Billboards: the Latest Controversy in Hasidic Williamsburg

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Photo: null/Beyond My Ken

The organization American Atheists delights in needling believers — and is willing to do so at large scale. Every Christmas, for instance, they pay for a large billboard outside of the Holland Tunnel that refers to the reason for the season as a ridiculous myth. Recently, the group decided to erect a billboard right in the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg, a neighborhood full of the devout. Neither side has discussed the exact language of the sign, but area Councilman Steve Levin says the message is conveyed "in a disrespectful manner, on top of its clearly targeted placement." The planned sign would have been visible from the westbound side of the Williamsburg bridge, and was meant to appeal to Hasids who feel trapped, closeted in their atheism. The group's president, David Silverman, says American Atheists regularly receives emails from people like that.

But, says Silverman, at the last minute, the landlord of the building upon which the ad was slated to run backed out, and refused to let Clear Channel technicians in to do their thing, at the behest of "powerful neighborhood rabbis." Clear Channel says there's another location that's been found, but Silverman still isn't happy.  “The Jews have stopped the billboard,” he told the Brooklyn Paper. “It’s really ugly bigotry. As a former Jew, it’s repugnant to see Jews act like this.” Setting aside the actual content of the controversy for a moment: even if you are a former or cultural member of an ethnic/religious group, putting "The" in front of the group's name and following it up with something resembling a conspiracy theory ... doesn't sound great.