By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — An atheism-boosting billboard in Hebrew and English that went up Monday near the Brooklyn approach to the Williamsburg Bridge, reading, “You know it’s a myth, and you have a choice,” got negative reviews Monday from people in the community.
Williamsburg is home to one of the most stringently Orthodox communities in the U.S., the Satmar Hasidim. The group that sponsored the billboard, American Atheists, also put up a similar sign in a heavily Muslim area of Paterson, N.J.
Several prominent members of the Brooklyn community called the sign somewhat offensive, although they also said it was unlikely to affect the faith of individual Hasidim.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, senior rabbi of Congregation Mt. Sinai in Brooklyn Heights and executive director of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that although the group has the right to put up the billboard, “it’s just wrong” to do it in the middle of an area where people’s lives revolve around religious faith.
Steve Cohn, a prominent attorney and Democratic political leader who lives in Williamsburg, said “I think it’s a waste of their money, and I think it’s ridiculous. I think saying, ‘God is a myth,’ is an affront to people with a belief in God.”
As for whether the sign could influence some members of the Hadisic community, Cohn pointed out that they already live near Williamsburg’s predominantly secular hipster/artistic community, and this proximity to non-believers has not affected the Hasidim’s faith one bit.
Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-North Brooklyn), who represents the area, said that while he believes in free speech, the sign is “inappropriate.” In this day and age of ethnic and racial strife, he added, it’s important to bring people together, not to create divisiveness.
American Atheists, in a statement, said that the billboards were meant to encourage members of the Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities who have doubts about religion and to let them know that it’s all right to express these doubts.
Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said, “Anybody who is a human being should be careful not to hurt somebody else’s feelings.” He called the atheist group “losers who are trying to antagonize the community. What’s outrageous is that the billboard company allowed it – this also goes for the Muslim community [in Paterson].”