Would a billboard with the line "Sun, Sand and Shiksas" offend or engage Jews?
The question arose during advertising development for the new "Philly, What's your ISH?" project, a social-media campaign launched last week to give 18- to 35-year-old Jews in the Philadelphia area a way to explore virtually what being Jewish means to them.
According to a focus group created to help formulate the campaign, the answer to the "shiksa" question may depend on your age.
Many focus group participants age 35 and older vehemently objected, commenting that the term was "pejorative" and "offensive, particularly to non-Jewish women." They said that using this line in an advertising campaign, whatever its intent, would alienate people.
But the reaction was totally different for the majority of the 18- to 35-year-olds queried — and for the Brownstein Group, the Philadelphia brand communication firm that developed the line. They felt the approach was "edgy" and provocative, that references to "shiksappeal" on "Seinfeld," a "shiksa goddess" on "Sex and the City" — along with the creation of shiksa blogs and shiksa books — showed that the term is now part of pop culture and has lost its acidic bite.
In the end, the shiksa idea was vetoed, but it still could make it into future ads.
The debate illustrates, however, both the challenges facing the Jewish community and the necessity of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's ISH campaign, say Federation officials.
This isn't your grandfather's — or even your father's — Jewish community anymore. Younger Jews need to connect to each other and Judaism in different ways. If we want to keep this community going, they say, things need to change — and fast.
This point was driven home in the Federation-funded 2009 "Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia." Fewer younger Jewish adults reported that being Jewish was important to them compared with Jews 40 and older. More than one-third of respondents under 40 reported they were not very or not at all attached to Israel.
So what is ISH, and how can it save our Jewish world?
"It's essentially an online community where young Jewish singles, marrieds and parents can express themselves and find others who share the same values, in a non-judgmental environment — no strings attached and no expectations," said Alex Stroker, chief marketing officer for Federation.
The ISH experience is aimed at creating a fun, frothy, long-lasting dialogue. Through Facebook and Twitter, people can express their JewISHness, their PhillyISHness, and every ISH in between. Your overprotective mother's driving you crazy-ISH? Get it off your chest. You have a favorite Philly deli? Tell it to the world.
Additionally, on the specially created page, facebook.com/phillyjewISH, there are short videos to watch, information about Philadelphia's Jewish groups for young adults and other ways to connect.
"This has a balance between being simple and radical and cutting-edge," said Jason Cole, chair of Federation's Renaissance Group for young Jewish leaders. "In today's instant-gratification environment, I think ISH will be a really powerful tool to get people to do a lot of thinking about what it means to be ISH."
He said he anticipated that ISH will mirror his experience earlier this year at TribeFest in Las Vegas, which drew 1,300 Jews under the age of 40.
"It was the start of feeling connected to being Jewish without giving level, synagogue affiliation or whether I went to Jewish day school or camp."
The ISH campaign's soft launch this summer put T-shirts on Jewish backs, billboards on I-95, the Atlantic City Expressway and Black Horse Pike and kiosks on the Atlantic City boardwalk to begin creating a buzz about ISH and drive people to the Facebook page.
ISH also will be featured at Jewish Heritage Night at the Phillies on Aug. 18. This fall there will be additional billboards, bus-back and bus shelter ads, train station ads, Philadelphia magazine ads and more to get more people connected.
"We want to make being Jewish cool," said Marc Brownstein, president and CEO of Brownstein Groupbrownsteingroup.com , one of the country's leading brand-strategy agencies since 1964, when his father, Berny, founded the organization. "The way to do that is to appeal to young people, to get them engaged.
"We understand how young people like to communicate," continued Brownstein, "and we're going to communicate on that level, using multiple platforms, and hopefully inspire them to be proud to be Jewish.
"We want Federation's ISH campaign to carry the message that being Jewish doesn't have to mean observing the Sabbath every week. It could also mean taking part in certain cultural things that are important to you," said Brownstein, who cited the marketing advisory group that helped create the campaign, David Lipson, Scott Erlbaum, Craig Snyder and Adam Deringer.
Stroker said the goal is to get 5,000 people over the next three years tweeting, posting and LOLing (laughing out loud) about their ISHes. It's a reasonable goal, he said, considering there are approximately 40,000 Jews age 18 to 34 living in Greater Philadelphia.
Stroker noted that many companies are investing significant resources in creating online dialogues — and, ideally, relationships — with customers. The project also will provide the organized Jewish community with a better sense of what younger Jews want and what organizations need to deliver to make the community relevant to "Generation Next."
"Capitalizing on social media is a simple way to communicate with a huge population of people," said Andrew Cherry, chair of Federation's Men's Cabinet. "ISH is a great way to keep younger people invested in their Jewishness after big life events, such as high school and college graduation, the times when people typically lose interest."
Some of the established young Jewish networking groups, including The Collaborative, DAVAI, RAJE and Renaissance Group, have already committed to supporting the ISH campaign. Those involved hope that the virtual community will morph into a virtual-real community that participates in happy hours and other events while continuing to "ISH" online.
Cole and others hope that their experience is a harbinger of things to come. Four days after learning about ISH this summer, Cole was on the beach, in Ventnor, still thinking about ISH, and about his own ISHes.
"I am excited about ISH," said Cole. "For the Jewish community to be viral is a fantastic opportunity to feel a sense of connectedness and togetherness. I think this could have a tremendous impact on all of us in the Delaware Valley."