One book that I am loving these days is Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz. She makes the argument that most Jews are what she calls Jews by Choice. In other words, guilt and tradition aren’t enough to keep our people going. It’s time to put the meaning and joy upfront. That’s exactly what we are doing…
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Stuart. Stacy Stuart has served as a marketing professional for almost 30 years, including five years at Ogilvy and Mather, and 20 years working on the iconic advertising for Manhattan Mini Storage. Along with Archie Gottesman, Stacy co-founded JewBelong.com, which helps those who are a part of the Jewish community, and anyone who has ever felt like a Jewish outsider, especially Disengaged Jews (DJs for short), to find or reconnect with the joy, meaning relevance, and connection that Judaism has to offer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born into a family with two Jewish parents. My upbringing was completely secular, but I never felt like I was missing out on anything when it came to Judaism. My parents are what JewBelong lovingly refers to as Disengaged Jews (DJs for short) so it was only natural that I was as well. It wasn’t until my late twenties when I went to a baby naming party that my JewBelong partner, Archie Gottesman, had for her daughter, Lilli, that I realized I was missing out on something important. The celebration was simple, beautiful and filled with tradition and love. Welcoming Lilli into the Jewish community opened a part of my heart that I didn’t realize had been shut tight, and I realized that I wanted, to be welcomed into the Jewish community too. That was the beginning of my Jewish journey, and what ultimately led to Archie and I co-founding JewBelong.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
JewBelong is rebranding Judaism by focusing on joy and warmth and putting the rules that no one wants to follow anyway on the back burner. You won’t find much Hebrew on JewBelong, and we also don’t think you need to believe in God to have a vibrant Jewish practice. We’re focused on the big picture, which is to help Disengaged Jews (we call them DJs) find all the richness, joy and spirituality at the heart of the religion, even if that means doing it while driving in a car and eating a cheeseburger on a Friday night. One of our favorite words (we made it up) is JewBarrassment, that feeling Jewish people get when they think they should know something Jewish, but they don’t. We’re out to put an end to JewBarrassment. We capture attention with edgy, sometimes snarky ads, like these.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My most important mentor has been my JewBelong partner, Archie Gottesman! It all started at Lilli’s naming party, as mentioned in my answer to question one, and Archie has been by my side ever since. My husband, Gregg, and I started spending all of the Jewish holidays with Archie and her family. At first, we were worried that we would feel uncomfortable and out-of-place because we didn’t know the lingo, the songs or the customs. (In other words, we were worried about being Jewbarrassed™.) Fortunately, Archie’s expectations of what one “should” know were low and the experience was warm, welcoming and full of joy. This was when I really realized that Judaism needn’t be distant or complicated or even include belief in God. Since then Gregg and I have raised three secular but spiritually Jewish children.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Stay humble, vulnerable and brave: Judaism has a lot of different affiliations for such small people, and JewBelong’s voice/approach isn’t for everyone! We even had to add a disclaimer on our website.
How are you going to shake things up next?
There’s still a lot of work to do in this area! Our next bold move will be with our Passover campaign. We’re planning to go all out with a campaign that will have people take notice, like the one we did for the High Holy Days (link is above). We’re also planning to do more events, like this one that we did at the Democratic Debate in LA a few weeks ago, where we had a group of college students and recent graduates holding signs with this copy that was attributed to the alt-right: Two Jews running for President? It’s like Charlottesville never happened. We’re also taking a stand for DJs in the Jewish space, and we’re not afraid of the pushback. This op-ed was published in the Times of Israel recently.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
One book that I am loving these days is Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz. She makes the argument that most Jews are what she calls Jews by Choice. In other words, guilt and tradition aren’t enough to keep our people going. It’s time to put the meaning and joy upfront. That’s exactly what we are doing at JewBelong.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be to live a life filled with Jewish values, even if they aren’t Jewish! Like repairing the world through acts of love and social justice (Tikkun Olam in Hebrew) and being generous/giving charity towards everyone and especially providing for those in need (Tzedakah). There are many Jewish values but they all point in the same direction — be a good person who acts with love and generosity towards all people, creatures and the planet. God knows we sure need more of this, especially these days. I would also encourage everyone in the Jewish community to go out of their way to welcome people who aren’t Jewish into their lives, especially if they have a son or daughter with a not-Jewish partner. JewBelong has a blessing especially for them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This short reading/quote by Rabbi David J. Wolpe is one of my all-time faves:
There was once a man who stood before God, her heartbreaking from the pain and injustice in the world. “Dear God,” she cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish, and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?” God responded, “I did, I sent you.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jewbelong/), Instagram (@jewbelong) and Twitter (@JewBelong)!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!