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How To Handle Hate: Jews Debate Response to the Westboro Road Show

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Meshuga Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Nov-10-09 11:53 AM
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How To Handle Hate: Jews Debate Response to the Westboro Road Show

How To Handle Hate: Jews Debate Response to the Westboro Road Show

By Rebecca Dube

A member of the Westboro Baptist Church
protests at 42nd Street and Second
Avenue in Manhattan:

Wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed God Hates Fags and waving a quartet of antisemitic signs on the busy street corner, Shirley Phelps-Roper was getting exactly what she wanted: attention.

"You killed Jesus, you need to repent," she called out calmly in front of Beth Chayim Chadashim, a Reform synagogue in Los Angeles, where she and a few other members of the Westboro Baptist Church stood surrounded by photographers, police and a few angry passers-by.

Infamous for their odious protests at military funerals, the anti-gay church has branched out to target Jews in the past six months, picketing more than 170 synagogues and community centers with brightly colored signs bearing slogans such as God Hates Jews and Israel is Doomed.

The unwelcome attention from the fringe group has forced Jewish organizations to grapple with the question of how best to respond to such loose-cannon hatred: engage or ignore?


"Ignore them, turn away, dont engage with them, because thats exactly what they want," said Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League. Normally, Lauter said, the ADL supports shining a light on the activity of hate groups, but the Westboro Church, with its tiny membership and emphasis on garnering publicity above all, is a unique case.


"Make no mistake, these are Death to the Jews rallies," said Mordechai Levy, national director of the militant Jewish Defense Organization, which organized spirited counter-protests against the Phelps entourage in Long Island, Brooklyn and elsewhere. Levy said he wants to avoid the mistakes of history: The Phelps family may skulk on the extreme fringes of society, Levy said, but so did Hitler at one time.

"I dont believe in this ignore them and theyll go away nonsense. Silence is not golden," Levy said. "The price of silence 60 years ago was 6 million murdered Jews."

Other Jewish organizations have found creative ways to defy the picketers. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum actually sent a thank-you note to Fred Phelps after Westboro picketed Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a predominantly gay synagogue in New Yorks West Village, in June. Thats because the congregations supporters pledged money for every minute the Phelps family parked outside their temple holding hateful signs. The protest lasted 47 minutes, and the congregation raised $13,500. Kleinbaum also led a peaceful prayer vigil outside the synagogue.


In Kansas, the Phelpss home state, people have grown weary of their hateful rhetoric and tend to ignore them. The New Reform Temple of Kansas City, Mo., just across the state border, has been picketed three times in recent months. Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn said he advises congregants not to engage with the protesters, because they thrive on attention.

I tell people the best way you can confirm what we stand for is to come to services, Cukierkorn said, adding with a laugh, Im shameless. (His pitch has worked, he said: attendance has roughly doubled since Westboro members began protesting on a corner across from the temple.)

Although he dismisses the picketers as pathetic clowns, Cukierkorn says he does worry about the impact of the protests. They make the hating of Jews normative.

source: /

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