Jessi Rosenberg, a native of Northern Virginia in her first year at Virginia Commonwealth University, attended the March 2 silent counterprotest organized by the Virginia Holocaust Museum against a demonstration of the Westboro Baptist Church, an independent organization that travels around the United States picketing and spreading anti-gay, anti-Jewish messages, among other beliefs.
Rosenberg, who attended the protest with some friends, brought a poster that read, “May the Schwartz Be With You,” to challenge the signs of the Westboro church, some of which read, “The Jews Killed Jesus” and “Rabbis Rape Kids.”
Rosenberg found herself directly across East Cary Street from the Westboro group with a view of the hundreds of people who showed up to witness the event. At one point, a representative from the Holocaust Museum asked Rosenberg and her friends to drop their signs out of respect for the silence of the counterprotest.
I thought it was going to be a lot worse, personally. I was watching YouTube videos of other places they have rioted, and some of them looked really intimidating and scary.
We wanted to go around to take pictures of them, but not from the crowd's view, I guess. My friends wanted to get pictures to show that [Westboro is] not just the focus, there's also other people there. ... against these people and also their views. Some of the … newscasters were just giving them publicity, and not really showing the other people that came out.
But I guess when I first came I felt kind of embarrassed because I came with like my face already painted and me and my friends had posters because we didn't realize. We knew it was going to be like a silent protest but we didn't know that meant, like, no posters. We were standing there for a while. No one else had signs.
After I put the sign down I felt like I was just standing there watching it happen. Just watching them and watching the newscasters just basically video[tape] them. It just makes everyone kind of look like we were just watching them, too, not doing anything about it.
I was just really frustrated that they were doing it in front of the Holocaust Museum, which is a memorial to people that have died, and I just thought that was really messed up that they were going to say they hate Jews when it's a place to show mourning for people who died not too long ago.
I'm Jewish. I had relatives in the Holocaust, and I guess I've gone through somewhat of hate, [in] Northern Virginia. I don't know, someone one time called me a dirty kike. And it was just the most hurtful thing, and I don't think anyone should have to go through that on a normal-day basis like this. I was a freshman in high school and it was really just like casual context, [but] I don't know, it's just like a word that shouldn't be thrown around.
I feel like when we were there we were kind of just representing everyone who was in the Holocaust, kind of showing that we were standing up for them, showing that we were not going to let these people disrespect [them] in their graves.
It definitely just shows that we're not afraid. I'm not afraid to be like, OK, I'm Jewish. I know I'm a good person. Here's proof.