Brandeis University president sorry for ad calling school ‘anything but Orthodox’

Apology that New York Times advertisement ‘missed the mark’ comes after school initially defended it as ‘a play on words meant to highlight Brandeis’ unique story’

A sign marks the entrance of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, October 20, 2010. (Josh Reynolds/AP/File)
A sign marks the entrance of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, October 20, 2010. (Josh Reynolds/AP/File)

JTA — Brandeis University’s president has apologized to the school’s Orthodox Jewish student group for a university ad that called the school “anything but Orthodox.”

The two-page spread, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine last week, drew the ire of Orthodox Jews and others on social media, who called it offensive.

Days after the ad appeared, leaders of the Brandeis Orthodox Organization, a student group, said in a statement that they were “hurt and disappointed to see something like this coming from our university.”

They added that Brandeis has been a place where Orthodox Jews “could comfortably grow and succeed” and that the ad was “unacceptable and antithetical to Brandeis’ values.”

The school initially defended the ad — which was headlined, “Brandeis was founded by Jews. But, it’s anything but Orthodox.” — as “a play on words meant to highlight Brandeis’ unique story and history of innovation.”

But in a letter sent to the Orthodox group late last week, the school’s president, Ronald Liebowitz, wrote that the school did not intend to offend Orthodox Jews but that “Clearly, the execution of this ad missed the mark.” He noted that he had met with members of the group last week.

Brandeis president Ronald Liebowitz. (Courtesy)

“Brandeis is committed to providing a rich and open experience for you, our Orthodox students, and to combat rising antisemitism that affects all Jews,” Liebowitz wrote in the letter, which was posted to Twitter by Rabbi David Bashevkin, an Orthodox educator, and confirmed as accurate by a leader of the Brandeis student group.

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

Matt Shapiro, the student group’s president, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he appreciated the apology.

“I’m really happy and grateful to see that the university was willing to recognize the hurt they caused and apologize for it,” he told JTA. “I appreciate that Brandeis has been a wonderful place for Orthodox students to thrive for many years, and to me, this signifies their ongoing support and commitment to our community.”

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