Can a snappy ad campaign bring the kids back to shul?

Can a catchy jingle with a side of shtick bring young Jews flocking to the synagogue?

If the Saatchi family has its way, yes. Charles and Maurice Saatchi, the brothers behind the advertising dynasty Saatch & Saatchi, recently purchased a London shul. The Orthodox synaguge, which has vowed to "ban" boring services, is named—what else?—Saatchi synagogue.

Overnight, British subways are plastered with slick postes of kosher chickens, promising fast, digestible services. The 28-year-old rabbi brings his own crossover cool; he's a former radio DJ. According to an October 1998 article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, "Hype!" [the agency behind the ad campaign] figures the Saatchi name will 'brand' the synagogue as a young, hip place to be."

Sacrilege, shmacrilege. It's the age of the brand name, the killer app, global domination. We should have seen this coming. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I can imagine it now...

>> Empire Kosher Chicken: The OTHER white meat.
>> It's Manischevitz...and I'm worth it.
>> Mohels: What a surprise!

In fairness, though, I'm the first to complain about boring services, and dull Hebrew School classes that felt irrelevant to my everyday life. I strayed from religious Judaism approximately 30 seconds after I unwrapped my last Bat Mitzvah gift. Perhaps in an age of dwindled interest, the sacred and the secular must join hands to form a minyan.

The Saatchis aren't the only ones stepping up to the bima. Playboy announed plans to print excerpts from "Kosher Sex," a modest-by-comparison tome penned by Orthodox rabbi Shmuely Boteach (replete with zingers like "no chupa, no shtupa.")

Radio pundit Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who converted to Orthodox Judaism in 1998, just co-authored The Ten Commandments: What's In It For Me? with Rabbi Stewart Vogel.

And my 46-year-old aunt has more in common with Madonna than she ever hoped: both are enrolled in kaballah class.

Consider this: What if young Jews come for the matzah but stay for the Musaf? The Saatchis will have accomplished what some of the most progressive U.S. shuls can't. They will bring Judaism's future right to the temple gates. And it won't be kicking and screaming.

The possible risks? Well, rich Jewish traditions could be oversimplified in the fracas. Saatchi-style Judaism could become like so much fast food—piping hot from the first two minutes, but ultimately unsatisfying. The glossy campaigns could turn 5,800 years of history into a fleeting trend with the shelf life of a Beanie Baby. ("Like, Judaism is sooo last season, Amy. I'm studying Icelandic space-age alien spiritual texts now.")

The corporate branding of sacred space is a bitter pill, too. Isn't there supposed to be a separation between church and state? Imagine the marketing mania: Davening at Bayt Ha'Barnes & Noble. Noshing on Ma Starbucks' Macaroons. Sales reps demanding 15% commission from Kol Nidre tickets. It's enough to make a commited, practicing Jew fun screaming for the nearest Baptist revival. I guess now that spirituality is on the open market, we have to make sure our souls aren't lost in the process.

Who knows? The almighty slogan could revitalize a sleeping generation of Jews. People respond to pop culture like well-heeled Pavlovian dogs. If razzle-dazzle and a shot of PR springboard us into a deeper, more meaningful Jewish life, amen. So let's watch quitely for now, and see if this is a revolution or just another crazy scheme.

But if Courtney Love records the "Hatikvah," it's definitely gone too far.




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