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Kansas bigotry falls flat at Brooklyn synagogues

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A handful of hateful Midwesterners brought their anti-Semitic and anti-gay message to two Brownstone Brooklyn synagogues on Saturday — where they were met with anger, condemnation, and some old-fashioned chutzpah.

Though the events remained peaceful, members of the Westboro Baptist Church — a Kansas-based religious sect that regularly protests against Jews, gays, President Obama, fallen soldiers and just about everything else that Brooklynites know and love — tried as hard as they could to provoke passersby in front Congregation Beth Elohim on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope and the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill in the midst of the Jewish high holy days.

“No mercy for the merciless — and get rid of those beanies!” shouted Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of the five Christian extremists who rallied across the street from Beth Elohim.

“Stop raping the little boys and obey God!” she screamed at the crowd of more than 100 congregants, neighbors and protesters, as well as about a dozen police officers and members of the press at the corner Garfield Place.

After arriving in Brooklyn last week and protesting in front of Brooklyn Technical HS on Thursday, the group intended to rally in front of three synagogues on Saturday, but the bigots never made it to Union Temple in Prospect Heights.

Instead, the Westboro demonstrators focused their efforts on the Park Slope and Cobble Hill synagogues, where they added anti-Semitic lyrics to the Israeli national anthem and Jewish songs like “Hava Nagila” while waving signs stating “Jews stole the land,” “Israel is doomed,” “You will eat your babies,” and “Bitch burger” (which, inexplicably, depicted a fetus served on a bun).

Despite their confrontational approach, controversial signage, and cruel language, the Kansans said they weren’t hateful.

“We are not in a rage — we’re just full of zeal,” said Timothy Phelps, 44, of Topeka, whose group has made headlines for protesting the funerals of military personnel, claiming that the soldiers’ deaths were dishonorable because they fought to defend a country that allows homosexuals to openly enjoy their sexuality.

The Christian extremists told The Brooklyn Paper that they targeted these specific temples “because they are the largest Jewish organizations in the area” and that they didn’t intend to convert anyone to their cause.

“We are not here to convince anyone — we are here to warn them. That’s our duty,” said Megan Phelps-Roper, 23, from behind a police barricade.

Unsurprisingly, Park Slopers didn’t take kindly to Westboro’s message.

The scores of counter-protesters mocked the fundamentalist group with homemade signs stating “Jesus had two dads” and “God hates cotton-polyester blends.” Others exchanged insults with the religious group and chanted: “Go home.”

But the most climactic moment came when Andy Bachman, the rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim, climbed the steps in front of his synagogue and blew the shofar — a ceremonial horn used to announce major events and often tooted around the Jewish New Year.

“As a native of Wisconsin, I must say that they are giving the Midwest a bad name,” said Bachman, who later directed Brooklynites to raise their thumbs to their noses and wiggle their fingers at the protesters.

After teasing the Westboro demonstrators, Bachman commended the Park Slope community for coming together en masse against the anti-gay, anti-Semitic group.

“I hope this is only the beginning of our efforts to drive out hatred and bigotry,” he said.

About two hours after leaving Park Slope, the Westboro demonstrators staged a second protest in front of the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill, where they used many of the same signs, the same chants and the same tactics to advance their message.

“The Holocaust is going to look like a tea party when God is done with you hard-hearted Jews!” Shirley Phelps-Roper shouted in front of the temple.

She also sang a rendition of the Beatles song “Hey Jude” with the lyrics changed to “God hates Jews.”

There were fewer counter-protesters in Cobble Hill, but at times the exchanges between both sides grew more heated than they did in Park Slope.

But while some Brooklynites traded insults with the Kansans, others found the seven Westboro protesters — including two children — to be more depressing than infuriating.

“It’s just sad to see young children being indoctrinated into hatred,” said Kane Street Synagogue congregant Vicky Vossen.

Two days earlier, the Westboro church members staked out a position across the street from Brooklyn Technical HS in Fort Greene, and mostly offered an anti-gay message.

About five members of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose mission is represented clearly in its Web site address, www.godhatesfags.com, rallied for about 15 minutes outside the Fort Greene Place school, holding signs reading, “Fags are beasts” and “God is your enemy.”

But the students were ready for them, holding a far-better-attended counter-protest. There was no violence, as police kept both sides apart.

“I find it disgusting that people can come to a public school, especially one as diverse as Brooklyn Tech, and express hate,” said James, 17, who declined to give his last name.

It is unclear why the church chose Brooklyn Tech, but its Web site suggested that the school teaches that “it’s OK to be gay.”

“WBC will teach the rebels of Brooklyn what good looks like, and you had better behave,” the church said.

During the protest, students remained across the street from the protesters, some yelling, “Go home!” and holding signs and stickers promoting tolerance. Students were angry, but peaceful, about the church group’s presence.

“Hating people is not really a good thing,” said Ahmed Muhsin, 16, a junior. “[The group] is trying to get attention. It’s really stupid. I don’t know why they’re doing it.”

Not only students, but some adults were part of the counter-protest against the church group.

“We are a diverse community,” said Jennifer Marik, a Clinton Hill resident. “We welcome everyone. Their hate does not belong in my city.”

Brooklyn Tech’s principal Randy Asher couldn’t explain why the anti-gay and anti-Jewish protesters targeted his school. He surmised that Tech is one of the largest schools in the city with a diverse and multicultural student body.

“I’m disappointed that anybody would advocate hate,” he said. “My students responded accordingly with a counter-protest. They were calm and civil about it. They were angered and frustrated by the statements by the other group.” He also added, “These are some of the best students in the country so I would expect no less.”

Similarly, Bachman said he had no idea why the Baptist fringe group targeted local shuls.

“If you look at their Web site, they are equal opportunity haters,” he said. “They are living inside some kind a time warp in which they feel they have the legitimacy to speak on an ancient Biblical notion of what God wanted or, more precisely, what ancient people thought God wanted from humanity.

“They have ignored the last 3,000 years of development of human civilization — that’s what makes their message so shocking,” he added.

The Anti-Defamation League, which has been monitoring the group for several years, said that Westboro tends to protest groups that “they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.”

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Reader Feedback

christy from jersey says:
He's from my hometown, and I give you permission to spit on him.
Sept. 28, 2009, 1:52 pm
Jeff from Bushwick says:
You all are ——ing jerks for starting this article with "A handful of hateful Midwesterner’s..." [sic]. Does this city need MORE phony reasons to conceptualize the "midwest" as a sewer of retrograde ideology and a general pox on our country?

These westboro dip——s are, yes, awful of course, but are they any stupider than all the hate groups we have running around in this very state? in this very city?

Ironic, too, because the rabbi quoted here is from WISCONSIN, which, aside from being my home state and a pretty nice place to live, is comprised of people -- particularly the urban population -- who are on the whole more tolerant than many, many new yorkers, in my experience.
Sept. 28, 2009, 2:21 pm
jb from staten island says:
Good coverage, Ben.
Sept. 28, 2009, 2:22 pm
Eric from Prospect Heights says:
I agree, we have to be careful about mis-categorizing the midwest. After-all, gay unions are legal in Iowa, but not New York.
Sept. 28, 2009, 3 pm
Eric from Prospect Heights says:
I agree, we have to be careful about mis-categorizing the Midwest. After-all, gay unions are legal in Iowa, but not New York.
Sept. 28, 2009, 3:01 pm
Hugh Yeman from Larchmont says:
On Friday I called a number of Jewish institutions on the Westboro Baptist protest list. Of the four I spoke to, the consensus was unambiguous: "Ignore them. Any attention you give them benefits them."

http://meetadamandsteve.blogspot.com/2009/09/ignore-them.html

The counter-protestors are well-meaning - heck, *I* considered counter-protesting. But the fact that Westboro Baptist publishes a protest schedule on GodHatesFags.com is quite telling. Anyone who shows up to give these sad, impacted creatures one bit of attention is playing into their hands.
Sept. 28, 2009, 3:05 pm
L. Thompson from Maricopa, AZ says:
Personally, I would like to say that I am so sorry for this treatment of God's people! I am a Christian and just grieved that anyone calling themselves by the precious name of Jesus would treat another human being that way.I do not agree w/ abortion or w/ homosexuality but God loves EVERYBODY! He calls US to love EVERYBODY! God loves even the worst sinner, he died and gave his very life for all! That is despicable behavior and very unpleasing to God! I believe God loves the Jew and the homosexual and those who abort babies! The Lord bless and keep all of those who were mistreated!
Sept. 28, 2009, 3:07 pm
Pete from Colorado says:
I do not agree with the protestors, however unless this article is a personal blog it should not be considered news. Ben you have just as much hate in this article that the protestors have in their rally. A person is NOT a bigot if they do not agree with homosexuality, they are if they are racist. I.E. against a certain RACE. Homosexuality is not a Race.
Sept. 28, 2009, 5:36 pm
Lois from Hemet, CA says:
In the name of religion many sins are commited! Bigot Means; A person who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc. A narrow-minded, prejudiced person. Westboro Baptist Church is a mockery of the teaching of Jesus Christ, therefore they are an imitation or counterfeit. Who is the best Counterfeit of all time? If their God is not that of the Bible, who are they following?
Sept. 28, 2009, 5:39 pm
Jake A from Upper West Side says:
I have seen these people; they were on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan a few weeks ago, opposite a Jewish Center. There are not even a dozen of them. No one was paying any attention to them at all. They are very easy to ignore, and they represent no one but their own family. There is no point in giving them media coverage.
Sept. 28, 2009, 5:53 pm
Amanda from Denver says:
Pete, you are completely mistaken, the definition of "bigot"

big·ot (bĭg'ət)
n. One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

It says partial to ones own group, intolerant to others....

