A few months ago we were walking on Lee Avenue in East Williamsburg, and noticed some strange billboard graffiti. It looked like someone had spraypainted a beard over the kid in the ad. At first, we thought it might be the work of Beard, a streetartist who had been putting work up recently, but on closer inspection, it wasn't so much a beard as just a straight crossing out of the face.
Last week, we noticed a new billboard had gone up-- with a new kid-- but with some Hebrew graffiti spray-painted across the front. We went so far as to query our Hebrew-reading, Yiddish-speaking friends (a very limited group)-- they said the new graffiti was actually part of the ad, and just repeated the message written in English.
In a funny coincidence, the New York Times was hot on the trail of the same mystery-- and they beat us to the punch-- running an article on the sign in the City Section yesterday:
THE first time, the boy ended up with a smear of black paint across his face. But after some digital alterations — adding curls on the sides of his face, shortening his haircut and buttoning his shirt higher at the collar — he was ready to try again.
The boy was not offended by these changes, because he is not real. Rather, he is an image on a Williamsburg billboard for Oorah, a children’s charity that wants to encourage donations of cars.
The group advertises in Williamsburg, leaders of the organization say, because the Hasidic Jews of the Satmar sect, many of whom live in the neighborhood, are generous donors. But the original billboard was defaced last spring, apparently because it offended the religious sensibilities of some of the Satmars. It stayed that way until the boy’s makeover was revealed on Jan. 3.
Apparently, the original billboard was vandalized because the kid didn't look Jewish enough-- and the new billboard included the Yiddish graffiti as a joke, to dissuade people in the neighborhood from vandalizing the poster again. It's probably the first instance of guerilla advertising in the Orthodox part of Williamsburg-- and confirmation that the corporate graffiti-meme has really gone mainstream!