BIGOTRY? NOT IN OUR TOWN! #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut When a Jewish family in Billings, Montana was threatened by white supremacists, thousands of people in that town took a page from what the King of Denmark did during World War II and stood with the threatened family. It was Hanukkah. Tammie and Brian Schnitzer had decorated their windows with Star of David decals and a menorah, the nine-branched candelabra that’s the symbol of this Jewish holiday. Someone threw a cinder block at the menorah, sending shards of glass into the bedroom of the Schnitzer’s five-year-old son. It wasn't the first time white supremacists had caused trouble. Billings—a town of about 80,000, only seven percent of whom are minorities, including about 50 Jewish families—had seen Ku Klux Klan newspapers and flyers attacking Jews and homosexuals. There were also appearances by the Northwest United Skinheads and the Aryan Nation. Headstones in the Jewish cemetery had been overturned. The synagogue had received a bomb threat. Swastikas and racial slurs were spray-painted on the synagogue as well as on the home of a mixed-race couple. The month before, a beer bottle was thrown through the window of a Jewish home. Tammie Schnitzer was afraid. “It was my sense of being so helpless,” she said. “It was my fear of what would come next. I kept thinking, ‘They know where we live; where can we go?’ . . . Maybe it sounds naïve, but I grew up believing nothing like this could ever happen in America.” But she experienced more than fear: “During that long night, my fear turned to outrage. What kind of life would my children have if they had to cower before bigots?” The police officer who responded to the Schnitzers’ call suggested that they take down their Hanukkah decorations. The Schnitzers didn’t feel good about that. “Maybe it’s not wise to keep these symbols up,” she acknowledged. “But how do you explain that to a child?” Her question appeared in the Billings Gazette, and it spoke to Margaret Macdonald, who, with Tammie and others, had formed the Billings Coalition for Human Rights the previous spring. Macdonald couldn’t imagine having to tell her own young children that they couldn’t have a Christmas tree, or that they had to take a wreath off the door because it wasn’t safe to display it. “I had tears in my eyes,” she said. “The idea of a family right in my own community being unable to celebrate their religious holiday made me sad and angry.” Macdonald remembered the story of the King of Denmark during World War II. As the story goes, the German occupiers ordered Danish Jews to wear the Star of David in order to identify themselves, so they could be banned from public places, forbidden to work, and deported to concentration camps. But the King himself donned the Star and asked every other Dane to do the same. The SS weren’t able to tell who was really a Jew, so Denmark's Jews escaped the fate of Jews in other German-occupied nations. Macdonald went to pastor Keith Torney of the First Congregational Church and suggested that they make copies of menorahs and ask people to put them up in their windows. Torney thought it was a great idea, and that week hundreds of Christian homes in Billings had menorahs in their windows. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Macdonald. “With two young children, I had to think hard about it myself.” The next important player was Police Chief Wayne Inman. “Isn’t this risky?” asked some of the congregants who hesitated putting up the menorahs. “Yes,” he said, “there’s a risk. But there’s a greater risk in not doing it.” Macdonald knew the town had a history of ignoring racism. “There’d been an emphatic hard-line stance in the town, like a brick wall, that the less said about the skinheads and other racists, the better.” For his part, Chief Inman was initially pressured by local businesses and politicians to let the matter lie, not to “make a big deal of it.” He was mercilessly criticized for supporting the Schnitzers. But the way Inman put it, there really wasn’t much of a choice at all: “Silence is acceptance. [The hate groups] are testing us. And if we do nothing, there’s going to be more trouble.” The idea did begin to gather support. The Gazette published a full-page image of a menorah that went to thousands of homes. Local businesses distributed photocopies of menorahs. And a local billboard pronounced “Not in Our Town! No Hate, No Violence. Peace on Earth.” Menorahs were appearing in windows all over Billings. At first, the white supremacists responded with typical violence: They smashed panes on the doors of the Evangelical United Methodist Church that displayed menorahs. They fired shots into a Catholic school that had joined the resistance. They vandalized cars and made threatening phone calls. But the resistance grew: Dozens of Christians came to synagogues to worship with their Jewish neighbors. Schools and churches facilitated discussions about bigotry. Thousands of homes, churches, and stores in Billings now displayed menorahs—and kept them up until the end of the year. Inman said, “The haters could attack a couple of Jewish homes. They could make a second wave of attacks on Christian homes and churches. But they could not target thousands of menorahs.”he Klan backed off. Sarah Anthony, a student with the Human Rights Coalition, said, “We did something right here, and we will do it again if we have to. If we don’t, there are people who would break every window in Billings, and we would look in those windows and see ourselves.” Perhaps the wisest comment came from a fourth-grader: “You just have to show people that you care. If you don’t stand up to bullies, they’ll just keep pushing you around.” Update: Janice Cohn wrote a children’s book called, The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate. Later, with lyricist Barry James, she created the elementary-school musical, “Paper Candles: How Courage and Goodness Triumphed in an American Town.” It was first performed in Billings on the 12th anniversary of the window-breaking incident. A film based on the Billings occurrences, entitled “Not in Our Town,” was also made and shown on PBS; it spawned “Not in Our Town” groups in towns across the country, all dedicated to resisting hate-mongering. You can learn more at www.niot.org and here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/notinourtown. Like this story? LIKE this whole Page so you can see more great stories.