Lifestyles Of The ‘Jew-Curious’
You really can’t make this up. It’s a feature about people who are making a non-religious lifestyle brand of Judaism, and marketing it to unbelieving bourgeois Jews and fellow travelers among the goyim. Excerpts:
“Jewish culture is in the mainstream, it’s popular, and that’s something any brand would want to jump on,” says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions. Arq is a portal for interfaith couples, their friends, and their families to find “relevant, inclusive, aesthetically elevated” information and products. It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. There’s also an event series, including a weekend retreat in the Catskills in upstate New York that Shults says is “inspired by Jewish summer camp but more Kinfolk-y,” referring to the elegantly twee lifestyle magazine.
Shults grew up in an observant home, attended a Jewish day school, and became fluent in Hebrew. Then she got engaged to a Presbyterian. “We never really found a [religious] community that matched what we were looking for, especially for me,” says Shults’s now-husband, Andrew. Many of the synagogues that purported to be inclusive turned out to have an agenda, such as trying to get Andrew to convert or cultivating the couple’s political support for Israel.
The troubles didn’t end there. Shults tells the story of one non-Jewish friend who went shopping for the couple by Googling “chic Jewish wedding gift” and found the results to be either “totally out of style or far too didactic and preachy.” Cool, inclusive presents did exist—Shults knew that much—but they weren’t easy to find. Thus, Arq was born. “My ultimate test case was my husband,” Shults says. “Would he discover this? Read this? Go to this event?”
Arq may be the most ambitious new company hoping to court the Jew-curious community, but it’s not the only one.
Oh no it isn’t. You have to read this story to believe it. These people are outrageously self-parodic. Look:
Arq has linked up with the wedding registry company Zola Inc. to curate Jewish presents that don’t look as if they come from the synagogue gift shop; with the home design site Apartment Therapy, on a series of Judaica-focused home tours; and with the feminist/LGBTQ-friendly wedding-planning site Catalyst Wedding Co., on an interview series with couples who are diverse in every imaginable way. Arq-branded events have included a couples’ salon series in partnership with Honeymoon Israel, a nonprofit that sends “nontraditional” (interfaith, same-sex) couples on trips to Israel, and a women’s lunar retreat, based on the ancient Jewish practice of women celebrating one another around the new moon.
Not every Jew-ish company has such a social mission, however. The Matzo Project has taken as its task getting unleavened bread out of the ethnic food aisle. “We want it to be more than something that very pious Jews eat at Passover,” says co-founder Ashley Albert. The company’s offerings include matzo flats and chips in salted, everything, and cinnamon-sugar flavors, as well as a matzo butter crunch bar.
Of course. Again, read the whole thing. Here’s a link to the announcement about the debut of Arq, which bills itself as “about making Jewish life and culture accessible to everyone through engaging and honest content, inviting experiences, and aesthetically elevated products.”
Aesthetically elevated products. Wow. Just, wow. Here’s Arq’s own website. For the people who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they like. If you ask me, Moses needs to come down from Sinai and get folks sorted.
By way of contrast, I commend to you this profound, beautiful essay by the late Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, on the meaning of community in Judaism. Compare and contrast. It’s not lifestyle-branding. In fact, this is the kind of Jewish wisdom from which all of us Gentiles can benefit, even though, sadly, it lacks aesthetically elevated products.