Shine A Light campaign seeks to ‘stop people in their tracks’
Provocative billboards shine a light on casual antisemitism
Maybe you’ve seen the electronic billboards and their jarring messages displayed around the city and surrounding areas.
“You’re not like other Jews,” one states in black bold letters against a yellow background. Another reads, “I would’ve never guessed you’re Jewish. You’re so cool.” A third plays on familiar antisemitic tropes asking, “Did you see the diamond on her finger? It’s huge! But what do you expect? She has a Jewish fiancé.”
It takes an exercise in concentration not recommended for driving to read the second, smaller line in green below all three messages clarifying the billboard’s intention: “There’s nothing casual about antisemitism.”
Eventually, the meaning becomes clearer as a multislide campaign is revealed. Later displays on the billboards read: “If you don’t think the Holocaust happened, maybe Jews aren’t your issue. Maybe history class is,” and “Antisemitism is bad for everybody. It starts with the Jews…but it never ends there.”
Unless you’re stuck in rush hour traffic, though, the likelihood of sitting through the entire cycle of messages is slim. The concern of some Pittsburghers who have seen only one of the messages is that they could reinforce antisemitic tropes and stereotypes.
The billboards are part of a new campaign, which also includes public service announcements airing during some of television’s most popular programs including “Today” and “Saturday Night Live.”
More straightforward are the television commercials: “Hate doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” a voiceover says. “One form of hate leads to another. And there is one form of hatred on the rise in the U.S. often passed off as legitimate discourse or is just ignored: antisemitism.”
All of the messages include the logo of the campaign Shine A Light.
Shine A Light is a “convening platform,” according to a spokesperson from the Shine A Light Coalition.
“Basically,” she said, “it’s an opportunity for over 100 organizations to come together in a coordinated way and use the month of Chanukah, December, as a springboard to come together to advocate, engage and educate around antisemitism.”
Partnership against hate
Shine A Light was created last year by the Kirsh Foundation, eJewish Philanthropy reported. It works with its partners to proclaim allyship with Jewish people, as well as anyone who is targeted based on their identity.
The media campaign is just one part of the initiative, which includes: a robust website featuring articles; videos; lesson plans; webinars; links to partners including Not in Our Town, USC Shoah Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League, among others; podcasts; outreach to social media influencers; and more.
Shine A Light is funded by many different organizations, the respresentative said, but noted that the television commercials airing during December are public service announcements at no cost to the campaign. The public service announcements can be seen in all 50 states and include print, broadcast, online media, billboards, taxi banners, bus stop ads and checkout displays.
Shine A Light’s partner organizations read like a who’s who of nonprofits fighting against antisemitism and other forms of hate including Chabad; the Secure Community Network; Muslim–Jewish Coalition; Simon Wiesenthal Center; Shalom Hartman Institute; OneTable; the Anti-Defamation League; Hillel International; National Black Empowerment Council; JCC Association of North America; Jewish Federations of North America; all of the leading Jewish religious movements; and many others.
Confronting hate online
The platform also has worked to forge inroads in social media and gaming.
Shine A Light is urging people to post an image of light — and caption it — on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok. It has enlisted social media influencers to create content spotlighting antisemitism and has provided a social media toolkit to aid influencers, eJewish Philanthropy reported.
According to the ADL, nearly one in 10 gamers between the ages of 13 and 17 have been exposed to white supremacist ideology and themes during online multiplayer games. An estimated 2.3 million teens were exposed to white supremacist ideology in games like Roblox, World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Apex Legends, League of Legends, Madden NFL, Overwatch and Call of Duty.
To combat that hate, gamers have hosted streams on the gaming platform Twitch to inspire discussions on antisemitism as part of the campaign.
And in a nod to the importance of combating hate online, ADL Chief Impact Officer Adam Neufeld sent an email urging action by sharing videos with the hashtag #ShineALight.
‘Stop people in their tracks’
The billboards in Pittsburgh were created by The Stereotype Project and JewBelong, the Shine A Light representative said.
The latter organization is experienced in creating eye-catching billboards meant to engage the public about the dangers of antisemitism.
Over the last year or so, JewBelong has produced billboards that read: “Does your church need security cameras? ‘Cause our synagogues do”; “Here’s an idea, let’s ask everyone who’s wondering if antisemitism is real to wear a yarmulke for a week and report back”; and, “Can a billboard end antisemitism? No, but you’re not a billboard.”
The spokeperson said the billboards in Pittsburgh “are designed to stop people in their tracks. Then being a topic of conversation is part of JewBelong’s hope.”
Officials of the Stereotype Project told the Chronicle in an email that they understood how insidious stereotyping can be and that they wanted to “lean into the ‘double take’” stereotyping can often spur.
The campaign, their email explained, “shows how quickly and easily antisemitism can creep into the lives of ‘well meaning people’ who would never consider themselves antisemitic.”
“We don’t have time to waste. With everything that is going on in the world, especially in the last few months with prominent individuals using their platforms to spread hateful and hurtful antisemitic messages, every moment counts,” they wrote. “The more people we have on board to counteract that level of scope and scale and bring positive change to in the world the better.”
Shine A Light hopes the campaign will be a uniting force.
“We’re saying come together during this month and all be a part of this and do more activations, activations that are coordinated. Use this as an opportunity to capitalize people’s engagement around antisemitism.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]