By Martin Kidston
In early November, residents around Missoula began receiving anti-Semitic leaflets, accusing people of the Jewish faith of conducting a “poisonous campaign” aimed at destroying families from the inside out.
But on Tuesday, spiritual leaders from a multitude of religions joined Missoula’s elected officials, law enforcement officers and several hundred citizens to push back, saying a threat against one is a threat against all.
Missoula, they agreed, has no room for hate.
“Our message today is that Missoula is a place of openness and acceptance,” said Lauri Franklin, a student rabbi and the spiritual leader of Har Shalom. “We do not welcome hate literature, graffiti or any other demonstration of discrimination on the basis of religion, or any other identity.”
With the synagogue packed with supporters who came from all corners of the city, Franklin launched a new campaign asking residents to place a lighted menorah – or the image of one – in their window as a show of solidarity.
The “light in every window” campaign has won the praise of the city’s interfaith community, not unlike a similar effort launched in Billings in 1993. Back then, that city was hit with a wave of ethnic hate as white supremacists launched a campaign built on death threats and vandalism, including the desecration of a Jewish cemetery.
“We stand here again today to say we, too, are united against bias against any group on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, identity or gender,” said Greg Grallo with the Open Way Sangha of Missoula. “Today in particular, we’re standing with the Jewish community of Missoula as allies and friends, as an effort to show we will stand against bias.”
Members of the Missoula Ministerial Association and the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative represent a wide coalition of partners, including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Muslims, Catholics, Methodists, Mormons and Jews.
Packed into the synagogue, they stood side by side within the crowd – one so large it spilled into the halls. When religions come together, the Rev. Peter Shober said, they can easily push aside bias and counter hate.
“When any of us are threatened, we’re all threatened,” said Shober, a hospice chaplain. “So we’re here to do what we always do, which is to stand up, speak out and hold on to each other, whenever bigotry or hatred comes our way.”
Missoula Mayor John Engen had met with Franklin to discuss the Nazi-inspired leafleting that has taken place over the past weeks. The propaganda left members of the Jewish faith frightened, while others felt hurt and angry that such intolerance could surface in Missoula.
To applause, Engen said the perpetrator had been identified by local law enforcement. The case remains under investigation.
“Here is Missoula – a place where if one of us is threatened, we’re all threatened; where if one of us is afraid, we gather around to belay that fear,” Engen said. “As long as we stand together, as long as we show up together in places just like this – in halls just like this – hate doesn’t survive. But love does.”
Rob Spaliatsos, a pastor of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Missoula, described the coming days and weeks as the season of miracles. Christians will celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas while members of the Jewish community will celebrate the first light of Hanukkah on Christmas Eve.
Members of the world’s many religions have their own celebrations. No practice is better or more profound than another – no religion superior to next. It’s a message Marlin Marler, president of the Missoula City Council, fears gets lost amid today’s divisiveness and political rhetoric.
“In some ways, it’s easy to come together and show support when it’s something very blatant, like literature stamped with Nazi hate,” Marler said. “What I’ve been concerned about is some of the more subtle racism that we’ve been seeing in discourse and becoming more normalized in the media, on the Internet, and in our day-to-day personal communication.”
When confronted with such rhetoric, Marler encouraged others to speak up.
“I was raised as an agnostic Christian, and I was raised to be a patriot,” she said. “When people say things like America is a Christian nation and we have to get rid of Muslims – that there are no other holidays other than Christmas – it’s not okay. It’s American to stand by anyone who is persecuted for their beliefs.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org