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Protesters Decry Gamm ‘Bad Jews’ Production

[CREDIT: Joe Siegel] Protesters objected to the billboard promoting Gamm Theatre's production of "Bad Jews," which opened for a press preview Sunday. Protesters also take issue with the title of the play.

[CREDIT: Joe Siegel] Protesters objected to the billboard promoting Gamm Theatre's production of "Bad Jews," which opened for a press preview Sunday. Protesters also take issue with the title of the play.
[CREDIT: Joe Siegel] Protesters objected to the billboard promoting Gamm Theatre’s production of “Bad Jews,” which performed a press preview Sunday. Protesters also take issue with the title of the play.
[CREDIT: Joe Siegel] rotesters objected to the billboard promoting Gamm Theatre's production of "Bad Jews,"
[CREDIT: Joe Siegel] rotesters objected to the billboard promoting Gamm Theatre’s production of “Bad Jews,”
WARWICK, RI — The Gamm Theatre’s production of “Bad Jews” opened March 2, meeting some resistance from activists in the local Jewish community offended by the play’s title.

The Rhode Island Coalition for Israel, which bills itself as “Grassroots Christians and Jews supporting the US alliance with Israel and traditional Judeo-Christian values,” put out a Feb. 26 press release condemning the production.

“Prominent members of RI’s cultural and political elite are looking the other way while members of RI’s Jewish community – many with family members lost in the Holocaust – are made to feel unsafe by a prominent sidewalk billboard at the Gamm Theater on Jefferson Blvd in Warwick saying “BAD JEWS”, said the statement.

“The sign advertises an upcoming performance at the theater. In response to the sign’s appearance, RICI has announced a multi-front campaign for its immediate removal at a time when, according to national polls, 41% of American Jews felt less safe in 2022 than in 2021.”

‘It’s unacceptable that in effect, Jewish Rhode Islanders’ taxes are paying for a ‘BAD JEWS’ billboard,” — Ken Schneider, RICI Social Action Committee Chair.’

“According to RICI, Gamm Theater receives public funds from the City of Warwick and the National Endowment for the Arts. An APRA public information request filed by RICI revealed that since 2006 the Theater has also received over $900,000, including $15,000 in Jan 2023, from the RI Council on the Arts. “It’s unacceptable that in effect, Jewish Rhode Islanders’ taxes are paying for a ‘BAD JEWS’ billboard,” says Ken Schneider, chair of RICI’s Social Action Committee. “Intentional or not, casual Jew-hatred is felt as hatred by the community.”

“We have organized a campaign against this”, continues Schneider. “Community members are taking down BAD JEWS posters in E. Side stores. We are submitting civil rights complaints to the Attorney-General. Letters are being written to Gamm management, state reps, the state Council on the Arts, the Warwick Mayor’s office, Governor McKee, and major donors.”

In a column posted Friday on the website JewishRhody.com, writer Karen Hurvitz also condemned the play for reinforcing negative stereotypes about Jewish people.

“In any generation, at any time, denigrating a race or a religion, whether it is considered delicious or nasty or fun is dangerous,” Hurvitz wrote. “This play’s title is dangerous because of the unambiguously condemnatory meaning of the word “bad.” Among the dictionary definitions of bad are “evil,” “unpleasant,” “unhealthy” and “diseased” – all of which terms have been used throughout history to justify persecution and extermination of Jews.”

“There’s a strong ethic in the art world, as in publishing, that censorship is wrong, even censoring ourselves. At the same time, art with impact will always unsettle and sometimes upset.’ Tony Estrella, Artistic Director, Gamm Theatre

Members of RICI held signs outside the Gamm’s matinee performance of “Bad Jews” on March 5.

“In this day and age, you really got to be careful how you offend people,” said a protestor named Kathy, who has not seen “Bad Jews.”

Another protestor, who did not give his name, said the title “creates a bad impression of Jews and Judaism.”

Tony Estrella, the Gamm’s Artistic Director, responded to the controversy with the following statement: “There’s a strong ethic in the art world, as in publishing, that censorship is wrong, even censoring ourselves. At the same time, art with impact will always unsettle and sometimes upset. And during the 10-plus years (“Bad Jews”) has been produced, there have been people who have objected to the play itself, the title, and various artwork used to promote it.”

“The Gamm is listening deeply to those who are upset, including some members of the Jewish community who are concerned that a title like “Bad Jews” might worsen rising anti-Semitism,” Estrella wrote. “The Gamm firmly stands against the immoral and destructive forces of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and racism, while firmly standing for freedom of expression. In the face of any threat to civil society, we will always join our global colleagues in the arts to support free and open expression. Speech is protected by our country’s First Amendment. But only we, together, can protect free expression by both listening and speaking.”

Joe Siegel
Author: Joe Siegel

Joe Siegel is a regular contributing writer for WarwickPost.com. His reporting has appeared in The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro and EDGE.

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