When we heard that “Queen of Kosher” Jamie Geller had been appointed chief media and marketing officer at Jewish content and program innovator Aish Global, we wondered why a chef and cookbook author was chosen for this role.
Ms. Geller, who made aliyah with her family from New Hempstead in 2012, answered that question by correcting a common misconception.
“I’m not a chef; I just play one on TV,” she said with a smile during a Zoom conversation from her home in Beit Shemesh.
“I didn’t go to culinary school, so I shy away from the term ‘chef.’ My background is as a TV producer and media and marketing executive. Over the last 10 years I have created a media company with many components. I could be selling socks. It just happens that it’s about food.”
Ms. Geller’s Kosher Network International — encompassing JamieGeller.com, @JamieGeller, and @JewlishbyJamie — is the No. 1 global kosher food media company and most watched Jewish food network. Her how-to videos claim an audience of 5 million, and a total of 1 billion views.
Aish.com is the leading Jewish content website, with 25,000 articles and videos, an average of a million monthly users, and nearly 500,000 email subscribers. Its “Ask the Rabbi” feature has handled 40,000 reader questions and its 24-hour live webcam from the Western Wall has logged 37 million visits. There are spin-off sites in Hebrew, Spanish, and French.
We were starting to understand the synergy.
But hadn’t we watched her create a Chanukah dish just a couple of weeks ago on a Mizrachi World Movement webcast? Yes, but she’s more often in the office than in the kitchen since her company scaled up to its present level.
“At least 90 percent of my time, before Aish, was spent running our media business,” she said. “I don’t do recipe development anymore. Now we have test kitchens in Cleveland and in Tel Aviv. We work with a social media team in Florida and videographers in several places.”
Both networks, at their core, are about Jewish messaging.
“For me, food was always a means to celebrate Judaism and its heritage, to bring families together around the table, to connect people to their culture and history,” Ms. Geller, who is the mother of six kids, who range in age from 15 to 5, said. “What I am doing with Aish is very on brand.
“My first love is media and marketing, so for me to do this now is amazing.”
Coming from an Orthodox perspective aimed at Jews of all backgrounds, Aish.com offers content on current events, spirituality, personal growth, dating, marriage, parenting, Israel, the weekly Torah portion, and holidays.
In addition to its online presence, 45-year-old Jerusalem-based Aish HaTorah (Fire of the Torah) has 35 branches worldwide sponsoring educational programs and Israel experiences for people of various ages and from many backgrounds.
Ms. Geller will guide the creation of the Aish Global Jewish Media Group, streamlining dozens of branches and projects under the Aish brand and increasing its digital presence and strategic partnerships. The group plans a three-tier platform. Ms. Geller calls it “Netflix meets Masterclass meets Khan Academy.”
“The first tier will be sheer entertainment, then the next level is edutainment, and finally a total education tier offering substantive learning where participants can take a point of interest and really drill all the way down to the essence of Jewish wisdom,” she said.
“It’s a paradigm shift, an industry disruptor, taking the best of what is out there and reimagining it.”
This is part of Aish’s new 10-year strategic vision to engage three million Jews in Torah learning by 2030.
Aish’s global CEO, Rabbi Steven Burg, said this may seem like an audacious goal, given that three million Jews is roughly 20 percent of the world Jewish population. “Aish was built on daring, on thinking big and striving for change through bold initiatives, big projects, and a broad mindset,” he said. “It’s what we’ve had in common with Ms. Geller all along. So it’s the right partnership, at the right time.”
It was an Aish program some 20 years ago that propelled Ms. Geller — then CNN producer Jamie Mendelovici — into an observant life. “My mother was nervous that I would meet a non-Jewish guy,” she said. “She wanted me to go to Jewish singles events and she did her research and found an Aish class for singles in Manhattan on the weekly Torah portion. That got me interested.”
She did not meet her husband, Nachum Geller, at that class — but she did meet him through Aish, indirectly. She’d befriended a speaker at a weekend Aish Discovery Seminar who introduced her to a matchmaker who introduced her to Mr. Geller.
After their marriage 16 years ago, children followed in quick succession. When the third baby was on the way, Ms. Geller quit her job at HBO. “Being a TV producer, you work 25 hours per day,” she said. “It’s not a life for a religious woman.”
Ms. Geller came into marriage without any cooking experience — but she learned quickly. She innovated shortcuts and tweaks to put a modern spin on traditional Jewish recipes.
“My husband suggested I write a cookbook. I started doing that” — eventually she wrote seven of them — “and I also decided to do a cooking show.
“You can take the girl out of TV, but you can’t take TV out of the girl,” she quipped.
“Aish.com was the most trafficked and innovative Jewish website and they agreed to host my show. So for several wonderful years Aish posted my first shows and recipes before I got my business off the ground.”
Over the last few years, Ms. Geller saw that the nonprofit Jewish world was not exploiting the full potential of digital media. “In the last nine months that has started happening, but the Jewish nonprofits were very behind,” she said. “I always thought how we could make more of an impact. Kosher Network International has had so much success, and what really exploded was our hyper focus on Israeli food. There was a successful model here for taking a niche approach on digital media. I wondered why the Jewish nonprofit world wasn’t jumping on this.”
So she talked to Rabbi Burg. “He said, ‘I can’t believe you reached out now.’ They were planning a major restructuring and wanted to do something powerful and substantive. It was the perfect storm.”
For his part, Rabbi Burg noted that Ms. Geller “has a proven track record of creating an online community of Jews of different backgrounds. And she does it with smart delivery of quality content that is compelling and entertaining.”
Ms. Geller plans to apply the hyper-focused niche approach to “lifestyle touchpoints” such as music, sports, pop culture, fashion, parenting, dating, relationships, and other activities in which Aish can “show the relevancy and wisdom of Judaism in areas people are already interested in,” she said.
“It’s one thing to get millions of views on a video, but what next? The Aish Global Jewish Media Group will take them from the first touchpoint down a path of learning in a substantive way. Because we are all searching for answers.”
While the Kosher Network International test kitchens and production team continue to operate under the direction of her team, Ms. Geller is holding virtual meetings across the globe and assembling a team and production partners for Aish Global Jewish Media Group.
“God willing, in the second quarter of 2021 we’ll start production and development and building out the media system,” she said. “Aish has the most collaborative approach in looking for the best people to work on this.”
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