Don’t be surprised if in the next few weeks you see a neon pink billboard while driving down Market Street that reads: “Chocolate hummus on an onion bagel isn’t the hate crime we’re currently worried about.”
This message, among a handful of others, is part of the “JewBelong or JewBeGone” campaign against antisemitism. JewBelong is an online nonprofit resource for Jews looking to re-engage with Judaism, or for non-Jewish “allies” wanting to learn more about the religion and community.
The multimedia campaign will appear on Philadelphia streets from July 12 to Aug. 8.
During the Israel-Hamas conflict in May, antisemitic incidents rose by 75%, according to Anti-Defamation League, precipitating the need for the campaign, Jewbelong said.
Antisemitism “has always been there, just waiting for air,” Stacy Stuart, JewBelong’s co-founder, said. “And in May, it got air.”
Co-founder Archie Gottesman and Stuart felt as though it was inappropriate to continue business as usual — providing rituals, Shabbat songs and recipes — during a time “when people are hating you.”
“If the house is on fire, I don’t want to talk about redesigning the staircase,” said Gottesman.
Instead, JewBelong pivoted to ways to address antisemitism online.
Inspired by Jewish Partisans, informal Jewish militias in eastern Europe that resisted and fought against Nazis during World War II, JewBelong awarded “Partisan Prizes,” monetary rewards to social media users who were consistently outspoken about antisemitism online.
JewBelong also posed questions on social media, asking followers to share instances of when they had experienced antisemitism.
According to Gottesman and Stuart, the outpouring of stories was immense, with one respondent writing that “My first grade teacher in Mississippi checked my head for horns. She thought we wore hats to hide our horns.”
Though devastated by the number and personal nature of the responses, Gottesman and Stuart realized that public-facing discussions about antisemitism brought opportunities to not only address antisemitism on a greater scale, but also create spaces for Jewish connection and empowerment.
“It’s human nature that when people are vulnerable and tell you something that is personal and painful, it makes us open up to them more,” Gottesman said.
But JewBelong did not just want to connect Jews by addressing antisemitism.
Gottesman believed that while Jews value standing up for others, they don’t always advocate for themselves when experiencing hate crimes and discrimination.
Through a campaign rooted in witty and playful messaging, JewBelong is not only trying to raise awareness of antisemitism among non-Jewish populations; they also hope to inspire Jewish people to speak out and against hate.
“JewBelong is fighting back, and we are giving the energy to other people to fight back,” Gottesman said.
Stuart said that the humor and brevity of their campaigns is what draws people to JewBelong. The “nontraditional” ads juxtapose ideas like religion and ritual, which are oftentimes seen as very traditional.
For individuals who have felt intimidated by a religion steeped in tradition, JewBelong is attempting to be relatable, accessible.
Both Gottesman and Stuart had, at some point or another in their adult lives, experienced a disconnect from the religion, apathy about their Judaism or embarrassment about being Jewish: After Gottesman’s husband converted, she had trouble finding Jewish events that resonated with her; and Stuart felt uneducated about Jewish wedding rituals while preparing for her wedding.
So after working together on marketing for Manhattan Mini Storages, Gottesman’s family’s business, applying their waggish marketing style to grab the attention of disengaged Jews was a natural next step. They created JewBelong 4½ years ago, with the goal of “rebranding Judaism.”
“Judaism is a great religion, but it’s the marketing that sucks,” Stuart said.
Over the past half decade, JewBelong’s online presence has swelled to 150,000 followers. Their “JewBelong or JewBeGone” campaign has already launched in New York.
In addition to the Big Apple, JewBelong selected Philadelphia, as well as Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as homes for its campaign against antisemitism.
“There’s just a lot of energy in the Jewish, Philly experience and a lot of Jewish pride.” Gottesman said. “It’s also a diverse community.”
Gottesman believes the campaign in Philadelphia and beyond is just the beginning of combating antisemitism, inspiring Jews and their allies to address antisemitism when they see it: “Speak about it; don’t shut up about it.”
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