Daniel Sieradski, digital media editor at JTA.org, sent me a press release he had received concerning a planned protest at the conference by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
Yes, the name is familiar and you've seen them on the news. Led by Fred Phelps, it is the same group that spouts anti-gay, anti-Jewish and anti-black rhetoric. The ADL lists it as a hate group.
Tracing the Tribe was simply going to ignore it, not wanting to give them any publicity.
However, the Jewish Exponent just posted a story on the planned protest this weekend in Philadelphia, which will target the conference, area synagogues and Jewish institutions. Tracing the Tribe felt its readers should be informed.
According to the press release, Philadelphia is on their radar because of the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, at the Sheraton City Center Hotel. They plan to protest for 45 minutes mid-day Saturday and for 30 minutes very early Sunday morning.
As soon as Tracing the Tribe received the information, conference co-chair David Mink was informed.
Why are they targeting a Jewish genealogy conference?
The conference is co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). According to the hate group, it is targeting the IAJGS. In the church's words:
"Yes. Israel has dealt treacherously with the Lord, and long ago trashed (thereby invalidating) His ancient covenant with her. The Jews killed Christ, and the genealogical lines of the 12 tribes and the Levitical priesthood are lost, until Christ returns and saves 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe). Hence, the IAJGS is a fraud."The Exponent spoke to the hate group's attorney:
Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for the group, who was contacted by phone, said that church members are targeting Jewish institutions in as many cities as they can get to, and that their message to Jews is clear: "You killed Christ, and you are not going to get away with that and you know it."Philadelphia's police department spokesman was interviewed by the Exponent:
Captain William Fisher, a police department spokesman, said that nearly two weeks ago, the church informed police of its plans. Fisher noted that officers will be stationed at each of the designated buildings.Some Greater Philadelphia synagogues have received more than 20 faxes from the church.
"They themselves are not a violent group of people, although some of the things they protest for can infuriate other citizens. They use the First Amendment greatly to their advantage," said the officer, who added that Westboro members have shown up in town numerous times in the past decade to protest various events.
"They don't just protest against Jewish people. They protest against Catholics, gays and government, and everything in between," said Fisher, adding that the Jewish community appeared well-informed and prepared for the demonstrations.
ADL associate regional director Nancy Baron-Baer told the Exponent that it just seems like their primary goal is to gain publicity for themselves.
She also provided good advice to conference attendees and to other sites where protests may take place:
Baron-Baer stressed that Jewish groups should not organize any counterprotests and that individuals attending services or other events should not speak to the protesters.Read the complete Jewish Exponent story at the link above.
"My advice would be not to react, don't directly engage them or confront them. Just go about your business," said Baron-Baer, who added that any instance of hate speech can be made into a teachable moment about spreading a message of respect.
See you in Philadelphia!