Solidarity vigil addresses anti-Semitism

May 3, 2019 GMT

Sundown on Wednesday, May 1, was the official start of Yom HaShoah, known internationally as the Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom gathered with members of the interfaith community and the wider Flathead Valley at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Whitefish for the first Solidarity Vigil Against Anti-Semitism and Hate. The event took on a deeper significance due to the renewed trauma of the shooting at a Chabad of Poway synagogue in California. This most recent shooting of Jews gathered to worship is a reopening of wounds, as it took place exactly six months after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

With an outdoor event proving impossible to ensure the safety of attendees, the location may have come as a bit of a surprise. In her letter inviting the community to attend, Rabbi Francine Roston wrote: “Yes, you read that correctly! The Mormon church has offered to host our gathering because they stand with our community.”

The numbers of attacks on Jews are on the rise in America, she said. The Flathead Valley was a witness to this with Neo-Nazi cyberattacks in 2016-2017.

“This is a new reality for the Jewish community,” Roston said. “We have to keep safety in mind.”

She said the number of attacks last year was 48% higher than 2016. The numbers are more startling if compared to 2015. Between 2015 and 2018 there was a 99% increase. Both Alert Security and members of the Whitefish Police Department were on site for the memorial.

At the vigil, the six yellow candles, which have become a traditional memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, were lit. Roston lit a seventh candle specifically for Lori Gilbert Kaye, who gave her life in the shooting at Chabad of Poway as she stood up in front of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Roston was visibly shaken as she talked about Kaye as a woman who embodied “hesed,” the Hebrew word for loving kindness. She also noted Kaye’s husband and daughter were there with her that day.

The service included voices from both the Glacier Jewish Community and the interfaith community. Roston said she wanted to have members of the Jewish community join with the larger Flathead Valley community to come together and have conversations about difficult issues such as prejudices, and about fear and anger and pain as well as faith and different teaching, in order to seek answers.

“Because we, too, can promote our ideals. We, too, can incite action for the good of our community and our nation,” Roston said.

Hilary Shaw, executive director of the Abbie Shelter, spoke at the vigil about her grandfather Roman, who survived five concentration camps and was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. She wrapped up her remarks with hope.

“I will tell you one final thing. I feel safe here in the Flathead. I feel heard here in the Flathead. I see the menorahs that still hang on your shop windows and doors. I love being Jewish in Montana. And for this, I am grateful. Thank you,” Shaw said.

To end the evening, Rabbi Allen Secher addressed the gathering once more.

“What a powerful night! Have we not all been touched?” he said, encouraging the crowd to not end with simply praying.

“Praying let’s us off the hook;” more is needed, he insisted. Secher borrowed a phrase from fellow Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (who participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King) and said, “We have to pray with our feet, our mind, our body, our everything. Let us do, rather than pray. Let us be, rather than pray.”

Brenda Ahearn may be reached at 758-4435 or bahearn@dailyinterlake.com.