Scratching your ‘ish’


As part of a campaign launched by the Jewish Federations of North America, comedy twins Randy and Jason Sklar talk about their ‘ish’ — as in, what makes them Jewish. ()

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish Federations of North America wants to know "what’s your ish?" — as in, what makes you Jewish?

The Jewish federation system will launch a significant advertising and marketing campaign next week aimed at young Jews that asks them to use social networking tools to share what makes their inner Jew tick.

The idea is for the young Jews, aged 19 to 36, to express themselves Jewishly via Twitter, Facebook or YouTube — and to raise their awareness about Jewish federations. Participants who submit an "ish" can designate one of several charitable causes to which 25 cents of a $50,000 Jewish Federations fund will go. The Jewish Federations hopes that at least 200,000 people tender submissions, allowing the organization to give away the entire $50,000.

In one submission, the comedians Randy and Jason Sklar made a two-minute video describing why former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute scandal made them feel Jewish.

"When the scandal hit, non-Jews were like, ‘Ugh, his poor wife, he’s probably going to lose his job. There’s bad news there," the two, who have appeared on such TV shows as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage," say on the video. "But Jews — Jews were like, ‘This is bad for Jews everywhere. This is bad for the State of Israel. This is bad for Rod Carew."

That’s right, the JFNA is pitching a video which uses the word "hooker."

"We didn’t anticipate them going there, but that brings authenticity," the Jewish Federations’ vice president for strategic marketing, Adam Smolyar, told The Fundermentalist. "We want to interest and intrigue them in the federation, but it has to be done in their language."

The campaign is the latest effort to reach a segment of the Jewish population that is considered insufficiently aware of or engaged in Jewish federations. According to a marketing study the Jewish Federations conducted last year, only 29 percent of an estimated 1.2 million Jews between 19 and 36 even know what a Jewish federation is.

"This campaign will not solve all of our problems, but it is very targeted," Smolyar said. "We know we have problem with focus and know we need to have more eyeballs on the federation. The idea is that when they are interested in giving to Jewish causes, we are on their eyeball."

By asking users to tag their contributions with the mark #ish, the federations plans to use a combination of automated technology and human project managers to post all submissions — be they 140-character tweets or five-minute videos — on the Web site

The site is live now, but will be promoted with an online ad campaign on Jewish sites geared toward younger Jews, such as and, as well as on larger sites such as The New York Times.

Some early contributions on Twitter: "Craving a kn#ish," "gentiles envy my beard" and "I’m single because my mother still hasn’t met anyone she likes yet."

Barring an instance where a submission is racist or offensive, the federations intend to allow any type of contribution. 

This is the third time over the past two years that the federations have attempted a significant outreach effort using online social media. The group’s first attempt, which tried to engage people in an online color war of sorts through Facebook, did not get the hoped-for response. 

But last fall the Jewish Federations ran a highly successful campaign called Jewish Community Heroes that asked participants to nominate and then vote for people making a difference in Jewish life. The campaign garnered 1.5 million page views on Facebook and 570,000 votes, and captured 40,000 e-mail addresses. The winner received a cash prize. 

That campaign was about putting the federation system on the map for young Jews, organizational officials said. The ish campaign takes the idea a step further and starts to talk about what the federation system is.

"This campaign is more about the power of collective and giving," said Vincent Mota, the Jewish Federations’ director of online giving.

The Jewish Federations is working with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life to promote the project and has enlisted Hillel interns on 50 college campuses to get college students to make submissions.

While has a feature that will help participants find their local federations, the campaign is more about teaching the message of the system, Smolyar said.

"Without being preachy, this is about letting them discover in their own way," he said. "As they are learning a little bit about what we do and our mission, seeing the celebrities talk about it in their ways, they also get to experience diversity and needs in the community."

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