Speaking to more than 200 people at a packed Har Shalom Synagogue Tuesday morning, Mayor John Engen opened his remarks with a statement often used to describe festivals or community gardens: “This is very Missoula.”
But Tuesday, he meant something different.
“So here is Missoula,” he continued. “A place where if one of us is threatened, we are all threatened. If one of us is afraid, we gather to allay that fear."
His speech anchored Har Shalom's Standing Against Hate conference, organized after pro-Nazi propoganda and white supremacist speech began circulating around Missoula and Western Montana.
Engen drew plenty of applause for breaking some relevant news.
Missoula police identified the person they believed distributed pro-Nazi propaganda around town (see related story).
“Hate has no place in a community that can live on forever,” he said. “Love lasts. Hate is temporal.”
Before the conference began it quickly became clear there were not enough chairs for the expanding crowd, as 50, then 100, then 200 crammed into the synagogue’s small worship space, seated two to a chair, standing shoulder to shoulder.
“There’s some wall space over there,” someone helpfully pointed out to their friend.
Har Shalom spiritual leader Laurie Franklin got up to start the event, waving in lieu of a sound system to quiet everyone down, first asking those in chairs to scoot forward to let everyone into the room before she began.
Representatives from the Missoula Ministerial Association briefly spoke on behalf of all religious congregations in town.
City Council president Marilyn Marler teared up during her speech encouraging people to not allow hate to become normal.
“Speak up when we can,” she said. “Pay attention.”
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Franklin asked everyone in Missoula to keep a lighted menorah in their window during Hanukkah, as a stand against anti-Semitic and white supremacist literature and comments around Montana.
Hanukkah begins Saturday at sundown, and if you don’t have a menorah, Franklin pointed to the free one printed in the Missoulian Tuesday. Those can also be downloaded from the Missoulian’s website.
The campaign is named Missoula Menorah: A Light in Every Window, and was started after white supremacist and American Nazi Party literature was found after the election on Missoulian's doorsteps, first in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood, then East Missoula.
On Monday Gov. Steve Bullock posted on his Facebook page, "There is no time nor place for hate in Montana."
Bullock's spokesman, Tim Crowe, said Tuesday that the governor "absolutely" supports the Missoula Menorah campaign.
The Missoulian received several reports after those first incidents of Nazi and white supremacist graffiti and literature found around town, including a report that someone drew swastikas on several locks on the Van Buren Street footbridge. Those were later drawn over with silver Sharpie'd hearts.
Franklin said afterward what most impressed her was the presence of Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady, and Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott and Undersheriff Jason Johnson.
“The fact that our law enforcement thinks the quality of life is so important –we are so grateful," she said.
McDermott confined his short speech to committing himself and his deputies to limit the reach of hate in Missoula County.
“Law enforcement takes the spreading of hateful rhetoric seriously,” he said. “Law enforcement stands with you.”
Holly Kingsford, the president of Har Shalom’s board, didn’t expect nearly the crowd that showed up Tuesday morning. She said as a Jew, she felt supported by her community.
Har Shalom has 54 member families, she said, Jewish and not, and about 50 people signed up for Har Shalom email updates on a clipboard near the front door during the event.
“We didn’t want this to sweep us under the rug,” Kingsford said. “We wanted to make a big fuss. So we did.”