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Anti-Gay, Anti-Jewish Activists Coming to New York

Westboro Baptist to target seminary, gay synagogue

Ari M. Brostoff
June 19, 2009
Westboro Church members protesting the 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards.(Getty Images)
Westboro Church members protesting the 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards.(Getty Images)

Protesters from Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe right-wing church based in Topeka, Kansas, are scheduled to pay unfriendly visits to several New York Jewish institutions this weekend. Best known for picketing funerals of AIDS patients and, bizarrely, soldiers killed in Iraq with signs that say “God Hates Fags,” Westboro’s congregation has recently begun focusing more ire on Jews, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Tomorrow and Sunday, church members are expected at the Jewish Theological Seminary as well as several synagogues, including Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a large gay temple in the West Village.

JTS and CBST officials found out about Westboro’s weekend plans from the group’s website, they said. The institutions have planned different responses: while JTS advised students at the Conservative movement’s rabbinical school to ignore protesters (“There will be a police presence, and we said not to engage,” said seminary spokeswoman Sherry Kirschenbaum), CBST will be holding a “peaceful prayer service” in its courtyard on Sunday, within view of the opposition. “We don’t feel that we can leave these people without a response,” said CBST executive director Ilene Sameth, who connected the rhetoric of groups like Westboro with the recent murders of abortion provider George Tiller and a guard at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum.

Westboro members have apparently been busy lately. Yesterday they protested at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, where a gay male student was elected prom queen last month.

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.