So, therefor, they are in fact bigots...

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bigot
Sept. 28, 2009, 5:54 pm
Max from ave J says:
They are lucky they chose a wealthy ashkenazic congregation to protest infront of. If they came a little deeper into brooklyn, to any sephardic or russian synagouge there would have been problems. Major problems.
Sept. 28, 2009, 6:15 pm
carljr from DC says:
Hmmmmm.....

Sounds one swastika short of hate crime to me.
Sept. 28, 2009, 6:17 pm
reza from skokie says:
Jesus would be ashamed of them.
Sept. 28, 2009, 6:40 pm
reza from skokie says:
Jesus would be ashamed of them.

Muslims would pay them to keep it up. What does that tell you?
Sept. 28, 2009, 6:41 pm
Ahmad from Sunset Park says:
reza: Maybe YOU would - this Muslim wouldn't. Perhaps your statement says more about you than "muslims", no?

Perhaps you need to take a trip to Sunset Park/Park Slope - Brooklyn in general - to see integration at work instead of writing inconsequential, uninformed gibberish.
Sept. 28, 2009, 7:16 pm
Rob from Park Slope says:
Is the woman holding the "God is your enemy" and "Mourn for your sins" signs wearing sweatpants with "Guess" on the butt? I don't know quite why, but there is a non-sequitur there.
Sept. 28, 2009, 7:46 pm
Alex from Wells Maine says:
These people are crazy. They obviously haven't read their own Bible. They're also irrationally stupid, hating on Jews. Don't they know that Jesus was Jewish?
Sept. 28, 2009, 8:10 pm
Jewelle from San Francisco says:
I feel terrible about such horrific ignorance at any time but especially during the holy days!!! In the future I think those being targeted by such hateful, anti-Semitic, racist, homophobes might try to gather and face them and start laughing hysterically. Sometimes that's more effective than treating them like they make sense!
Sept. 28, 2009, 8:15 pm
Mary from Washington says:
These people sicken me.
Sept. 28, 2009, 9:06 pm
JoeJoe from NYC says:
Phelps and his group are a bunch of loonies. It was despicable of them to harass a place of worship and it's congregants. There is no place in our society for that type of hatred. They should have taken their criticisms of Israels shocking human rights violations to the Israeli embassy instead and left Park Slope alone.
Sept. 28, 2009, 9:43 pm
Tina from Brooklyn says:
Many cheers for the Park Slope counter-protesters defending gays and Jews against these vicious attacks. Now where were they (and where was The Brooklyn Paper) when the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first Arabic-English public high school, was going to be housed at PS 282 in Park Slope and so many liberal, open-minded Slopers vehemently protested? Oh, right, this: http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/30/11/30_11holywar.html

It will be a happy day when Arabs and Muslims (not necessarily the same demographic) will be defended as strongly.
Sept. 28, 2009, 10:47 pm
HankThurman from Lake Champlain says:
I don't know what these people are, but they certainly not Christian.
Sept. 28, 2009, 10:49 pm
John from Albany, NY says:
Pete, "judge not that thee be judged." Homophobia is bigotry. We are all God's children and we are as God made us. Jesus would tell you that. No amount of scripture will ever turn bigotry into a virtue.
Sept. 28, 2009, 11:02 pm
Lisa from Astoria says:
Please fix the punctuation mistake in your first sentence.
Sept. 28, 2009, 11:31 pm
Steve from Riverdale says:
What's great about this is that (a) these mutant freaks are contained, (b) they had the right to protest and state their (lunatic) views, and (c) they're probably too busy inbreeding to be a threat to general society. If you didn't notice the last names of the protesters, they're all "Ropers." That's the last name of the freak "pastor" of this 'all hate, all the time' little "church." Or cult. Or nest of idiots.

Evolution will outlast them. Best thing to do is ensure they keep inbreeding.

:)
Sept. 28, 2009, 11:34 pm
Lynn Prosser from SC says:
I have watched these "Christians" for years. They show up just about anywhere now. The people they hated were a much smaller group a few years ago. Now I think they hate everybody that doesn't attend Westboro.

Shirley Phelps-Roper is a lawyer as is her father Fred who founded the church. They know their rights.

Google them. The history of the group is surreal. They received an award in the early years for challenging Jim Crow laws. At one point, they praised Saddam Hussein and then later said he was going to Hell.

They are vile. I fully expect them to spontaneously combust one day from all the hate they have built up.

Kol Tuv,

Lynn Prosser
Sept. 29, 2009, 5:44 am

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