Friday, July 24, 2009

Thankful for Free Speech

An Open Letter to The Westboro Baptist Church, following their picketing of The JCC in Manhattan yesterday:

First, let me thank you on behalf of The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. You taught us so much yesterday, as you stood across the street shouting your vile obscenities.

You reminded us that hatred toward us and everything we stand for is still alive and well in this America we so dearly love and that we must be aware, informed, and able to meet and defeat it wherever we see it.

You enabled us to clarify our own values and articulate how much we cherish our tradition and the diversity of our community.

You encouraged hundreds of our members and participants to rally around the values of this institution. We were particularly moved by our Christian and Muslim friends who were appalled by the expressions of hatred in the name of religion.

You reaffirmed our commitment to the principle of free speech, however disgusting and painful that speech might be and confirmed our belief that love, kindness, and community connection can overwhelm even the loudest hateful screaming.

We learned quite a lot.

Have you learned anything?

On July 22nd, Rabbi Joy Levitt sent the following special alert to JCC members and constituents:

We have been notified that on July 23rd, from 9:30-10:15, the JCC (along with several other New York institutions) will be picketed by a fringe hate group. The group will be small (5-8 people), but disturbing because of the ugly nature of the signs they carry.

The JCC has taken every precaution to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone who comes through our doors. We can assure you that our building remains the beacon of warmth and welcoming, regardless of who stands outside our doors.

Since we first alerted our community to this situation, we have received an outpouring of emails and phone calls supporting the JCC and its vision. We are strengthened and honored by the responses. We have chosen to respond to the picketers by simply going about our normal business. We know that it may be hard to ignore their obscenities but responding to them verbally validates their viewpoint. The best response is actually what goes on inside our building each day—a vibrant, diverse, community committed to values of pluralism and decency. Please walk past the picketers without comment, through the gates that frame our community into the space where each of you is always welcome.

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