HOW TIME FLIES
Posted 25 August 2006on:
Taken from Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: A story to open the heart and rekindle the spirit
We Are All Jews Now
Viewed from high on the Rimrock cliffs that run along the northern edge of Billings, Montana, the city presents an attractive sight, a thriving metropolis nestling within the great open spaces of the American West. Citizens of Billings say it’s a good, civilized place to live. They pride themselves on the quality of their schools and their strong family values.
So it came as a shock when in November 1995 a series of hate crimes took place against minority groups in the city.
Whoever was responsible for these acts must have thought their victims were easy targets. The town is predominantly white; Native Americans, African Americans and Jews are a small percentage of the population. There are just enough of them to frighten and harass – so the haters thought.
They mounted a series of nasty attacks. Graves were overturned and desecrated in a Jewish cemetery. Offensive words and swastikas scrawled on the house of a Native American woman. People worshipping at a black church intimidated. A brick thrown through the window of a Jewish child displaying a menorah.
But the white supremacists, or whoever they were, did not reckon on the citizens of Billings who had an answer for them. It was not what the hatemongers were expecting. An alliance was quickly formed, spearheaded by churches, labour unions, the media and hundreds of the local people.
The results were dramatic. Attendance at the black church rose. People of many ethnic backgrounds and faiths attended services there. Their message was clear, “We may be all different, but we are one also. Threaten any one of us and you threaten us all.”
A similar spirit propelled volunteers to come together and repaint the house of Dawn Fast Horse, the Native American woman. Dawn awoke one morning to see her house defaced and by the evening two hundred people showed up to help and repaint the house.
When it came to the incident of the brick, an interfaith group had a creative idea from the example of the Danes during WWII. When the nazis tried to round up Danish Jews into concentration camps for subsequent extermination, the Danish people, within two weeks, transported almost every Danish Jew to safety in Sweden until the end of the war.
The people of Billings organized a campaign. Everyone joined in, including the local newspaper which printed a Channukah page, including a full representation of a menorah. Thousands of Billings residents cut out the paper menorah and displayed it in their windows. By late December driving through the town was a remarkable experience. Almost 10,000 people were displaying those paper menorahs in their windows throughout the eight days of Channukah.
It was an awesome response to the hatemongers, saying with one collective voice, “We are all Jews now.”
These events inspired a national movement called “Not in Our Town.” That Jewish child who had so innocently displayed her menorah in the window, helped set in motion a chain of events that affirmed all over America the liberating principle of unity in diversity.
If only this message could be spread throughout the whole wide world. Have a lovely weekend everyone, a lovely long bank holiday weekend to my fellow Brits and Shabbat Shalom to my fellow Jews.