Widening the Circle of Concern Against the Rise in Antisemitism

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 and 2022 have been the highest years on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism and violence against Jews in the U.S. since the ADL started tracking that in 1979. This appears to be part of a 5-year upswing in the number of antisemitic incidents that has included the 2018 attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshippers, as well as the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years earlier where extremist demonstrators chanted “Jews will not replace us” during a torchlit march, but also thousands of smaller incidents like vandalizing Jewish schools, synagogues, cemeteries, and community centers, as well as extremist rallies and flyer campaigns.

This brings to mind the response of one town, Billings, Montana, to the rise of racist and antisemitic violence in their community over two decades ago. After the Ku Klux and skinheads had become increasingly visible presences in the town, hate-driven acts of racist and antisemitic violence and vandalism also increased. This eventually led to a cinder block being thrown through the bedroom window of a 5-year-old Jewish boy, where his family had displayed a Menorah and Star of David decorations for Hanukkah.

After reading about the incident in the local newspaper, community members and churches began organizing a campaign to place pictures of Menorahs in their windows in support of their Jewish neighbors. The local newspaper also published a full-page picture of a Menorah that people could cut out and display. When the hate groups lashed out again after hundreds of Menorahs had gone up, the number of Menorah displays only spread even more, until over 6,000 of them had appeared. Eventually, the hate groups backed off in the face of the growing community stand, and the acts of violence and intolerance receded. But the Menorah campaign inspired further interfaith collaboration and community involvement in antiracism and antisemitism work in the town and around the world that continues to this day. More information about this movement can be found at the Not In Our Town website, www.niot.org.

If you are also inspired by that community’s story and response, please consider picking up a Menorah poster after the Sunday service and displaying it in your window through January 1 as an expression of your stand against antisemitism, too. May it also inspire you to join in further work at this church to confront antisemitism and racism in our community and world, as well as to work to further widen the circle of inclusion and invitation in our own congregation.