A fundamentalist church from Topeka, Kansas plans protests at Jewish locations in Great Neck, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan for three days beginning Thursday, September 24th.
The Westboro Baptist Church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps and composed largely of his family members, has been in the news with its protests at funerals of AIDS victims and American soldiers killed in action, holding signs with messages such as “God hates America” and other obscenities.
While the church has mainly protested what it perceives as homosexual targets and colleges around the country, since April 2009 it has also picketed Jewish sites, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The church is an “extreme group that spews hate wherever it goes,” said Ron Meier, director of the New York region of ADL.
“Their strategy is to attract attention and draw a response and by doing so get publicity for their church, and that’s why the ADL has advised all groups not to engage them. Because without a response they don’t gain attention and any further spreading of their view,” he said.
Westboro Baptist Church is considered to be a fringe organization; it is not associated with any major Christian group or denomination. A documentary about the Phelps family that aired on the BBC was titled, The Most Hated Family in America.
At Chabad of Great Neck, which according to the church website will be picketed at noon on Friday, Sept. 25, Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky said he was aware of the protest and planned to pay no attention to it.
“We don’t have to validate and give them any attention,” he said. “It’s only between 7-10 people and they’re going to be there for half an hour. The less attention we give them, the less attention they’ll get from the media. We have to be busy overcoming the darkness with light; making the world a better place for people and that’s the way we’re going to fight darkness. Our approach will be to totally ignore them.”
Rabbi Geisinsky said police would be on-hand for the duration of the half-hour protest and planned to shut down the street.
Protest are also planned outside the Great Neck Synagogue, North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and at Temple Beth Israel. The group also plans to picket outside the 92nd Street Y, the Jewish Theological Seminary and at the United Nations. The group’s past targets include appliance stores that sell Swedish vacuum cleaners and the recent funeral of the late actor Patrick Swayze.
The group’s website states that Jews killed “C” and that, “God hates these dark-hearted, rebellious, disobedient Jews.” The fifty-member church claims to have staged over 40,000 protests across the country.
The protest will not be a “teachable moment,” said Dr. Daniel Vitow, headmaster of North Shore Hebrew Academy High School. He had already spoken with his students about it, he said.
“What we do everyday is teach tolerance and how to engage the modern world and yet remain who they are,” Dr. Vitow said. “This is not a teachable moment. This is a situation that we have to deal with purely from a security vantage point.”
The automated telephone greeting at the Westboro Baptist Church features a pleasant, Southern-accented female voice who advises if you are a “Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or “C”-rejecting Jew,” that “God hates you all,” and recommends visiting the church’s website where more information is available.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church leader, returned the Jewish Star’s phone call and explained that the church had picked their locations “carefully” after watching “Capturing the Friedmans,” an Academy Award-nominated documentary about a Jewish family in Great Neck that was accused of child molestation. Phelps-Roper paused to ask her daughter the name of the other movie the family had recently enjoyed: My Cousin Vinnie.
In a half-hour conversation laced with Biblical quotations and expressions like “dude,” “awesome,” “yikers,” and “so cool,” Phelps-Roper, a mother of 11 who is said to be a practicing attorney, told the Jewish Star that the church had begun focusing on Jews since the world is in “the last hours of the last days of all.” Bernie Madoff, she said, is a part of the coming apocalypse.
Phelps-Roper described President Barack Obama as the anti-Christ and prophesied that he would be “bringing the nations to march against Jerusalem and your houses will be rifled and your women ravaged.”
“That’s what it says. I just go by the words, hon, and I know that God is true and man is a liar,” Phelps-Roper said.
Since the group began its protests at Jewish locations, Phelps-Roper said, she’s been spit on more than in the previous eighteen years of demonstrations. She plans to attend the New York-area rallies with her husband and children.
“My dad’s the preacher,” she said, “How lucky am I?”