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What Does it Mean to be "Too Jewish"?

A provocative new campaign challenges the public’s perception of Judaism

The Bay Magazine ·

Anyone driving on I-95 North last month may have noticed a particularly eye-catching billboard near the famed Big Blue Bug. The sign was bright pink with some other minor, neon accents and asked a bold, two-word question: Too Jewish?

With little else to go on besides a web address, the sign was ambiguous and thought provoking. What it was, it turned out, was the beginning of a new campaign from the Jewish Community Day School (JCDS). Deliberately mysterious, the sign’s intention was to respond to a common answer to why parents don’t send their children to JCDS: it’s “too Jewish.”

“It’s in the ether. I’ve heard it many times,” says JCDS Head of School Adam Tilove. “I think people assume that a Jewish day school means their kids will want to throw away all their color clothes and wear black and white or follow a Judaism that’s foreign to their family’s, but that’s not what Judaism means to us.”

He goes on to explain that the tenets of Judaism that the school tries to impart to its students are to be joyous, ethical and inquisitive.

“How can you be too ethical or too joyous?” he wonders. “We draw from our history to be a springboard for creativity. It started with ‘Too Jewish?’ but it’s really about challenging assumptions.”

The website, toojewish.info – adorned with similarly vibrant colors and provocative language – further questions the common assumptions people have about what it means to be Jewish. After the billboard’s four weeks overlooking the highway, a campaign of bus stop ads will roll out, offering more information while maintaining the same bold tone. That tone, according to Tilove, is not in line with a more traditional Jewish mentality.

“It challenges the Jewish sensibility,” he says. “Part of the Jewish mentality has been ‘don’t make a stink.’ But the new generation is different. You can live an integrated, diverse life in America and be Jewish, be proud and be knowledgeable about it. That’s what it means to be American.”

Furthering that point is a cooperative 12-week program that will start in January between the JCDS and the Islamic School of Rhode Island. The theater program, which will involve fifth grade students from both schools, will take place at the Center for Dynamic Learning with the goal of helping the children to understand issues of identity and society.

“Our kids are going to have a real, long-term relationship with these Islamic kids,” says Tilove. “That’s what we’re here for – I’m going to be me, you’re going to be you and we’re going to find out what’s special about one another.” 

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