EVERETT – “You didn’t like it when we didn’t defend ourselves. And you don’t like it when we do. Doesn’t leave much wiggle room,” pronounced the edgy, pro-Israel message on a hot-pink billboard on the Revere Beach Parkway this summer.
In addition to the in-your-face messaging about Israel’s right to defend itself, there was the hashtag #EndJewHate along with the names of the sponsors of the billboard: Together Beat Hate, an initiative of the Kraft family’s Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism, and a nonprofit called JewBelong, which is putting up the billboards nationwide to spread awareness of the need to keep up the fight.
Snarky messaging such as “Does your church need security cameras? ‘Cause our synagogue does,” and “Being woke and antisemitic is like being a vegan who eats veal,” are designed to make you stop and think with a viral appeal to a younger demographic, including college-age students, the billboard’s proponents say.
Over the summer, billboards popped up around Greater Boston, including in Peabody, Everett, Chelsea, and Brockton. The one at routes 1 and 128 northbound in Peabody is staying up until Oct. 3.
The antisemitism awareness campaign is the brainchild of Archie Gottesman and Stacy Stuart, marketers and real estate professionals who about five years ago cofounded JewBelong to rebrand Judaism for those who had drifted away from it.
The JewBelong billboards come at a time when antisemitism in the United States is on the rise. In May, during the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Anti-Defamation League said preliminary data from its Center on Extremism showed an increase in antisemitic incidents, both in the real world and online.
“I want people to talk about antisemitism and I want Jewish people talking about it and I want non-Jewish people to be talking about it,” said Gottesman, who says antisemitism seems to get a pass at a time when other forms of hate are being met head on.
“And in many, many places, it’s getting worse, and college campuses is one example, and kids don’t even want to say they are Jewish, which is really bad,” Gottesman said.
“We’ve seen the rise in antisemitism,” said Josh Kraft, president of the Kraft Family Philanthropies. “And the crazy thing with antisemitism, it’s not just from the right, now as you well know, it’s from the left, as well.”
Kraft cited a recent survey by the Cohen Research Group for the Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan Louis D. Brandeis Center in the spring of 2021 – before the Israel-Gaza conflict – that showed 49 percent of college students in the predominately Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and 50 percent of those surveyed in the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority felt the need to hide their Jewish identities both online and in person on campus.
“They are embarrassed,” Kraft said. “They have to hide their identity on campus so they won’t be targeted, you know, with verbal attacks, online attacks, being excluded. That’s terrible. So, hopefully these billboards give students a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and pride where they can feel strong about themselves.”
Gottesman and Stuart used similar messaging to rebrand the decidedly staid business of Manhattan Mini Storage with phrases such as “Why leave a city that has six professional sports teams, and also the Mets?” and “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.”
Gottesman, who lives in New Jersey, is a former real estate marketer whose LinkedIn bio calls her the “Co-Chief-Rebrander-of-Judaism.”
JewBelong’s billboards have sprung up in several cities across the United States, including in Times Square in New York City. They hope to get them up in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Gottesman said someone wants to bring them to Canada.
JewBelong’s awareness campaign has attracted philanthropic support from the Kraft family.
In 2019, Josh Kraft’s father, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, won the $1 million Genesis Prize, given to a Jewish person who has achieved outstanding expression of Jewish values or service to the Jewish community and/or to the State of Israel. When he accepted the award, he announced the formation of the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism.
In doing so, he committed $20 million to the effort, and raised another $30 million more. Together Beat Hate is the first front-facing initiative of the foundation, Josh Kraft said. Social media is being used to fight all forms of hate, including antisemitism, racism, anti-LGBTQ, and Islamophobia.
“The bottom line is this,” Josh Kraft said, “wherever there is antisemitism, there’s going to be other forms of hate.”