The Church Menorah

The WORD 11/30/13.  This morning, I had the privilege of teaching the story of Hanukkah in my daughter’s 5th grade classroom at Washington School.  After a few rounds of cut-throat dreidel, I read them a book called “The Christmas Menorahs” by Janice Cohn.  It is based on the true story of Isaac Schnitzer who was a young resident of Billings, Montana.

The story begins on the third night of Hanukkah, in 1993, with Isaac Schnitzer doing homework. Suddenly a rock blasted through his bedroom window, knocking his electric menorah to the glass-covered floor.  Fortunately, he was in another room.

Once the police chief finished his questions and the window was replaced, Isaac faced a decision: Should he leave his window bare for the rest of the holiday or let the lights shine once again from his room?

Meanwhile, the smashing of Isaac’s menorah also shattered the whole town’s peace of mind. They thought that they lived in the ideal town, where everyone got along.  However, this incident together with the harassment of Native Americans and African Americans galvanized the community.

Isaac made a brave decision to put up a new menorah as soon as possible.  Soon,  schoolmates, a determined police chief, committed church groups, the local media and neighbors supported Isaac’s decision to stand up to the bullies.  They put up thousands of paper menorahs in the windows of homes and businesses on every street in Billings. Billings would simply not tolerate intolerance.

The racist bullies got the message.

The anonymous acts of hatred diminished and residents of Billings realized that they had just given the greatest possible gift to themselves.  They gave themselves their town back.  It became the subject of a PBS documentary and the name of a national movement – “Not In Our Town.”

It doesn’t matter how many times I read this story, I get choked up every time.

Similarly, it doesn’t matter how many times Faith Lutheran Church invites us to light a menorah on their front lawn, I get choked up.  I still remember the way Pastor Murdoch MacPherson (Pastor Mac) stood up at a Borough Council meeting and made it clear that New Providence had plenty of room for people of ALL religious faiths – not just one.

And so, once again, this coming Tuesday, December 3rd, we will come together on the lawn of Faith Lutheran Church in New Providence to celebrate Hanukkah – the festival of religious freedom – with our Christian friends and neighbors.  I hope that you will join us.

Jodi and the kids join me in wishing you a Happy Thanksgivukkah!





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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2 Responses to The Church Menorah

  1. Rev. Robert Morris says:

    Lovely! Blessings for the first candlelighting.

  2. Elaine Hoffman says:

    Hi and Happy Thanksgivukkah to you and your family!! We were impressed with the class presentation and great lesson…in only the way you could deliver a message!! Yasher Koach! Elaine and Barry

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