the pause button on the self-promotion machine to reflect honestly on the situation.

Fact is, no one buys — really buys — self-promotional content. No one is authentically moved by it. Some people might enjoy the brazen honesty of naked self-promotion (it’s not impossible to conceive of a rabid Ron Popeil fan), but I imagine that this is a very small niche group. If we seek to be effective communicators, we must do other things.

There are places where self-promotion is actively discouraged, and we need to learn from them. In the world of journalism, for instance, the only self-promotion allowed is paid for and then stamped with the word “advertorial,” to ensure that readers won’t treat it as real news. On the whole, journalism has managed to keep synagogue and state, editorial and advertising, separate. We should strive to do the same — for our colleagues and ourselves. When everything is an advertorial, nothing is trustworthy.

This is serious business. A sustainability issue, even. Create truly trustworthy communications, and you will help build stronger, longer relationships with your constituents, present and future. As Ron Wolfson says, in “Relational Judaism, “After more than forty years of living and teaching the Jewish way, I have come to an understanding about the essence of Judaism: It’s all about relationships.”

Of course, speaking in public is a very complicated business. Every single act of articulation has a goal trailing behind it. “People only speak to get something,” David Mamet said in his Paris Review interview. “If I say, ‘Let me tell you a few things about myself,’ already your defenses go up; you go, ‘Look, I wonder what he wants from me,’ because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage.”

So let’s choose better goals. In the past year, I’ve had the great fortune to spend time with teachers, and they’ve reminded me that while one might always have a goal when one speaks, that goal can be something greater than self-promotion. I’m talking about the goal of education.

What if we made education, rather than self-promotion, the goal of the majority of our public communications? Is it ridiculous to suggest that the things we publish might have a pedagogical aspect? An inspirational aspect? That we can do better than use our words to jostle for position? What if we used them to host an open discussion about the truth?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.