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Standing Together – Flathead Beacon

Standing Together - Flathead Beacon

A closely armed man apparently motivated by his strident anti-Semitic beliefs entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and slaughtered 11 worshiping Jews, most of them aged, on the morning of Oct. 27.

That very same day, Whitefish Rabbi Francine Roston was in Chicago, visiting her daughter in school, when the Sabbath service she was attending was interrupted by the information.

“I have dear friends who are rabbis in different congregations so I was immediately scared for my colleagues,” Roston stated, her voice starting to crack.

A short time later, and as soon as she discovered these she knew personally in Pittsburgh have been protected, the rabbi’s ideas turned to again to Northwest Montana. By that night she had despatched an e-mail to the congregants of the Glacier Jewish Group/B’nai Shalom with info on a vigil she would lead the next night time at Metropolis Seashore in Whitefish.

“We needed to come together and lean on each other,” Roston stated. “And feel like we could grieve together.”

Rabbi Francine Roston addresses the gang on the Love Not Hate block social gathering in downtown Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The vigil introduced up a torrent of feelings for Roston and the remainder of the Jewish group. There was overwhelming grief, in fact, a profound unhappiness on the lack of life in what ought to have been a protected area, however there was extra. There was disappointment that anti-Semitism’s resurgence in recent times had not been taken extra significantly, and that extra had not been executed outdoors of the Jewish group to fight hate speech. There was additionally anger, a great deal of anger, on the perpetrator of the assault. And there was worry, to make certain, that any Jewish individual could possibly be subsequent.

Bleakly, nevertheless, there was hardly a sense of shock. No shock that such contempt could possibly be held towards the Jewish group, no disregarding the bloodbath as a one-off motion carried out by an outlier, no questioning “how could this happen?” That feeling was very true for the Jewish group in Northwest Montana, which lower than two years earlier had been subjected to a terrifying on-line trolling marketing campaign perpetrated by a neo-Nazi web site that revealed private details about outstanding native Jewish households earlier than urging its followers to “take action.”

“For people to be killed in the sanctuary, practicing their religion, is not supposed to happen in this country,” Roston stated, preventing by means of tears. “And yet, I don’t think any rabbi was surprised by the news. Every time I lead a service I have to be concerned about security and plan for the worst, and it’s a horrifying reality. And the sad thing is the Jewish community is terrified, and while I want to believe that things will get better, we don’t have a lot of confidence that things will get better.”

Civil rights activist and Whitefish Rabbi Allen Secher, pictured on the Love Not Hate block social gathering in downtown Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence is nothing new, notably within the Flathead Valley the place white supremacists in a gaggle referred to as Kalispell Pioneer Little Europe gained a foothold within the early 2000s and screened white nationalist movies in 2010 that, amongst different issues, argued the Holocaust didn’t occur.

In response, retired Rabbi Allen Secher and his spouse, Ina Albert, helped discovered Love Lives Right here, a nonprofit affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Community, and protested outdoors every screening at Kalispell’s library. Secher, a longtime civil-rights activist blessed with a wry humorousness, greeted attendees of the screenings with an indication that learn, “I only hate broccoli.”

Secher and Albert — who would later be among the many targets of the December 2016 on-line troll storm — have been joined at these 2010 protests by a small variety of different, non-Jewish, spiritual leaders in an indication of solidarity. However it was not till greater than six years later, when the Day by day Stormer’s on-line assault started and neo-Nazis deliberate a march in Whitefish, that Love Lives Right here once more rallied leaders from a lot of totally different faiths in response.

“The community was incredible,” Secher stated of 2016. “I could not walk down the street without people stopping to hug me. We were being held, our heads were being held high by the community, and that was wonderful.”

Secher, Roston and others definitely appreciated the help at occasions of biggest want, however slowly an urge for food was rising for one thing extra to be executed, a solution to be extra proactive than reactive to spiritual violence. To borrow a properly-worn political cliché, ideas and prayers solely went up to now.

Roston, who was additionally focused through the late 2016 assaults, had solely moved to Whitefish two years earlier and when information of the web threats began to interrupt she heard from simply two native clergy: Rev. Morie Adams-Griffin of Whitefish United Methodist Church and David Rommerime, a retired Lutheran pastor who briefly led a congregation in Polson after a number of many years in New York Metropolis.

