( Exclusive to Indyposted) There was plenty of advanced billing when the Westboro Baptist Church came to Brooklyn. They had listed 3 official picketing sites. Chabad Congregation of Kensington, Torah Temimah Yeshiva and Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, a bout a mile away from the 2 sites.
The counter demonstrators were at Chabad of Kensington well before the infamous Phelps family showed up. The rabbi of the Chabad House gave a speech about helping rather than hating. The crowd of about 150 people had a generous mixture of photographers and reporters.
The rest was a mix of Jewish people from the neighborhood and beyond who ranged from hippies and punk rockers to orthodox and chassidic Jews. At 1:30 in the afternoon, some of the kids at the demonstration had clearly overstayed their lunch break at their yeshivas. The greatest damage to the Jewish community inflicted by the Phelps family was an increase in truancy during their raucous demonstration.
There was a mixture of anger and camaraderie among the counter demonstrators. Lubavitch of Kensington took the opportunity to preach a Jewish message to people from outside the orthodox Jewish community.It was almost like a family reunion, with people of vastly varied outlooks on religion and on life finding a sense of community.
The New York City Police Department handled the demonstrators and counter demonstrators with practiced efficiency, setting up barricades that kept the 2 groups apart. When the Phelps family came out with their signs and no bullhorns, it was almost impossible to hear them. Ocean Parkway is the size of a highway, with fast, loud traffic and 2 service lanes. It takes an excellent sound system to shout over the normal sound of lunch hour traffic. The acoustics on Ocean Parkway are terrible for a demonstration.
The Phelps family was at one point singing Hava Negila, a Jewish folk song done over with lyrics that would have been offensive had they been intelligible. The counter demonstrators shouted back at the Westboro Baptist Church crew, with “Fred Drop Dead” and some unprintable insults as well.
One Westboro Baptist Church woman in a black tee shirt and tight gym shorts seemed to enjoy the insults, shimmying and gyrating as various obscenities were shouted her way. From the pleasured expression on her face, it was clear that she enjoyed the attention of so many men, even if it was charged with negative emotion. Both men and women in the Westboro Baptist church seemed intensely attracted to anything that resembled a microphone.
The Phelps family looked almost lie an exhibit at a 4H club, with heavy metal police barricades enclosing them on all sides. The only difference between their Brooklyn stop and everyplace else was that more of the signs were directed against Jews. In addition to wearing a defaced Israeli flag, one of the Phelps women was wearing an American flag and a rainbow flag. All three flags were defaced and displayed disrespectfully.
In a comedy of errors, the Phelps family packed up and went off to Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, but instead of going to Chaim Berlin High School, they took their message of hatred of Jews and “fags” to the front of the Chaim Berlin elementary school, serving students in grades 1-8. They were there for only a short period of time, leaving with teenage boys in skullcaps chasing their car down the street as they left.
Most people at the counter demonstrations almost seemed to feel guilty about being there and giving the Westboro Baptist Church any attention or credence. Some felt that they had to stand up to Jew haters. Those who were absent felt that the Phelps family would be smothered by lack of attention. It’s hard to imagine the Westboro Baptist Church developing into a mass movement. They gratuitously attack and mock almost everyone, and seem to revel in the suffering of everyone outside their church. It is easier to imagine that they are really undercover atheists trying to make Christianity look ridiculous.
You have to be pretty loud to make a splash in New York. If you look closely at cops who are policing a demonstration in New York, they usually look bored. This demonstration was no exception. It was a lot more interesting talking to friends and interesting strangers behind the barricades, joking with cops and observing their proficiency in crowd control. The Phelps family looks the same, no matter what city they are in.
About the only interesting thing about the Westboro Baptist Church is the question of where they get the money to fly 10 or so picketers around the country, rent cars for them and print and transport signs. Who is paying their bills? That would be interesting to know.