Independent and original reporting from the Orthodox communities of Long Island

Fringe Baptist group to bring hate to Great Neck

In Anti-semitism, Bernard Madoff, Chabad, Children, Great Neck, Hate, Michael Orbach, News, North Shore Hebrew Academy HS on September 17, 2009 at 7:31 pm

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Protests planned next week in Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan

By Michael Orbach

Special to the web on Sept 17, 2009 / 28 Elul 5769

Shirley Phelps Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church hate group, based in Topeka, KS.

Shirley Phelps Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church hate group, based in Topeka, KS.

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 “God hates fags.” 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 East Midwood Jewish Center on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, and in Manhattan at 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.

The group’s website states that Jews killed Christ 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 Christ-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 “hon,” “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?”

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  3. This article triggered nightmares for my mother. The words of these virulent Anti-Semites reopened the traumatic events of her childhood during the days of Father Charles Coughlin, during the time when as Hitler was coming to power. Like other vulnerable Jewish children, her life was made Hellish in of all places in Brooklyn. She was frequently taunted for being a Christ-killer in addition to being beaten up for daring to set foot on a Christian street. The single worst episode was having as been a child of no more than age ten, she was tied up to a fence and had her hair burned, until a righteous Christian woman intervened to rescue her.
    I have not been a supporter of the Jewish Defense League since I was in junior high school on Long Island and had myself been menaced many times, simply having for been born a “dirty Jew” in their eyes. I rejected the JDL’s philosophy within a year as too militant and unreasonable, and I have had little if any sympathy for their approach ever since, albeit I recognize that they were responding to real threats. I will go as far as to confess, here and now, that one of my earliest reasons for becoming Orthodox over twenty-five years ago, (I am a Hasid for the twenty years) was to learn Rabbi Meir Kahane’s A”H message in order to refute it. In many respects, I continue to see, what to my mind, is a more big-picture and above all, in accordance with the Da’as Torah orientation to dealing with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism. Nonetheless, I have come to recognize that not all of Rabbi Kahane ideas were or are wrong. When individuals and groups get so lost in their private realities that they become a threat to the life and limb of all those who don’t share their point of view, as to justify their acts of terror and tyranny, then pragmatically they must be managed in the only language that they demonstrate that they are capable of comprehending.
    I hope and pray that these hateful individuals can have their consciousness raised to the point where they no longer pose a threat directly or indirectly to the innocent souls who they have chosen to be the objects of their vilification. I am not in any way advocating or suggesting any program of direct action that is violent or against the law. This is not to be confused with remaining silent and hoping that such monsters will burn themselves out. I hope that the authorities of the US Department of Homeland Security are carefully watching and listening to these hate -mongers. Clearly, if they can be educated to the error of their ways, so that the idea “live and let live,” can become a lived reality for them, it would be the best course. Failing that, I believe that the general public needs to have its consciousness raised to be aware of the insidiousness of their ideas, so that they are dealt with like an infectious disease. I do not believe that it is a contradiction to recognize that along with our First Amendment, of freedom of speech, which certainly cannot advocated strongly enough in favor of, there comes with certain limitations, vis-à-vis, against the use of language to cause injury. We all must face the responsibility for our actions. The classic example of this being that if someone yells fire in a crowded movie theater just for their own amusement, and then, G-d forbid, someone is injured or killed; the inciter to riot and mayhem will need to be prosecuted. This very basic principle of American law, which in seeking to protect the peace and security of the innocent by avoiding the abuse of our most cherished national freedoms and rights, was established by United States Supreme Court in the unanimous opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1919. Clearly, this was articulated in order to protect the populous from the clear and imminent danger of lawlessness that should be reasonably anticipated by messages and assemblies acting with the intention of spreading their malicious intent and the otherwise preventable violence that could reasonably be expected to result.
    Perhaps, The Westboro Baptist Church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps, his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, and their following have justified JDL’s in-your-face attitude and tactics. I pray that rational thought can prevail, but this group may require an education into the meaning of Never Again!

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