Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper have come a long way since they left their family — which also happens to be one of America’s most controversial — in November 2012.
For one, the two former Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) sisters have now attended a Southern California Jewish festival, Jewlicious, twice in as many years. (It’s the same event they picketed with their family’s church in 2010, when their sister, Rebekah, held a sign that read, “Your rabbi is a whore,” directed at the head of Jewlicious, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.)
Meeting for an interview with the Journal at the bar of the Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach — where they attended this year’s Jewlicious festival, which attracted hundreds of young Southern California Jews for a weekend retreat — they discussed everything from love to religion.
Grace, who just turned 21, said she regularly attends Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth Sholom, the Reform Topeka, Kansas, synagogue that she used to picket — and which her family still pickets.
“I really like the singing,” Grace said, adding that she has seen her family at its usual protest spot outside the synagogue as she drives into the lot. “I don’t know if they know I go.”
Although WBC is small, with only a few dozen members, it has made the news for picketing soldiers’ funerals (“Pray for More Dead Soldiers”), Jewish events (“God Hates Israel”), gay pride events (“USA=Fag Nation”) and numerous other gatherings related to issues that it believes are sinful.
When the sisters left the church, and their family, they were immediately cut off from their parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. They said that they had just assumed they would live in their parents’ home forever.
Grace said that, although she’s skeptical about religion or even God’s existence, she took comfort when a friend told her that she shouldn’t feel bad about being confused because, “You were there for 20 years and you've only been away [for] one.”
The two sisters had always lived together until this past January, when Grace moved back to Topeka to complete her degree in studio art. Her dream is to one day work for National Geographic.
Megan still is still figuring out what she wants to do professionally.
“We both still feel pretty lost,” Megan admitted. “But we’re getting there. The journey is incredible.”
Megan, 28, has been seriously dating a young man she met last year in South Dakota, where she now lives. She never thought she’d ever have a boyfriend — much less one that she met in a casino during a St. Patrick’s Day pub-crawl.
Megan said she has learned a lesson or two from the Jews she has become close with and lived with for weeks at a time, both in Los Angeles and Montreal.
“There’s just something about the Jewish community that is so focused on ‘doing,’ ” she said. “Grace has this [saying]. She says, ‘Love them Jews.’ ”
Laughing, Grace reiterated Megan’s sentiments: “It’s not just talk — it’s doing. I love them Jews.”