Special to the Journal
The entire state of Montana has a Jewish population of only about 6,000, a number that matches the total population – Jews, Christians and everybody else – of the small town of Whitefish, Montana. Yet somehow, Whitefish, home to about 100 Jewish families, has become the focus of neo-Nazis who will march in protest down the streets of the town on Monday. To make the story more intriguing, the powerful Newton synagogue of Temple Emanuel has mobilized in support of the Whitefish Jewish community.
The story starts with Sherry Spencer, the mother of Richard Spencer. Richard is the alt-right leader whose name became prominent in the presidential election for his support of Donald Trump. His mother lives in the town of Whitefish, where she owns a business called 22 Lupfer, which features a few luxury apartments for tourists and two retail spaces. She had allegedly been told by realtor Tanya Gersh to sell her building and denounce her son’s views or there would be organized protests at the house. To prove her charge, Ms. Spencer made public emails between the realtor, who is Jewish, and herself.
In response to a recent article, Andrew Anglin, publisher of the neo-Nazi publication “The Daily Stormer,” planned an armed march by white supremacists through the streets of this open-carry town on January 16, Martin Luther King Day. He has recruited neo-Nazis from around the country to join the march. Although Anglin himself supposedly urges his followers to avoid threats of violence, messages from his readers urge the marchers to harass businesses and Jews, calling them “evil” and “deserving of a bullet” in their heads.
In addition, Anglin is said to have told his supporters to troll a Jewish journalist who wrote about the Whitefish situation and a rabbi who solicited sympathy notes to comfort the harassment victims. The rabbi asked people to put menorahs in their windows for solidarity with the Jews. In response, Anglin told his followers to put Nazi flags and swastikas on their cars, homes and businesses, and urged followers to send messages of hate to anti-hate groups.
In an attempt to show support for this isolated Jewish community, Stuart Cole, President of Newton’s Temple Emanuel, reached out to Rabbi Francine Roston of B’nai Shalom in Whitefish. Coincidentally, Rabbi Francine was a former classmate of Rabbi Wesley Gardenschwartz and is a personal friend of Rabbi Michelle Robinson, both of Temple Emanuel, “illustrating how connected we are with the Jewish communities all over the country and world,” according to Cole.
Rabbi Roston responded to the email from Cole by writing, “One of the things that has been a profound help for our families who have been attacked is reading Hanukkah cards from other communities.”
President Cole asked the congregation to submit Hanukkah cards and the congregation sprang into action, with member Michael Gardener’s daughter, Phoebe, taking a lead role in coordinating the effort. Gardener explained, “We just wanted to let them know that our Jewish community is thinking of them and is behind them.”
Cole received over 100 Hanukkah cards – many of them handmade by children – and packaged them to send to Whitefish with this message: “May this small gesture of unity and support help shine the light of Hanukkah on the Jewish community of Whitefish, Montana, during their time of need.”
The following week, Cole sent this thank-you message to the congregation of Temple Emanuel:
“Michael Gardener brought the situation in Montana to my attention and suggested we do something. I spoke with Rabbi Roston, who shared that her members were feeling isolated and exposed. Our community replied with over 100 Hanukkah cards in less than a day. The cards are now on their way with the timeless message, ‘you are not alone’. Two communities, one suggestion, 24 hours, 100 cards. As you light the final candles, know that 2,500 miles away, the candles in Whitefish burn warmer and brighter because of you.”
The neo-Nazi armed march designed to harass the Montana Jewish community of Whitefish has been postponed after the white supremacist organizer failed to get a city permit.
Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, announced on Wednesday evening that he would not hold his march scheduled for Monday because he has not yet obtained a special event permit from the city of Whitefish. He promises the march will take place sometime in February.