By Jody Kidwell, Cantorial Soloist
Last Shabbat, Rodeph Shalom had some uninvited “guests” on the sidewalk. The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas came to Philadelphia to stage protests at the International Conference of Jewish Genealogy and Philadelphia Congregations. The WBC are NOT officially affiliated to mainstream Baptists; and many of their congregants are related to the leader Fred Phelps. The Anti-Defamation League warned us of their plans, and our Executive Director Roy Feinberg was ready with extra security.
So why were they protesting? Their news release claimed that the conference was “fag infested”, their signs declared that “God hates Israel”, “God hates Obama”, “America is doomed”, “Jews killed Jesus”, “Priests rape boys” – etc. etc. etc. The signs were disturbing, but one of the most disturbing sights was a child who appeared to be around 10 years old holding a sign of hate.
From one generation to another.
So what did we do? Nothing. We didn’t engage them in conversation and we didn’t confront them. We simply walked into the comforting embrace of community, worship, and study. Why did we ignore their hate filled presence? Because they didn’t want to be ignored; they desired confrontation and the resulting publicity.
By the time the service was over, they were gone. They moved on to the conference where they presumably continued their mission of hate. We continued with our day as well, in peace.