“There was really not a formal response from the Christian religious community,” Rommerime stated. “A couple comments here or there but nothing deliberate to contradict that vicious behavior.”

A Love Lives Right here signal, pictured outdoors the Flathead County Justice Middle in Kalispell, Montana on Nov. 9, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Rommerime added that “any individual speaking would be rather impotent against that behavior,” and so he determined to convey collectively as many clergy as he might to do one thing aside from supply ideas, prayers or type phrases to struggle again towards a rising tide of anti-Semitism.

A small group of spiritual leaders first met in early 2017 and has continued to satisfy each month since that point, bringing in new individuals from totally different congregations alongside the best way. Within the days after the Pittsburgh capturing, a complete of 16 clergy — together with Roston, Secher, Rommerime and Adams-Griffin — signed a letter that was despatched to native information retailers, together with the Beacon, condemning the murders.

The inter-religion group intentionally has no identify and no said mission, and people who are part of it resist even calling themselves “members” of the group. The objective, as an alternative, is just to speak and, extra importantly, pay attention to at least one one other. That, they consider, will in time make it harder for anti-Semitism to take root on this or any space, and may give power to a Jewish group too typically worshiping in worry.

“It’s easy to demonize the other, whoever the other might be, when you don’t know the other,” Adams-Griffin stated.

“I hate to say complacent … but all of a sudden when there was this uprising up in Whitefish (in December 2016) it sort of startled everybody,” Sister Judy Lund, of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church and one other of the letter’s signatories, stated. “Maybe we need to stand up and be counted, not just sit back on our own faith group but maybe we need to speak out and make our own congregations aware.”

In a nod to the incremental progress the group has made, Roston heard from a half-dozen native clergy within the hours after the late October capturing and from a number of others within the days since. Adams-Griffin used his pulpit to particularly handle the shootings on two separate events throughout a service the day after the assault. Scott Thompson, pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, noticed a second of silence throughout his service on Oct. 28 and deliberate to talk once more on the topic the next weekend.

“We are building relationships,” Thompson stated. “Just hearing each other and sharing each other, laughing together, crying together, allowing ourselves to be supportive of one another.”

The group has no agency objectives or plans for the longer term, aside from to maintain a dialogue going, though they did manage an interfaith peace service at Kalispell’s Gateway Group Middle in June. Extra interfaith providers are potential sooner or later, and one pastor, Miriam Mauritzen, is internet hosting a nondenominational submit-election Vigil for Restoration at First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell on Nov. 7, with providers at 7 a.m. and midday. Roston and Thompson are among the many different clergy collaborating.

The publish-election vigil speaks to a different concern some members of the group share, that the rancorous political rhetoric that has been unleashed within the final two years is fueling hate teams. Whereas politics shouldn’t be part of the interfaith discussions, a few of the members have been unwilling to chew their tongues relating to the reluctance of political leaders to denounce hate speech or tamp down divisive feedback.

“Because of what is going on in the world with people who are emboldened to do this (stuff) … there is more fear,” Adams-Griffin stated. “There is more fear because there are not people at higher levels of providing the rhetoric being held accountable.”

The Love Not Hate block social gathering to have fun variety and take a stand towards racism and different types of oppression in downtown Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

For Secher, the present local weather has him skeptical that anti-Semites shall be silenced, at the least till political modifications happen.

“I’m determined but not (optimistic) in the current system of politics,” Secher stated. “As long as we hear racism from the bully pulpit, as long as we hear talk about some of us being the enemy of the country; as long as we continue to hear that, it’s going to be a tough world. I’m not despairing but I’m hurt.”

A part of what the group of clergy has achieved, wittingly or not, is that they share a few of Secher’s harm and the larger Jewish group’s ache. This rising connection, they hope, will make everybody really feel safer, really feel much less afraid, and be happy to apply no matter religion they select with out risking their life.

“When we have this relationship, it’s not just you,” Mauritzen stated. “We have bonded ourselves together to say we share this and we are about the same good. When you are harmed, you are brothers and sisters, and we are harmed.”

“I was talking with a member of (Roston)’s congregation and just saying ‘I’m so sorry for what’s happened to your community’ and she goes ‘this is bad for all of us,’” Mauritzen continued. “This isn’t a ‘you’ issue, it needs to be an ‘us’ issue.”

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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