Beliefnet
Steven Waldman

P1010405.JPG(Photo by Gordon Waldman)
The “church” that became infamous for bringing their “God Hates Fags” signs to the funerals of people who died of AIDS and fallen soliders came to town this weekend. Westboro Baptist Church of Topkea picketed my old high school (Great Neck North) and then my former synagogue (Beth Elohim) as well as other houses of worship in New York.
They’ve broadened their message from God Hates Fags to God Hates Jews. They carry some more mainstream anti-abortion and anti-Obama signs so at first glance they can be mistaken for pro-life or Tea Party protesters. But it doesn’t take long to see that Westboro is more akin to Aryan nation than the Southern Baptist Convention.
To the tune of the Beatles’ Hey Jude, they sang (if I heard correctly), “Hey Jews, You Killed Our Lord”, and shouted “Evil Retrobate Jews!” They carried signs saying “Fags are Beasts” and sang, “God Hates America!” It’s hard to overstate how vile this group is.
Yet the amazing thing about this weekend’s Westboro visit: it was downright festive. At least that was the case outside Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope. The crowd of 100 people (many there for a Bar Mitzvah) seemed to view the half-dozen Westboro protesters less as a threat than a joke. There was almost excitement that the youngins got to see this artifact of an earlier era.
The rabbi, Andrew Bachman, inspired the crowd by blowing the shofar, “in the name of the God of love.” But the crowd especially roared when he added, “And in the name of the God of Groucho Marx, we put our thumb on our nose.” He then led the crowd in a sort of modified Bronx cheer (photo below) In response to the God Hates Fags placards, one woman put a sign on her canine reading, “Dog Loves Fags.”
The jovial posture was possible because of Westboro’s small number. If there had been 100 of them, everyone would have felt more threatened. This reaction was just about the best possible. The Westboro folks get off on enraging the crowds. At Beth Elohim, they were treated like a circus freak show.
Here, in the photo below, Rabbi Bachman salutes the Westboro gang “in the name of the God of Groucho Marx”
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When the Westboro protesters sang anti-semitic songs to the tune of Hava Nagilia, the crowd responded with the real thing: dancing the hora in a circle, while singing the actual Jewish folk song.
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The one facet of the protest that no one could quite work up a sense of humor about was the presence of the young children in the Westboro group. They held signs and would occasionally shout along with the parents. Child abuse.
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(Photo by Gordon Waldman)

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