HELENA – Several rabbis from Canada and across the United States made a special visit to Montana Wednesday, thanking state leaders for standing up for the Jewish community in the face of recent anti-Semitic threats in Whitefish.
“We understand that you have been a true friend … for the Jewish community, and we are grateful for that,” Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi at the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., told Gov. Steve Bullock in a meeting at the Capitol. “We wanted to come and say that to you here.”
The group, led by Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Bozeman, also traveled to Whitefish, where they planned to propose financing a trip by four local students to visit the sites of former Nazi concentration camps in Poland, where Jews and others were murdered during World War II.
“(They) will go and learn to where hatred can lead, and how to be a voice advocating for love and against those isolated yet very powerful threatening voices that (can) emerge,” said Adam Scheier, a rabbi from Montreal, Quebec.
Rabbis from Sacramento, Calif., San Antonio, Texas, and Missoula also made the trip to Helena and Whitefish.
Bruk said the rabbis organized the trip not only to thank Montana officials but also to see what they could do to help Montana Jews who felt threatened by remarks from the author of a white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer.
Andrew Anglin called for an armed march in Whitefish by the website’s followers. He said the march would “be against Jews, Jewish businesses and everyone who supports either.”
He also said that skinheads from the San Francisco Bay area would be bused in for the march.
Montana elected officials have strongly denounced beliefs espoused by the website and by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist leader who lives part-time in Whitefish. The Daily Stormer had claimed that members of a group opposing white supremacists had harmed the local businesses of Spencer’s mother.
The march, scheduled for last Monday, was postponed. City officials have said it may occur if the group complies with various permit requirements.
Bruk also said it made him “sick to my stomach” to think that people in New York or elsewhere around the country read the news about Whitefish and thought that Montana is filled with anti-Semites, when that’s not the case.
“Montanans are awesome neighbors, awesome friends,” he said.
He said the group plans to raise money to finance the trip this spring with four high school students from the Whitefish area, to visit the former Nazi death camps in Poland.
The group also plans to distribute a copy of the Chumash, a Jewish religious text containing the first five books of the Bible, to 1,500 Jewish families living in Montana. It gave a copy to Bullock and legislative leaders on Wednesday.
“The idea that a Jew living in Glasgow or Wolf Point … is going to have this (book) in their living room and they’re going to say to themselves … ‘I can look at the wisdom, I can look at the light of the Torah, and the more I look at that, the less I’m worried about busing people in for violence,’” Bruk said.
Bullock, who has met with local law enforcements and Jewish families in Whitefish, told the rabbis that the values of Montanans “are the values of caring for one another without regard to our faith or background.”
“What happened in Whitefish – that’s not who we are,” the governor said.
The rabbis also met with several legislators, including Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, and Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, whose districts include Whitefish.