Federation CJA pulled and subsequently apologized for what was intended to be a humorous article it sponsored on a popular information website after some young Jewish adults found it offensive.
“10 Realities of Having a Jewish Best Friend in Montreal” appeared on MTLBlog, a commercial site aimed mainly at young people, roughly from Sept. 1 to 4.
The post had the byline Synden Hope-Johnston, and it was about the supposed benefits of having a Jewish best friend.
One of the points read: “They’re well-connected. Your Jewish best friend is always in the know and looking out for the latest gossip.”
Others claimed that Jews “definitely know how to eat,” are able to “lounge around” in Florida in the winter, get you into emergency appointments with doctors or, as “natural-born talkers,” admittance to the best restaurants and clubs.
The 10th “reality” was: “As much as they’ll try to deny it, they know these realities are true and we love them for it…Stereotypes aside, what’s important is that your Jewish best friend has always been exactly that – your best friend. Period.”
The content concluded with a pitch for a donation to Combined Jewish Appeal.
An open letter to the federation posted Sept. 9 on ipetitions.com and co-written by Adam Shapiro, Max Libman and David Greenberg, argued that the CJA-sponsored article “perpetuated a stale, unfunny, uninspired and sad stereotype of what it is apparently like to be an upper-middle class Jew.”
It was signed by some 55 “primarily young Montreal Jews.”
The letter also said, “for a large swath of our community these ‘realities’ are not reality at all. The article…neglects the fact that not every Jewish person from Montreal is by default a member of the upper-middle class…the fact that Federation CJA would sponsor an article… reinforcing dangerous stereotypes about Jewish wealth, influence and character traits is quite distressing and damaging.”
The authors also asked for CJA to issue a “public, prominent apology for the damage done by sponsoring the [MTLBlog] article.”
Around Sept. 4, CJA pulled the post off of MTLBlog after Shapiro privately e-mailed Natou Suissa, campaign director at federation CJA, and articulated his concerns regarding the blog post.
He told The CJN he has volunteered with federation in the past and believes the organization does tremendous work in the community, such as in helping low-income people, but he “want[s] to see that reflected in their branding, that they’re inclusive to all types of Jews.”
Lesli Green, director of strategic marketing and communications at CJA, told The CJN that her organization had been moderating the article for comments for several days after it was posted and when they did receive a few critical e-mails, including Shapiro’s, they “quickly conferred and were able to get the story taken down just before the [Labour day] long weekend.”
On the evening of Sept. 9, CJA sent The CJN a statement that read: “We received several emails and comments regarding [‘10 Realities’] on MTLBlog and are appreciative of the feedback. This was a paid advertorial written by MTLBlog on which we piggybacked CJA messaging to reach a younger demographic.
“Initial analytics showed this to be a very popular post with high engagement; however, the few negative comments were troubling to us. Therefore, it was our decision to pull the article and our branding.”
Green later told The CJN that despite CJA’s removal of the post, Shapiro and his co-authors still went forward with posting the petition.
Shapiro explained that he and his fellow authors knew the original post had been pulled, but felt this wasn’t sufficient.
“[At that point], federation hadn’t said they were sorry or that this [sort of article] doesn’t reflect our community’s values… Deleting the article doesn’t undo the damage that was done,” he said.
On Sept. 10, the petition was removed from the site but Shapiro told The CJN this was due to a technical error, and wasn’t intentional.
That same day, CJA posted a statement on its website emphasizing its decision to remove the MTLblog article from circulation and stating, “This article was in no way representative of our values and we apologize if it was found to be offensive to members of the community.”
Shapiro responded by posting on his Facebook page “Yasher koach to Federation CJA for doing the right thing and officially apologizing for the offensive MTL Blog article they sponsored.”
On Sept. 17, however, the petition reappeared online.
Shapiro said he and the others are no longer making any effort to publicize it or collect signatures, but would like to keep it up in “the interest of transparency.”
“I also hope it could be useful to anyone who cares about the future of the Montreal Jewish community to read our letter and perhaps federation employees and volunteers could refer to it and take our perspective into account when making decisions,” he added.
Green stressed, "If you read what's on our website we apologize and say [the blog post] doesn't reflect our values. We listened very carefully to the comments and feedback [from Shapiro and others]. We weighed in and said, 'We tried something [with the post], it didn't work, lets take if off.'
“We felt our actions spoke loud."
***This story has been modified from its original form***