Community stronger because of threats

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One year ago our community was threatened with an armed neo-Nazi march by Andrew Anglin and readers of the Daily Stormer. Members of the Jewish community were cyber-attacked and harassed with threatening, anti-Semitic messages that continued over months. Whitefish businesses were attacked with false, libelous reviews online and harassing phone-calls. There was a general sense or fear and anxiety in our community as Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached and we wondered if the neo-Nazis and white supremacists would actually show up to march.

There was no march. Instead, there was a community party where neighbors gathered to get to know each other over bowls of homemade chicken soup with matzah balls. In the evening, the community gathered to hear modern interpretations of Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and celebrate the values that strengthen our community against hatred and bigotry.

As we reflect on last winter’s events, the members of Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom are extraordinarily grateful for the support we received and we wanted to say: Thank you.

To the people of Whitefish and the Greater Flathead Valley, to the people of Montana, the USA and Canada, and the rest of the world — thank you. When we were attacked and threatened by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, you stood by us.

Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom (literally “Children of Peace”) is a small Jewish congregation in the Flathead Valley. We are a synagogue-without-walls so we meet in various locations throughout the Valley. Some of us grew up here, others were attracted to the area because of all that it has to offer recreationally and culturally. Some of us are working to support young families and send our children to our great schools, others are retired. Most of us were born Jewish, others are Jews-by-choice and many live in interfaith families. Just like people of other faiths, we are a community filled with people of all different ideological and political leanings. We are united in our commitment to our community and we regularly come together to celebrate Jewish traditions, holidays, the Sabbath, perform acts of loving kindness, study and pray.

There was a misconception by many outside Montana that those who attacked our community primarily came from Whitefish and the state of Montana. This is not true. In fact, most were not even from Montana.

Newspaper editors around the state spoke out against this virulent anti-Semitic hatred. Religious leaders across the state articulated solidarity through newspaper ads. And, in a time when few issues generate bipartisan agreement, Gov. Bullock, Senators Daines and Tester, former Congressman Zinke and Attorney General Fox, as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai, all spoke loudly and clearly in one voice: this is not who Montanans are and anti-Semitic hatred is not welcome in our state. The Whitefish City Council and Police Department also did everything in their power to protect the community and the targets of these attacks.

Our community received hundreds of letters of support from Jews, Christians, Muslims, Quakers, Bahai, Hindus and just about every religious group represented in America, as well as atheists! Letters from around the country, from so many cities in Montana, and from across the globe — Scandinavia, Australia, Austria, Israel, Canada, England, Germany, Uzbekhistan — arrived with messages of love and support.

The attackers sought to divide our community. Instead, the good people of the state of Montana came together and stood by each other. People across the state expressed their solidarity by posting an image of a Chanukah menorah and the state of Montana in their windows. The most amazing demonstration of solidarity occurred when 500 people assembled in Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2017, in subzero temperatures to show that “Love Not Hate” prevails. Only in Montana! Many thanks to the Montana Human Rights Network, Love Lives Here and local activists for leading the stand against anti-Semitism and acts of hatred and bigotry.

So thank you again to our Flathead and Montana neighbors for showing that the vast majority of our community knows hateful anti-Semitism when they see it, and for clearly saying “No – Not In Our State!”

As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism and theology, may our communities continue to find ways to stand together. May we work to cross the lines of race, politics and religion so that we can lift up what unites us — our humanity, our desire for freedom and peace, and our shared commitment the Constitutional ideals of this great democracy.

Rabbi Francine Roston and Chairperson Maggie Doherty write on behalf of the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom.

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