Montana faith leaders speak out in support of beleaguered Jewish community


(JTA) — Dozens of faith leaders in Montana signed on to published statements in support of the Jewish community following threats by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

About 50 reverends, deacons, rabbis and pastors signed a statement published Sunday in the Daily Inter Lake, a newspaper serving northwest Montana, calling on the state’s residents to display a menorah in their windows during the holiday season.

“As leaders of Montana communities of faith and practice, we are called to respond to the recent surge of white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in our state. Distribution of pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic flyers in Missoula and intimidation of Jewish community members in the Flathead Valley moves us to speak out against actions of those who attack the Jewish citizens of our state, and any other minority group, with false assertions and threatening language,” read the statement.

On the menorahs, the statement said: “Find one at a local store, print a paper copy from the Internet, or find one in the local newspaper. The menorah is a symbol of light and wisdom. In this time of transition and challenge, it represents the need to support each other in the work of peace-making, reconciliation and justice.”

It also called on lawmakers to “protect the rights of all citizens by enacting laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender”; urged law enforcement officials to “closely monitor bias incidents and act swiftly to protect our citizens,” and called on schools to teach tolerance.

A statement published Monday in the Montana Standard titled “Missoula Catholics stand with Jewish community” read: “Again from the depths of darkness, from the ‘netherworld’ of fear, our Jewish sisters and brothers are threatened with hate, discrimination and violence in our own Missoula community and in other parts of Montana. Such attitudes and threats, no matter how few, can never be tolerated or ignored, for they plant the seeds of a cold-hearted darkness which threatens the beauty and wonder of a truly human spirit and the very life and freedom of every person.”

The statement was signed by Catholic pastors, priests, deacons, sisters, pastoral administrators and parish staffs and Catholic School administrators of the Missoula Deanery, who it said “stand with our Jewish neighbors and friends in solidarity, support, mutual caring, faith and hope. We choose, with them, to be seen in the light, affirming hope ‘as high as the sky.’ We choose, with them, not to be silent but to be the word of God echoing in the night, as a promise of light, liberation and mutual respect.

“Our friends light again the lights of Hanukkah remembering the dwelling place of God renewed — God who entered again the temple of hope. With them we long for light to burst through the darkness of hatred, to burn anew, like the lights of Hanukkah, unextinguished unto the eighth day of a new age of justice and safety, as a sign to bolster courage when faith falters or hope dies.”

An elderly man was identified as the person who last month distributed American Nazi Party fliers in residential neighborhoods of Missoula, prompting a local synagogue to ask for increased police protection.

The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist publication, published a blog post earlier in the month calling for followers to “take action” against Jews in Whitefish, Montana, home to white supremacist Richard Spencer, by writing and calling them with anti-Semitic messages. The post included the names, phone numbers and addresses of Jewish Whitefish residents — in addition to the Twitter handle and photo of a child. Last week, the website announced it would hold an armed march against Jews through the town.

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