He poses playfully, but he’s completely covered up in traditional Hasidic black and white. It appears he even brought his own fur shtreiml to the photo shoot.
The Hasid smiling in these unorthodox images is 32-year-old college student Yoel Weisshaus. Born and bred in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he now lives in New Milford, New Jersey and works a variety of jobs to support himself.
As part of a group of “shomer Shabbat” (Sabbath-observant) actors, he’s had a few extra and supporting roles in TV shows and films shot in New York.
Out of necessity, he’s also learned to do paralegal work. In 2011 he sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey when it announced a hike in fare tolls. The case is pending in the federal Southern District of New York court.
Apparently, Weisshaus views modeling as a natural progression. “I’ve already been pretty out there,” he tells The Times of Israel by phone. “I started getting requests and one thing led to another.”
He says a friend told him that American Apparel was looking to audition Hasidim for an ad campaign. “It seems they had a particular idea in mind,” Weisshaus explains with a thick Yiddish accent.
Weisshaus, with his long beard and peyos, seems to be short on knowledge of the ironic and cynical nature of marketing and advertising. “The whole point of my modeling American Apparel clothes is to show what the company can offer Hasidim,” he says naively.
When asked who he believes he is representing in these ads, he says it is only himself. “What other people interpret is up to them,” he claims. “I like to say that whatever you believe is your personal deception.”
Weisshaus says his friends and family members have responded positively to the photos of him modeling white a button-down shirt and fashionable black trousers.
Issues of propriety have not come up (despite a couple of his poses being reminiscent of Burt Reynolds’ famous 1972 Playgirl centerfold—minus the nudity). “I didn’t bring anything new that isn’t already happening within the Hasidic community. Hasidishe magazines are full of Hasidim posing in ads.”
The Jewish New Year may have brought with it a new line of work for Weisshaus. More modeling offers have come in since the American Apparel ads were released, and Weisshaus is mulling them over.
“If I do end up being a model, it will definitely be an unanticipated career.”