Only sufficient oil for one day was available in the temple. But a miracle happened: the lamp burned for eight days until additional oil could be obtained. 3 Hanukkah has since been observed as a celebration of Jewish survival and religious freedom.
Jews often display their menorah where it can be easily seen from outside the house in response to a mitzvah (commandment from God) to publicize the miracle. 2 The Schnitzers are a Jewish family in Billings (population 83,000 at the time). 4 Following the mitzvah, they had stenciled a Jewish menorah on the window of their son Isaac, aged 5. (One source said it was an electric menorah.) 5 On 1993-DEC-02, someone threw a piece of a cinder block through the window. It and broken glass fell on Isaac's bed, but fortunately caused no injury. The Schnitzers called the police. The investigating officer suggested that they remove the symbol. This caused a crisis in the home: how could they remove a symbol of Jewish religious freedom in response to fear of further religious harassment.
Margaret McDonald, executive director of the Montana Association of Churches, read of the incident in the local newspaper. She imagined what it would be like to have to tell her own children that they could not have a Christmas tree or a Christmas wreath because it might cause an attack on their home. She recalled an event in Denmark during World War II when the Nazis ordered all of the Jews in the country to wear a yellow Star of David so that they could be easily identified. The King of Denmark and many of its non-Jewish citizens took the initiative of wearing a yellow star themselves. The Nazis were unable to easily identify the Jews.
McDonald took action. She phoned her minister, the Rev. Kieth Torney at the First Congregational United Church of Christ -- a liberal Christian denomination. She suggested that their Sunday school students fabricate paper menorahs for their windows at home as a sign of solidarity with the Schnitzers. He contacted other clergy across Billings. During the following week, hundreds of menorahs appeared in the windows of local homes as Christian families publicized their solidarity against religious bigotry. The police chief, Wayne Inman, was asked whether this might cause further criminal acts. He responded "There's greater risk in not doing it."
An editorial in the Billings Gazette on 1993-DEC-08 stated:
The Billings Gazette published a full-page image of a menorah in their newspaper. By the end of the week six to ten thousand homes became decorated with menorahs.
The bigots did not withdraw quietly. Someone shot at the sign of the local sporting goods store which displayed the message "Not in our town! No hate. No violence. Peace on Earth." Bricks and bullets broke some windows at the Central Catholic High School whose marquee read "Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish Friends." Folks from town felt the need to organize a vigil outside the synagogue during Sabbath services. Somebody shot an arrow and killed a cat belonging to a family who had displayed a menorah. The United Methodist Church -- a mainline denomination -- had a menorah display and suffered some broken windows. Car and house windows at six non-Jewish families were broken. Someone left a note saying "Jew lover" on a car. But, eventually the harassment faded away.
Fellowship, the publication of the Fellowship for Reconciliation, noted that in the winter of 1994-5: "...families all over Billings took out their menorahs to reaffirm their commitment to peace and religious tolerance. The light they shared in the community must be continuously rekindled until hate has been overcome." 7
Janice I. Cohn, a practicing psychotherapist, was so moved by the reaction of the Billings community that she wrote a children's book: "The Christmas Menorahs: How a town fought hate." Later, with lyricist Barry James, she created "Paper Candles: How courage and goodness triumphed in an American Town." 7 This is a drama project with optional songs to be performed by upper elementary school, middle school, and early grade high school students. The musical version was first performed in the Venture Theatre in Billings MT, on the 12th anniversary of the rock-throwing incident.
Ms. Cohn writes:
Beliefnet.com ran a public opinion poll of their web site visitors in 2005-DEC. They asked "Would you display or wear a symbol of a minority faith as a sign of unity?" The response was 84% yes; 16% no. 6
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
A book about the event:
Janice Cohn, author, and Bill Farnsworth, illustrator, produced this book to describes the Billings MT events of 1993. It is primarily directed to students aged 9 to 12. It has received 4.5 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com customers. Although it appears to be out of print at this time, new and used copies are available at low cost from Amazon marketplace sellers. Published by Albert Whitman, it contains 39 pages and is 10.5 x 7.4 inches in size. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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