Plans for a full-size replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem are being drawn up in Wichita, Kan. But women who have had abortions — rather than Jews — are the target audience.
The proposed replica is part of a monumental “International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center” being planned by evangelical activists in Wichita’s anti-abortion community. The envisioned shrine is meant to promote and solidify Wichita’s reputation as the city in America that is most hostile to abortion, say the activists. The project planners have decided that the most vivid way to invoke the scale of the abortion tragedy, as they see it, is to reference Jewish suffering — embodied in their minds by the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Read the Forward’s editorial denouncing the effort to appropriate a symbol of Judaism for an anti-abortion crusade.
The “Wailing Wall,” as the activists refer to it, and the accompanying center, will be fronted by 60 crosses, each one representing 1 million aborted fetuses.
“[The Western Wall] is a place that memorializes what happened during the Holocaust,” said Pastor Mark Holick, the spokesman for the anti-abortion project. “Since Roe v. Wade,” he said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that struck down state bans on abortion, “60 million baby boys and girls have been murdered, and that is a holocaust unprecedented in the history of mankind.”
For the past 20 years, Wichita has served as ground zero for the national abortion wars, which reached a crescendo in 2009 when late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his Lutheran church.
Members of Wichita’s tiny Jewish community reached by the Forward by phone seemed largely unaware of the project. But the idea of using the Western Wall — the sole remaining section of the retaining wall that surrounded the Jewish Second Temple — to symbolize the Holocaust struck some as odd. “I have never seen it as a place that you go to remember the Holocaust,” said Dale Marcus, a retired psychologist and a member of Ahavath-Achim Hebrew Congregation, a nondenominational traditional synagogue in Wichita. “It has nothing to do with abortion.”
Others took issue with what they saw as an appropriation of Jewish history. “People are talking about it in a very dismissive, funny way,” said Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue. Davis, one of the few Jews aware of the project, said, “I see it as another example of a non-Jewish group taking a Jewish symbol and reinterpreting it for their own private use and thereby bastardizing it.”
The use of the Western Wall by anti-abortion activists appears to be something new. But national anti-abortion groups have long likened abortions in America to a holocaust, or compared it to the Holocaust, to make their point. In 2007 Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee talked about the “holocaust of liberalized abortion” in a speech to the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. In his anti-abortion video “180,” released in 2011, Australian filmmaker Ray Comfort told one young woman who questioned his views, “Hitler declared Jews as non-humans and that’s what you’re saying when you say that’s not a baby until three months.” Earlier this year, an email newsletter from Democratic New York State Senator Ruben Diaz informed his constituents that “Hitler was pro-choice.”
“We have always said it is unacceptable, it is insensitive, it belittles, and distorts,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Holocaust trivialization is rampant.”