Nearly a dozen Missoulians lined up at a microphone set under the pavilion at Caras Park Sunday, each one giving a greeting: salam a lakum, shalom, hola, x̣est sx̣lx̣alt, hei.
Senior Pastor Rev. Jennifer Yocum of Missoula’s University Congregational Church rounded out the list of 20 different “hellos” with “ciao.”
Yocum joined other religious leaders of Missoula, along with Mayor John Engen and local organizations to host the city’s first annual Missoula Together event. Over 50 people filled seats at Caras Park to listen and join in prayers, blessings and songs that transcended all faiths.
“The most important thing that can come from this will be people just having relationships with one another, speaking with one another and experiencing one another,” said Rabbi Laurie Franklin of Har Shalom. “Because that’s how you get vitamins, social and spiritual vitamins that make you stronger.”
“The best response to any kind of situational bias is to affirm identity,” she said.
Between November 2018 and February 2019, anti-Semitic and white nationalist fliers appeared in Missoula neighborhoods and on the University of Montana campus. On Feb. 13, the same day residents in the Lewis and Clark neighborhood woke to find papers proclaiming “Jews Attack the 1st Amendment” on the windshields of their cars, police arrested two men suspected of spray-painting a red swastika on the side of a building on Broadway.
By the time Franklin and other rabbis of Missoula met with Mayor Engen on Feb. 27 to organize a response, leaflets had dotted the doors of five churches. The mayor’s office then coordinated with both rabbis and pastors to create Missoula Together.
“I have no doubt that this event will grow, year after year,” Mayor Engen said to those who attended Sunday’s event.
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To start the pilot for Missoula Together, members of the Missoula Community Gamelan walked along the Clark Fork River and into Caras Park, filling the pavilion with the rhythm of their bronze symbols. Arleen Adams then offered a blessing and song in Salish.
During the event’s conception, the city’s secular organizations also became involved. With the participation of Soft Landing Missoula, 16 members of the non-profit’s Congolese Choir sang two songs of worship.
“Jehovah is your name,” sang Deborah Nyota in bars of both English and Congolese, while the rest of the choir echoed her.
At the edge of the pavilion, Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula and Zootown Arts Community Center’s Mikyla Veis watched over a table stacked with several spools of yarn. Those passing the table, like Andi Hoelzel and her daughter, Eleanor Smith, wrapped the thread around nails sticking from the table.
Although the nails formed a heart, they weaved their own patterns to fill it.
“We just wanted to show that we all get to weave a strand of the community,” said Poole.
Other organizations who participated in the event included Home ReSource, University of Montana Kyiyo Native American Student Association, Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and the Western Montana LGBTQ Center.