Megan Phelps-Roper grew up believing she would arrive in Israel at the end of days to witness the rapture of the Second Coming. She hated Jews and homosexuals, celebrated terror attacks and famine, and picketed the funerals of United States soldiers killed in Iraq.
Instead, she’ll be arriving in Israel next week as the guest of David Abitbol, the Jew who saved her soul by engaging her online. Abitbol and Phelps-Roper — who was recently featured in The New Yorker and described her experience in a TED talk viewed 2 million times — will be speaking together to audiences in Israel for the first time.
Phelps-Roper was raised as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded by her grandfather, Fred Phelps. As a child, she joined her family as they traveled across the United States picketing soldiers’ funerals, synagogues, schools, events and more. There they would spread their message — that Jews killed Jesus, that God demanded the death penalty for homosexuals and that He hated everyone that wasn’t them.
Young and net-savvy, Phelps-Roper led her church’s efforts to spread their toxic message onto social media, targeting, among others, prominent Jews on Twitter. One such person was Abitbol, the Jerusalem-based founder and editor of the Jewlicious blog. He caught Phelps-Roper’s attention after JTA named him as the 2nd most influential Jew on Twitter.
So began a long conversation and online theological debate.
Phelps-Roper finally met Abitbol when the Westboro Baptist Church decided to picket the Jewlicious Festival in Long Beach, California. They met again when Phelps-Roper’s church picketed the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in New Orleans.
While the church members spewed their usual anti-Jewish hatred, the two frenemies exchanged treats — Abitbol brought Phelps-Roper halva from the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, and Phelps-Roper brought him kosher chocolate.
In 2013, the impact of Abitbol’s arguments on Phelps-Roper finally bore fruit. She and her younger sister Grace left the church, their family and the only life they had ever known.
Join us for a unique opportunity to meet Phelps-Roper and Abitbol, and hear their firsthand experience of the power of hatred, communication and redemption in the digital age.
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4
7 Dubnov Street
Tel Aviv, 6473207
7:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 5
But first, this Times of Israel Presents event:
This Sunday, April 2, author David Grossman will appear in conversation with Benjamin Balint
8:00 p.m. Hirsch Theater, Beit Shmuel
50 NIS advance (60 at the door – cash only)
Tickets available HERE.
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