Mockup of one of the JewBelong billboards that will be on display in San Francisco from Feb. 7 through March 13, 2022.
Mockup of one of the JewBelong billboards that will be on display in San Francisco from Feb. 7 through March 13, 2022.

JewBelong’s edgy #EndJewHate billboards return to Bay Area

The New Jersey–based nonprofit JewBelong, which seeks to engage disconnected Jews and to welcome Jews by choice while ringing the alarm on antisemitism, has purchased ad space for four new eye-grabbing billboards in the Bay Area.

The hot pink billboards, scheduled to appear early next week, will call out rising antisemitism in an effort to capture the attention of some of the hundreds of thousands of drivers who traverse the Bay Bridge each day or who travel through San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. The messages use stark, in-your-face, language that’s more than a little bit barbed.

“We’re just 75 years since the gas chambers. So no, a billboard calling out Jew hate isn’t an overreaction,” three of the billboards will read. “Does your church need armed guards? ’Cause our synagogue does,” the fourth says.

The campaign, which will run through March 13, follows a similar effort in San Francisco last summer that saw 35 digital billboards placed downtown. The new ads will be located at the Bay Bridge approach on Second Street, 10th and Harrison streets and Brannan and Sixth streets in San Francisco, and U.S. 101 near University Avenue in Palo Alto, JewBelong announced.

A JewBelong sign in downtown San Francisco at First Street and Market Street. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
A JewBelong sign in downtown San Francisco at First Street and Market Street in 2021. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

Marketing professionals Archie Gottesman and Stacy Stuart — who first worked on branding for the New York–based storage company Manhattan Mini Storage — started JewBelong in 2017 with an eye toward using social media and digital marketing to nudge “disengaged Jews” (whom they call “DJs”) and others “who aren’t Jewish but are part of a Jewish community” to feel more connected to Judaism.

Using colorful advertisements and very approachable, often cheeky language, JewBelong sets out to lower the barrier to entry into Jewish life and make less knowledgeable Jews feel at ease. “Sometimes, Judaism can be more complicated than your last girlfriend,” the nonprofit states on its website.

Many of the ads downplay Jewish law, portrayed as stodgy (“actually, a lot of us eat cheeseburgers”), or push against stereotypes about who should feel welcome in synagogues (“Blonde since birth. Jewish since marriage.”) Others defend Israel from attacks: “Today is international stop talking crap about Israel day,” one ad says, written above a group of people enjoying drinks at an Israeli cafe.

The organization has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the billboards as part of its #EndJewHate campaign.

JewBelong does not list its donors, though tax filings show one of its major benefactors is the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The philanthropy, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, donated $55,000 or about 18 percent of JewBelong’s revenue in 2019.

Similar billboards have popped up in major cities around the country, including in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and New York, where they were positioned over Times Square. More are planned for Toronto and Wilmington, Delaware, the organization said.

“Antisemitism has become tolerated and normalized in far too many circles across North America,” co-founder Gottesman said in a statement announcing the San Francisco billboards. “The type of hate leveled against Jews followed by the deafening silence from supposedly good people should be abhorrent to anyone who stands for justice.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.