From the editor: Not in our town -- 20 years ago or today

2014-06-22T00:00:00Z 2014-06-22T09:26:11Z From the editor: Not in our town -- 20 years ago or today The Billings Gazette
June 22, 2014 12:00 am

It's not a question I get every day.

It's not even a question that you'd probably expect an editor to get.

"Do you have any more of those menorahs?"

You wouldn't expect it unless you worked at The Billings Gazette. Folks who've been here at least 20 years might remember that in what may have been The Gazette's finest moment, the paper printed a full-color, full page of a menorah and asked residents to put it in their window as a sign of solidarity against hate crimes.

In December 1993, Billings was shocked when a brick shattered the window of a Jewish family who had put a menorah in window to celebrate Hanukkah.

It wasn't the first in a string of apparent hate crimes. And sadly, it wouldn't be the last. Yet these terrible crimes started a movement that became much more powerful than any twisted momentary act of hate-filled desperation.

Billings rallied with a simple message: Not in our town. In a way, it fought intolerance with a ferocious intolerance of bigotry, racism and hatred.

The menorahs were a beautiful and simple gesture from a newspaper which felt it had a part to play in the community's response beyond just the news coverage of the crimes. Folks who worked at The Gazette then, for example, Donna Healy, David Crisp, Wayne Schile and John Potter helped to make the menorahs a reality.

The message was unmistakable and direct: If you break one window, you'll have to break them all.

And here we are two decades later when folks from across the country are visiting the place where a solidarity slogan became a movement -- Not In Our Town. Once again, we at The Gazette want to do more than just cover the event, a homecoming of sorts.

To that end, we've decided to reprint the menorahs again. The full-page menorah can be found on page A16.

For years after the original incident, you could drive around Billings and find a few yellowing menorahs still clinging to the window panes. But newsprint has a way of disintegrating in the harsh sunlight, and tape gets nearly as brittle.

Maybe a few of these menorahs will find a home somewhere close to where the old ones went, as a sign of continuing solidarity and support for a cause which has become part our community's history. While these menorahs were originally meant to be put out during Hanukkah and Christmas, it was inspirational how the symbol grew beyond its religious context and took on a different important aspect of tolerance and diversity.

Yet the reprinting of the menorah may not come at a better time for this community, and it has nothing to do with the guests in town for the conference. This isn't just some marketing gimmick, or souvenir keepsake to remember Billings by.

Instead, we find ourselves in a new discussion about what it means to be a tolerant, welcoming place. Once again, 20 years later we are still asking what it means to live in community with people who are different than the majority.

The truth of the matter is that the phrase "Not In Our Town" could have two opposite meanings depending on the context and intent. Are we going to be the town that says we won't allow discrimination and treating others different because of sexual orientation or gender identification? Or, are we going to be a town that says to those groups that they're welcome somewhere else, just not in our town?

The worst possible thing that could happen to this community is for us to lull ourselves into believing that menorahs and slogans of "Not In Our Town" was a turning point that happened two decades ago and we can now cross that off our list.

Hopefully, we'll always continue to work on what we started 20 years ago.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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