It's got to be one of the toughest marketing problems of all time: selling Orthodox Judaism. You gotta hand it to Chabad. They're making amazing progress, especially when you think about what an unmarketable name they have to deal with: Orthodox Judaism.
Just think about it. Let it roll off your tongue: Orthodox! Orthodox! Orthodox! I'm sorry. It just doesn't work. It doesn't roll off the tongue. It stumbles. It tumbles. It lands in a puddle with a splat. But it doesn't roll. Oh, there are other names for people who keep the Shabbat, lay tefillin, etc: observant, shomer Shabbat, ultra-Orthodox, Chasidic, machmir. Yup. Lots of names. None of them good. Or at least not attractive, anyway.
As if observant Judaism wasn't a tough enough sell to begin with, I should state right here, that I am (damn, I hate these names -- I guess I have to pick one) observant. And it really is great. Not at all what it looks like. And I know what it looks like. After all, I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons, especially the "Superfriends." My mom made bacon for breakfast, a lot of it. So believe me when I tell you that I know what Orthodoxy looks like from the outside. You've got the long black coats, the long beards, the long hair locks, all this long black stuff.
But the truth is that it's really awesome. Most people think about all the things you can't do, that limit you. But it's just the opposite. Instead of limiting you, it opens you up. It relaxes and renews you in ways vacations are supposed to but don't. It's contemplative -- and the food's great. Really great. It's kind of like a cruise, but you get a Torah reading instead of parasailing.
I just wish that secular Jews could see the things that I see. But it's a hard sell, starting with the name. Let's face it. Names are superimportant. Just look at the global marketplace. Look at the success of the GameCube, Air Jordans and Eminem. Good names sell.
And then I look back at the word: Orthodox. No wonder we don't have Reform Jews beating our doors down. The only other group that uses that word is the Greek Orthodox Church, not exactly a flattering comparison. They wear weirder-looking hats than we do. That is if you don't count the furry streimels. And then there is the other usage: Orthodox, as in the way it's always been done. Now, that may be accurate, but it's not exactly a selling feature.
I have to admit, I have been thinking about this for a while, ever since I first started keeping Shabbat. I didn't call myself Orthodox. I called myself a student of mysticism, making "connections." Sounds groovy, doesn't it? Maybe I should have stuck with that. But I wanted to fit in, so finally I became comfortable with observant. But then there came the moment I had to check the appropriate box on JDate and "observant" was not one of the choices. That was rough. I couldn't do it. In fact, I didn't do it. Not for weeks anyway. Finally, after being stuck in limbo land forever, seemingly, I sucked it up, took a stiff drink and checked the Modern Orthodox box with my eyes half closed. It was tough, although I have to admit, a little liberating, to finally get past that label that bothered me so much.
But that doesn't mean that I think it's an attractive label. It's not. Frankly, it sucks. And you know what? Judaism doesn't deserve that. It deserves a moniker that sounds awesome, or at least good. You might not believe me, but "traditional, walking on Shabbat, keeping kosher, putting on tefillin" Judaism rocks. So, I've decided to give it a good name.
My first idea was Judaism -- The Real Deal, which I really liked right away. I thought it was catchy. I mean, I thought we could shorten it:
"What are you?"
"The Real Deal."
"You know, Jewish."
But that just brought me back to the O word. So it didn't really work. Then, I really had a brainstorm: Judaism Classic. Pretty good, huh?
Think about it. Roll that one around your tongue a few times.
"What are you?"
"I'm a Classic Jew."
"Wow! Really? What are you doing later? Want to grab a drink or something?"
See, just look how well that works. And think about the meaning. Classic usually means the original and still the best. Just look how well Coke Classic is doing. New Coke was a disaster. Customers were leaving in droves. Coke Classic rescued the company -- just the name alone.
And haven't you ever heard something described as a classic? It's usually good, isn't it? 1. Mustangs. They're classic. 2. Instant classic -- usually something new and awesome. 3. "Dude, that's so classic!" meaning that's perfect. 4. Then there's the all-time classic: Classical Music. I mean, look how long it's lasted. Not as long as us, but a while, anyway. And they can still charge quite a bit for a ticket to the symphony. You think that has nothing to do with the name? Of course it does.
So think about it. Classic Judaism. Some may be Orthodox. But I'm a Classic Jew. Sounds good, doesn't it? Do me a favor, start using it.
"You see that dude? He's a Classic Jew."
But if you print up some T-shirts, just make sure I get my cut. After all, it is an instant classic.
Matt Lipeles is a screenwriter, a poet and an English teacher in a neighborhood you're probably too scared to drive into.