In 1993, hate hit hard in the quiet community of Billings, Montana.
It began with a slew of antisemitic incidents, from hate mail and leaflets to vandalism of a Jewish cemetery. Then, in early December, someone threw a brick into the bedroom window of a 5-year-old boy named Isaac Schnitzer — a window decorated for Hanukkah, complete with a menorah.
Thankfully, the boy was unharmed. But police officers told the Schnitzer family to take down their Hanukkah decorations. That comment made its way into the local newspaper, and soon, non-Jewish residents rallied around the family, by putting pictures of menorahs in their windows. In an era before social media, the movement happened organically. One person called another, pastors spoke out, and the Billings Gazette published a full-page picture of a menorah to cut out.
"Not in Our Town," became the slogan.
By some accounts, about 10,000 residents in an 80,000-person community with fewer than 100 Jews placed menorahs in their windows.
Thirty years later, hate again is hitting hard, on a far broader scale, in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The horror in the Middle East and its impact here have had many tendrils, including a rising tide of dangerous antisemitism and frightening incidents of Islamophobia.
Again, Jews are scared.
Thursday evening is the start of Hanukkah — an eight-day holiday that's supposed to be full of celebration and light, commemorating the Jews' fight against those who sought their destruction.
Enter Adam Kulbersh. The Los Angeles single dad hadn't heard of what happened in Billings when he told his 6-year-old son, Jack, last month that they couldn't put up their Hanukkah decorations this year.
"I had to explain that there were mean people in the world and that my number one job as your dad is to keep you safe," Kulbersh said. "And he was devastated."
Kulbersh told a non-Jewish friend, who offered to put a menorah in her window in solidarity. The suggestion moved Kulbersh, who wanted to spread the sentiment.
So Project Menorah was born.
An Instagram account, web page and hashtag (#projectmenorah) promote the goal: To have non-Jews display either an actual menorah or a picture of one in their windows, along with their other decorations and lights.
"Whenever Jews are threatened historically, allies have always stood up," Kulbersh said. "I think there are always allies, but people don't always know what to say or what to do — and people are terrified. My goal was to give people an easy, fast, free way to make a public statement of support and a statement against antisemitism."
Last month, I wrote about how my non-Jewish friends had not stood with me in the weeks since Oct. 7. In the enormous, mostly gratifying response, one reader suggested something similar to what Billings residents did.
Little did she know others had the same idea.
At a dark time when antisemitic protesters can feel emboldened enough to hold a swastika near the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony, I'll welcome every bit of light. Our menorah will be in our window. Kulbersh said he'll be decorating his home, with a menorah in his window, too.
It's a small step. It won't solve the enormous antisemitism Jews face. But if you, too, put a menorah in your window, your message will be clear.
Not in Our Town.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.