God Hates Flags: Fighting Fire with Absurdity

photo by Rubin Starset for Laughing Squid

As I mentioned in my last post, JRC had the dubious honor of being demonstrated against on Rosh Hashanah eve by the hate-filled wackos from Westboro Baptist Church. In an e-mail to my congregation the day before, I urged members not to engage the protesters as I desperately wanted to avoid a circus on the eve of the holiest season of the Jewish year. I’m very happy to report that the pathetic demo proceeded without incident.

While I hesitate to give these publicity hounds more attention than they deserve, I couldn’t resist sharing this link sent to me by my friend (and new JRC member) Susan Klonsky. Apparently the Westboro folks recently traveled to San Francisco to demonstrate in front of Twitter headquarters and a local production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (!!) Get a load of the hilariously absurdist counter-protest that greeted them there.

6 thoughts on “God Hates Flags: Fighting Fire with Absurdity

  1. As I hope you’ve heard from many other members of JRC, your leadership and response to this episode – by opening Erev Rosh Hashanah with an incredible demonstration of unity and inclusion – was one of the most memorable, positive experiences our family has ever had in a worship service.

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this group’s act a “gift” (as I’d very much like it not to happen again), in the context of how it was handled, your response turned what would have been just an ugly episode into something genuinely moving. Thank you.

  2. Not only are the signs truly funny, I think this response is significant for another reason. Repeatedly, in situations like this, one of the traditional responses is to “boycott” the haters, on the premise that to respond only gives them more publicity.

    The fact is that they get the publicity, anyway.

    I heard the ex head of the Aryan Nations (he left after having a son born with cleft palate) who went on to work against hate groups, say that such boycotts are ‘welcome mats’ to the hate groups. They only need to attract one or two vulnerable young people, as Matthew Hale attracted Benjamin Smith, who went on to murder Ricky Byrdsong in Skokie, in 1999 (as well as wound others, and murder a Korean graduate student in Bloomington, IN).

    If a gang marched down our streets, claiming them as their turf, I don’t think we would cede the community to them, and hide behind our curtains. I think we would say, no, this is our community, this is what we stand for. In doing so, we provide an attractive alternative to spectators; we demonstrate our values. One can attend white supremacist rallies and turn one’s back to the speakers–as some of us did when Matthew Hale reappeared at local venues, including the Skokie courthouse, to gloat over the murder and his effective campaign.

    The deeply intelligent and humorous response of the group pictured above, is, I think, so attractive and gets the point across brilliantly, and would probably garner much of its own media attention…for the values we uphold.

    By the way, I hope that there is widespread awareness that Rohina’s wonderful play, “Unveiled” is currently running at Next Theatre in Evanston. It is such an engaging and moving way to encounter the perspectives of the Muslim women Rohina portrays so powerfully.

    • Anya,

      Ordinarily I don’t disagree with you about the need to respond to this kind of public bigotry. However as the rabbi of a congregation about to commence the most sacred season of our calendar, I didn’t want a circus atmosphere to greet worshipers as they arrived for services. That was my judgment call, and given how things transpired, I think it was the right one.

      And in the end, we offered our own “response” inside the sanctuary, where we invited an Imam and a Christian pastor to offer a prayer as we kindled the festival lights.

  3. Brant,

    Let me clarify that I wasn’t commenting on the JRC incident in particular, but on these matters, in general, in the spirit of your posting on the response in San Francisco. IF there had been any counter-presence at JRC, it should certainly not have had to be Jewish worshippers, but, instead, interfaith allies–although I’m guessing that this was discussed and decided against–apparently to good effect, in this instance.

    My comments were intended to add to thinking of future incidents, if we should need to confront them, and did not take into account specifics that make every experience different, requiring thoughtful individual analysis.

    From the comment of a congregant above, it sounds as if the situation was handled in a moving and profoundly impactful way.

  4. This is a classic example of ridicule.

    Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

    “Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

    I loved these people and their signs. I’m going to remember it.

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