A couple of weeks ago I spoke on Shabbat morning about an ongoing situation in the small town of Whitefish Montana. Though there are only a handful of Jews in Whitefish (there are only about 6000 Jews in all of Montana), it has become ground zero in the fight against white supremacy and the extreme-right. Richard Spencer, leader in the alt-right movement, was seen and heard during the election at an alt-right convention where he famously ended his keynote address with the Nazi Salute. It turns out that Richard's mother lives in Whitefish. Richard often visits and stays with his mother. His mother has publicly blamed the Jews for some business problems she is having and white supremacy groups have taken up her cause and called for two actions against the Jewish community. First, they called for trolling the Jewish citizens of Whitefish, even going so far as to publish pictures, home addresses and email addresses of several Jews living in Whitefish. Second, they are planning a White Power march through Whitefish.
Many people have been asking me what they can do to help. Below is a recent posting by my colleague Rabbi Francine Roston who moved to Whitefish with her family a few years ago.
I fear that the white supremacist groups and other hate groups associated with them are on the rise and have found some new found acceptance and legitimacy. I believe we have to be more vigilant than ever to combat their message and tactics.
WHAT WHITEFISH WANTS US TO DO:
Statement of the Whitefish Jewish Community: Best wishes for 2017 from Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom in the Flathead Valley of Montana.
The last several weeks have been difficult for us, but they have also reminded us of the essential goodness of our Montana neighbors and our fellow Americans.
We have been truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have received from individuals and organizations around the country. We deeply appreciate all who have expressed concern about haters targeting us, disrupting our lives, and threatening to conduct an anti-Semitic white extremist rally in our community. We are especially grateful for our wonderful neighbors in Whitefish and the State of Montana, who have stood by our Jewish community here in the Flathead Valley every step of the way.
Many supporters have asked what they can do to help now. First, let us state what would NOT be helpful: There should be no effort to engage in a counter-protest rally should the extremists decide to come to our community.
We have been in constant contact with law enforcement and other government officials, and also with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, all of whom have significant expertise in monitoring and dealing with extremist individuals and groups. They are emphatic and unanimous in their belief that any such counter-rally would be counterproductive; a bad idea that would only serve to feed the extremists’ craving for attention and legitimacy. We live in a small town and creating a bigger conflict or larger demonstration is only disruptive to our lives.
There are things you CAN do – actions that would mean a lot to us. First, while at this time we do not believe that the hate rally will actually happen, you can support efforts such as the initiative that encourages people to pledge money for every minute the haters march should their rally materialize. The funds will go to the Montana Human Rights Network, which supports diversity throughout Montana. This is a wonderful way to turn lemons into lemonade. Indeed, even if there is no march, this organization is worthy of your support.
Second, the increased costs for security measures are significant for the Glacier Jewish Community – specifically, to protect people and property from the remote risk of physical attacks. Therefore, we are working with Secure Community Network, a not-for-profit that is overseen by the leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. They have agreed to accept contributions on our behalf, and pass them through dollar-for-dollar as security grants to the Glacier Jewish Community. In the event we raise funds in excess of our security needs, we intend for SCN to retain these funds to contribute to their ongoing work. Unfortunately, we are not the only beneficiaries of their security support services.
To contribute gifts to the "Glacier Jewish Community Security Grant" and SCN, you can mail contributions to: Secure Community Network, Attn: Patrick Daly (CPS), 3705 Quakerbridge Rd, Suite 105, Hamilton, NY 08619. You may also make contributions through various donor advised charitable trust programs (tax ID 20-1437733).
Smaller contributions may be made electronically via their online system.
Last, you can use the Whitefish story as a way to engage individuals, organizations and schools in your own communities in positive discussions on how to stand up to hate. We never expected to be the target of a hate campaign, but this experience has made it clear to us that today no one is immune from cyber-terrorism, trolling, doxing, and other manifestations of hate online. The good news is that there are also now many resources to help people address this, including these from ADL and the SPLC.
Thank you again for your concern, your support, and your willingness to stand up and not be bystanders when anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice, bigotry and hate surface. Our community is stronger because you have been there for us.
Rabbi Francine Roston, Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom
Sandy Perry, Chairperson, Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom