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Montana Menorahs

12/22/2016 01:47:23 AM


When we think of the M’s of the Hanukkah story, we are more likely to think of Maccabees, Menorahs and Mattathias than, say, Montana.   But this year, beginning this Saturday night,  as we light our Hanukkah lights, Montana should be on our minds.  The Hanukkah blessings, recall the heroism of the few who stood with pride and overcame the many some 2000 years ago.  As we sing the blessings, we take for granted our freedom and security as Jews, but 20 centuries ago, 20 years ago and today have more in common than we might think.
In 1993,  a wave of anti-semitic violence struck the tiny Jewish community in Billings, Montana.   Flyers,  threats, and shattered windows escalated as Hanukkah approached.  At that point, the larger community took a stand.   Thousands of non-Jewish residents put up menorah cut-outs in their windows.  Eventually the hate groups realized that they were outnumbered by decent people, and retreated into the background.  A community took justified pride in coming together.
Fast forward 23 years.  The area of Whitefish, Montana,  harbors a small but vibrant Jewish community of perhaps 100 Jewish families.  A rabbi from New Jersey has moved there seeking a simper life for her family, and invigorated the community.  However, Whitefish is also home to the parents of Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called “alt-right” movement.   Spencer has rallied  neo-nazis, white supremacists and former Klan members associated with the alt-right movement to threaten leaders of the Whitefish Jewish community, their spouse, their children, and businesses.  Fortunately, as was the case in Billings, many in the local community have rallied, but it is still a frightening time in Montana.
To learn the latest about this situation, and get practical suggestions for you can make a difference (for now, sending cards, supporting affected businesses, with other things in the works as the situation develops) click on
I prefer not to be alarmist about anti-semitism.  I has not been a frequent topic in my teaching and writing.    I would much rather  focus on the positives that make Judaism joyous and meaningful.  It is still easier to be Jewish in America today than in almost any other time or place in the world.  However, I think these days require increased vigilance.  Over the last months, incidents of online threats and real-world vandalism and violence against Jews and others have been on the rise across the country.  Jewish leaders and journalists have been threatened.   Our local community is not immune. Several public high schools in our state of Georgia have been vandalized with anti-semitic and racist graffiti, including some incidents that have not been made public.

I don’t believe that this rise in incidents means that there is any more or less hatred in our country than there was a year ago, but a hateful minority has become emboldened since the election, with things being said in the open that might previously only have been whispered in private.  All Jews (and our neighbors) must come together to respond.  One way to do so is to tell the stories of times when one had to be brave to be Jewish, and when communities came together, like the days of the Maccabees, and  Billings in 1993.  Another is to light the lights.  Every year, we are commanded to put our menorahs in the window to remind people of past miracles.  This year, we do so with our brothers and sisters in mind and perhaps a little  bravery for ourselves as well.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784