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Billings community gathers for 30-year remembrance of 'Not In Our Town'

Posted at 11:48 AM, Dec 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-14 13:48:06-05

BILLINGS — Community members gathered at King of Glory Lutheran Church on Saturday to remember when, 30 years ago, white supremacists tried to shake minority groups, including the Jewish community, of their faith, practices, and cultural identity, to which 50,000 Billings residents said, "Not In Our Town."

“We had a rock thrown through our window … as a nine-year-old you’re not sure exactly what’s going on, but you can sense how adults are reacting to things," said Jill Salsbury, a remembrance attendee and member of Billings' Congregation Beth Aaron.

Salsbury's son is now nine years old, the same age she said she was during the events that motivated the "Not In Our Town" movement.

The Billings Gazette is widely credited for its contributions to the purge of intolerance following its publication of a full-page image of a menorah and a printed request for readers to post the publication in their window. The actions by the staff and the published content were at the center of Saturday night's conversation.

“You could easily copy those (news prints) and hand it to your neighbor, or your parents, or your sister, and say, ‘hey, what do you think? Let’s make a stand,’” said Jay Kohn, a former anchor with KTVQ, speaker at the remembrance, and member of Billings' Jewish community.

The 30-year mark falls amid conflicts in both Israel and Palestine. Members of Billings' Jewish community said conversations full of misinformation and oversimplifications, often cluttered with antisemitic thought, are unfolding across social media because of these conflicts.

“What really got to me was the response on social media that I saw from people in my age group about what was happening, a lot of attacks on Israel, and a lot of antisemitism," said Grabby Brant, a Rocky Mountain College student who organized the 30 year retrospective.

Many attendees said, that because of these conflicts and the simultaneous celebration of Hanukkah, the remembrance could not have come at a more appropriate time.

“The problem with darkness and hate and bigotry … It’s like a weed … if you stop tending your garden, weeds come back … We just have to double down, put our gardening gloves on and weed it out," said Salsbury.