Last week, the temple where I celebrated my bat mitzvah came face-to-face with the bitter anti-Semitism that has plagued the Jewish people for the past 2,000 years. I couldn’t have been prouder at the way it responded.
Religious institutions are usually associated with messages of peace, love and understanding. Sadly, that is not the case with the Westboro Baptist Church, which misuses the Bible to spew hate in the name of God.
WBC picketed Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church on April 10, claiming it was going to “remind these filthy Jews that God still hates them for killing his son, Jesus Christ.” It attacked the founding rabbi, Lazlo Berkowitz, for being an “evil sissy boy who has worked for civil rights,” and the senior rabbi, Amy Schwartzman, for being “very active in community AIDS projects,” and for being a woman. I was dumbfounded at the personal attacks on two of the most decent people I have ever met.
After hearing about WBC’s plan to picket the temple, I reached out to a group of my peers at George Mason University to attend that night’s Shabbat service with me.
During the protest, WBC members stood across from the temple holding signs with phrases such as “the Jews killed Jesus,” “God still hates fags,” and “mourn for your sins.” The most
disturbing aspect of the spectacle was that young children participated in the protest.
For me, the reaction of the temple to this hateful display of enmity was inspirational. Rather than directly responding to this protest, Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe and Cantor Michael Shochet put together a Shabbat service titled Marching Toward Peace. In lieu of delivering a traditional sermon, they led the congregation in a sermon-in-song consisting of entirely of songs about peace.
This beautiful service demonstrated that the Jewish people do not cower in the face of anti-Semitism, but rather unite against it. Supporting the huge turnout of TRS congregants at this inspirational service were representatives from a number of Christian churches and other Jewish congregations in the region. The only other time I have seen more people attend a service there was during the High Holidays, and witnessing the community support our congregation in such large numbers was a truly beautiful sight.
The picketing of the temple by the Westboro Baptist Church reminded me of other acts of hate that have been targeted toward the Jewish people throughout history. It brought to mind the rising instances of anti-Semitic speech on college campuses being reported across the country.
We cannot expect to change the minds of those attempting to isolate us. However, we can make it known to the world that we are a people who promote peace, dialogue, and mutual respect.
My peers and I were proud to attend the March Toward Peace service and stand in solidarity with the clergy and congregation.
Temple Rodef Shalom provided a wonderful example of how to respond when mindless hatred is directed toward the Jewish community.
The writer is a senior at George Mason University studying government and international politics, where she serves as a GMU Israel Student Association executive board member.