books and reading · Christmas · hanukkah · Hispanics/Latinos · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Why Hanukkah in Montana Rocks

Officer John Fosket of the Helena Police Department and Miky, a bomb-sniffing dog trained by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The NY Times published a sweet Jewish story this past weekend, “Yes, Miky, There Are Rabbis in Montana”. Aside from how hilarious it was to read that a Chabad rabbi from Brooklyn is teaching a non-Jewish cop Hebrew so he can talk to his Israeli dog (read the article if you just got confused), the article was the first time I heard of the following tale:

“Hanukkah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped.”

I got wind of the Times story through the Jewish Multiracial Network list serv where Linda Oppenheim, whose son is a fellow Jewminicano, added this:
The incident was the basis for a children’s book, The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn and Bill Farnsworth.

Some of the families described in the story traveled around the country meeting with youth groups, etc. to talk about the experience. Our family met them when they came to our synagogue. The mother in the book is based on a woman who is a Jew-by-choice. She was a very impressive speaker, very savvy politically. She understood how she had to create an alliance with the local police and news editor, which helped her get the newspaper to publish the picture of the menorah on an entire page of the newspaper. It was that picture that people throughout Billings placed in their windows.

Not having been socialized as a minority, she couldn’t understand how the Jews in Billings were reluctant to make waves. For her it was simply if someone attacks you, you fight back.

I had the opportunity to talk with her and tell her about the JMN. She didn’t know or know about Jews of Color and hadn’t realized that there were Jews who sometimes didn’t feel welcome in their own religious communities.

One thought on “Why Hanukkah in Montana Rocks

  1. Yeah, those of us (white) converts who grew up with the white AND non-Jew privelege still don't come from the same place as our born-Jewish community. Bad Cohen and I talk about this sometimes, especially when we hear stories like this:

    where a lot of the *Jewish* parents were upset by the principal's decision to remove a “holiday tree” since it wasn't actually a universal, secular symbol, but a religious one. Ugh.


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