University forced to apologise for 'anything but orthodox' advert

Matt Shapiro, the Orthodox student group’s president, said the university 'recognised the hurt they caused'


A prestigious American university has apologised to students over a controversial advert that called the school “anything but Orthodox.”

Brandeis placed in the advert in the New York Times. It read: "Brandeis was founded by Jews. But, it’s anything but orthodox."

“It’s a natural mistake to make,” the ad added. “After all, Brandeis was founded by American Jews in 1948, including Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. But when we say that Brandeis is anything but orthodox, we’re referring to its character.”

The ad — which was part of a broader branding campaign to mark the 75th anniversary of the college concluded: “Needless to say, Brandeis is still unorthodox. And rest assured, we have no intention of converting.”

The university initially defended the ad as “a play on words meant to highlight Brandeis’ unique story and history of innovation.”

However, in a letter sent to the Orthodox student group, school president Ronald Liebowitz, said they did not intend offend Orthodox Jews but admitted: “Clearly, the execution of this ad missed the mark.” He noted that he had met with members of the group last week. 

In the letter, he adds: “Brandeis is committed to providing a rich and open experience for you, our Orthodox students, and to combat rising antisemitism that affects all Jews.

“I am especially sorry that members of Brandeis’ Orthodox Jewish community, in particular, were hurt by the ad.

"You play a key role in our ongoing success: You bring energy, intelligence, and creativity to our Jewish community, to student life more broadly, and to the rigor of the academic experience that Brandeis offers.”

The letter was revealed by Rabbi David Bashevkin, an Orthodox educator, and confirmed as accurate by a leader of the Brandeis student group. 

He tweeted: "A thoughtful apology and reflection from Ronald D. Liebowitz , President of @BrandeisU."

Eitan Marks, a senior at Brandeis and president of the Brandeis Hillel’s student board, had called the ad “yet another publicity blunder by my school”. He tweeted that Brandeis has “a tone-deafness when it comes to speaking to the orthodox community. This ad is the perfect example.”

Matt Shapiro, the student group’s president, said he appreciated the apology, adding: "I’m really happy and grateful to see that the university was willing to recognize the hurt they caused and apologize for it."

Brandeis is one of the most Jewish universities in America, taking its name from Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the United States Supreme Court.

According to the university, over a third of students identify as Jewish, which includes the full spectrum of Jewish identity from Orthodox to those who culturally identify. It was ranked the third-best university for Jewish life by the Forward in 2018.

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