Jewish leaders condemn vandalism of OY/YO sign at Brooklyn Museum


A coalition of Jewish leaders has condemned protesters for “desecrating” Brooklyn’s iconic OY/YO sculpture with pro-Palestinian graffiti.

The vandalism occurred last Friday, as hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters crowded the plaza at the entrance to the Brooklyn Museum, where the sculpture has stood since 2018. The eight-foot-tall aluminum piece is of two yellow block letters that say “OY” when read from one side and “YO” when read from the other. 

During Friday’s demonstration, the side of the sculpture was tagged with the words “Ur museum kills kids in Palestine!” as well as “Free Palestine,” “Zionism is unpatriotic,” “F— Israel” and “F– ur bulls–t museum Gaza will be free.” 

Protestors also transcribed the poem “If I must die,” by Refaat Alareer, a Gazan poet killed by an airstrike during an Israeli bombing campaign in December, on the structure.

OY/YO was created by the Jewish artist Deborah Kass and originally installed in Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2015. A replica of it also stands outside the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. 

I created OY/YO thinking about the American promise of equality and fairness and our responsibilities to make the country a better place for all,” Kass said in her artist’s statement. “With hate and division now on the rise, it is urgent to see our commonalities, what we share, and what brings us together.”

The statement from a dozen Jewish leaders in the borough echoed that message, saying the vandalism “showed deep disrespect for what the Museum stands for — highlighting cross-cultural perspectives and bringing people together through art.”

They added, “The OY/YO sculpture is intended to honor the surrounding neighborhoods’ harmonious mix of different faiths and cultures… OY/YO is a precious symbol to thousands of people and reflects the diversity of our borough, something we all cherish.”

The statement, published by New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, was signed by that group’s CEO in addition to rabbis, Jewish educators and heads of Jewish organizations. Two of the signatories lead non-Jewish institutions: Pastor Alex Williams of the Institutional Church of God, and John Rankin, interim head of Poly Prep Country Day School.

“Desecrating Brooklyn’s art and vandalizing an iconic museum does not serve to bring people together across lines of difference,” they said. “It creates more division and stands against our shared values of community and connection.”

Kass commented on the vandalism on her personal Instagram, thanking the Brooklyn community for its concern and for helping clean up the graffiti. “Thank you so much to everyone who reached out. So much good will from my friends and strangers and the community. I am very moved,” she wrote on Monday, along with a photo of the restored structure, adding that “#OYYO Will need more love to return to its former glory.” Kass noted that the sculpture had been vandalized in 2017, when it was located in Williamsburg.

Last week’s rally outside of the museum, which closed its doors early in response, was organized and advertised by Within Our Lifetime, a hardline pro-Palestinian group that called on the museum to “divest from zionist genocide.” Protesters draped a large banner from the roof of the museum that read “Free Palestine Divest From Genocide.” A spokesperson from the museum told the New York Post that the building’s staff “were physically and verbally harassed.”

Police arrested six protesters and gave tickets to 16 others. The protest saw intense clashes involving police, with some NYPD officers punching and tackling protesters, according to the Associated Press. 

One of the statement’s signatories, Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, had posted video of the rally online in which protesters screamed at him, “We don’t want no Zionists here.”  One person told him to “Go back to your Shabbat tunnel, dumb f—,” a reference to the viral scandal at Chabad-Lubavitch’s 770 Eastern Parkway headquarters in Crown Heights earlier this year, when a fringe group in the movement dug illegal tunnels underneath the building in a vigilante bid to expand it. 

Totally unacceptable and disgraceful,” Berman, who does public relations for Chabad Headquarters and is the founder of Jewish Future Alliance, wrote in his post. “Are Jews supposed to feel safe on Eastern Parkway?”

Crystal Hudson and Chi Ossé, City Councilmembers representing Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, both condemned the acts in the video on X. 

“The video shared demonstrates a horrific display of antisemitism,” Hudson wrote. “There is never an excuse for antisemitism, ever. Bigotry of any kind will not be tolerated in our community. Not now. Not ever.”