Manhattan synagogue makes $10G off of Westboro Baptist Church protest

New York Daily News/June 22, 2009

A Manhattan synagogue turned a visit from hate-spewing demonstrators into a lucrative fund-raiser Sunday.

Leaders of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a West Village synagogue that caters to gays and lesbians, didn't want to ignore a planned visit by members of the rabidly anti-gay and anti-Semitic Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.

Instead, they asked supporters to pledge a dollar or more for every minute that six protesters stood near their synagogue hurling epithets and holding signs that read "God Hates Fags" and "Jews Stole the Land."

The final haul after 50 minutes: $10,000.

"Their very presence will actually raise money for the mission of this community," said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the synagogue, which now holds services in rented space. "The synagogue wants a building so we're hoping this will help us get a building."

The Kansas church, known for picketing soldiers' funerals to say their deaths are God's punishment for Americans' tolerance of gays, has ramped up its demonstrations against Jews, who they say are sinners.

The group visited several New York synagogues and Jewish institutions over the weekend and planned to hit a Central Park celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tel Aviv.

When they arrived at Beth Simchat Torah, they found about 150 congregants from several synagogues and a nearby church as well as other supporters on the sidewalk singing Jewish songs and prayers.

"We're not intimidated by them," Kleinbaum said. "We're joining together today to show that we ... simply reject their language, their violence, and we won't be scared away by them."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's first openly gay speaker, said she wasn't worried that the prayer vigil would lend credibility to the Kansas demonstrators.

"You give them credibility when you silence yourself," she said. "What they want is us to go away."

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