Shofar blows

Rosh Hashanah…the New Year, the birth of the world, a joyous celebration.

On Tuesday, members of my congregation received the following email from our rabbi:

[We] have just received the very upsetting news that members of Westboro Baptist Church will be demonstrating outside of our Erev Rosh Hashanah service tomorrow evening…..

I’m sure many of you are all too familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church, an infamous hate group known for its bizarre protest activities, which include picketing soldiers’ funerals, spreading homophobic slurs and desecrating the American flag. The WBC is an independent church and has long been disavowed by American Baptist associations and conventions.

Apparently church members are planning to demonstrate at a number of local Rosh Hashanah services tomorrow evening…. It is not completely clear to us why they have chosen to picket Jewish congregations on Rosh Hashanah eve other than that this church has a long history of extreme and highly irrational behavior.

If demonstrators do show up tomorrow night, we ask that you do not engage them in any way. We regret that our members and guests will be greeted with a scene such as this, but it remains our desire to begin the High Holiday season in the spirit of dignity and celebration. We believe that the most appropriate and dignified response is to simply enter the sanctuary and celebrate the New Year together as joyfully as we do every year.

And indeed the protesters came. There were only 4 or 5 of them each holding several slick commercial signs that bore horrible and condemning sentiments and had tied the American flag to their ankles which dragged in the dirt of the street. A fringe group…but still dispiriting, unsettling… There was a small counter demonstration on the opposite corner holding signs that said “Team Jacob”—

Inside, the rabbi spoke of the outpouring of support he had received via emails and calls from not just the local community but across the country when it became clear that this group was going to picket outside. Many of his friends asked if they could do anything. He invited two of them to share a prayer and light the holiday candles at the beginning of the service. One was a Lutheran minister, the other an imam. It was moving and powerful, poignant and inspiring, and assuaged some of the disquiet.

But I have to believe that though fringe, this group is a radical but very real manifestation of a larger sentiment expressed by the likes of Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson, and other strong voices of intolerance in this country. What is unsettling is this irrationality and forthright aggressiveness of hate. What makes no sense is this hate being held as a value supported and championed by a god. My son said it best when he spoke of the rabbi’s ability to bring uplift and community and ecumenicism on the inside of the service, but outside its doors the cracks of senseless loathing and intolerance were still smoking.

This is for what the shofar needs to wake us up. This is what the shofar blows need to remind us of. None of us can stay complacent.

This entry was posted in freedom of speech, Judaism, sacred and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Shofar blows

  1. Mrs. Chili says:

    I am of two minds about this sort of thing. I get frustrated when I hear people say that the likes of Beck and Phelps should just be ignored; that they’re just blowhards who deserve none of our attention. The fact that they’re out there making as much noise as they are – and that people are listening to them – is enough to warrant the attention of good people. On the other hand, I want to NOT give them any attention. I think the whole Qu’ran burning nonsense could have (should have?) been entirely avoided had no one – NO ONE – given that idiot any attention at all. Don’t show up to their parties, don’t send any reporters to their rallies, don’t engage any of their disciples, pretend they’re not there at all.

    I can’t figure out where I fall on this.

    Happy New Year, my friend. May the coming year bring you all the joy you can handle.

  2. gerryrosser says:

    These nut jobs are not the first to use an alleged “faith” to abuse others, and they won’t be the last, I predict.

  3. gerryrosser says:

    I never listen to or otherwise pay attention to the “intolerance is holy” set. I say if you want to talk trash about some people, say it and own the words. Not “God hates fags,” but “I hate fags.” If you want to tie an American flag to your ankle while proclaiming your hatred for “fags,” go right ahead. Freedom of speech and expression isn’t limited to the things I favor or the methods I choose to express myself.

    There are some instances where “words are acts” according to the law. The classic example is yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater. If the Westboro folks are lucky, they won’t have to find out which folks they choose to annoy with their pathetic demonstrations decide that their words at funerals are unwelcome acts which need to be punished. Do I advocate violence? Absolutely not. Is my name Pollyanna? Nope.

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