One night during Hanukkah in 1993 in Billings, Montana, someone hurled a cinderblock through a window in the home of Tammie and Brian Schnitzer.  This act was one of many Billings had suffered in the past year. The town had become subject to a great deal of anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Indian, and antisemitic activity through the presence of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.  In response to this incident, Gentiles began drawing hanukkiot and placing them in their windows. The town’s newspaper printed a full-sized drawing of a hanukkiah in one edition, which people cut out and placed in their windows. As many as 6,000 hanukkiot (in a town of some 80,000 souls) filled windows in Billings, Montana in a quiet but powerful statement against hate.

We are seeing an unprecedented amount of hate in this country, of white supremacist activity that challenges our society with its demonic intent.  The story of one community standing up to the haters, the story of that community saying, “We’re one community, and what hurts one hurts all,” is a story of inspiration and hope.  It’s a story of light over darkness that’s particularly resonant at this time of year.

Tonight (Thursday) is our final candle for this year.  For eight nights we’ve gathered and made Hanukkah together over the Zoom.  And it’s been wonderful, this bringing light into the world at a dark moment.  We’ve gathered in the hope that this season will bring some joy; but that hope extends to the near future, that the vaccines being administered will slowly but surely bring an end to this pandemic and we can go back to worrying about normal things.

The story of Billings, Montana, is the story of our country, a nation of great diversity that, at its best, struggles to bring light into the world through love, justice, and unity.

Hag urim samayach, a happy Festival of Lights.

Rabbi Phil M Cohen