Billings Rabbi Reflects On Jewish Identity

Dec 5, 2018

Menorah lights
Credit Bart / Flickr

It’s half-way through the eight-day festival of lights, known as Hanukkah. The student Rabbi from  Congregation Beth Aaron shares some of his reflections during this holiday, that began Sunday, against the backdrop of the challenges faced recently by the Jewish community.

It was during Hanukkah in 1993 that a person in Billings broke a little boy’s window because it was decorated with a menorah. The city rallied around the Jewish community and in a show of solidarity launched the "Not In Our Town" response that drew worldwide attention.

Following a mass-shooting last October, where 11 people were gunned down at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Congregation Beth Aaron in Billings joined others from around the country and held a memorial service that drew community members from all faiths.

Student Rabbi Erik Uriarte, who moved to Billings about six months ago to work with Congregation Beth Aaron, said a number of local religious and government leaders voiced their support.

“I feel not only safe, but welcomed here in Billings,” he said.

Erik Uriarte
Credit Kayla Desroches / YPR

Uriarte, who is both Jewish and Latino, wears the traditional Jewish head covering, the kippah, and is a person of color. He said he hasn’t yet had a negative reaction in Montana.

He said Jewish communities are used to adversity, and public reception is ever-changing. He said now is no different in that way.

“This is a life I’ve chosen for myself and I’m not going to hide it and I’m fully going to accept anything that comes my way, and that’s the way that I am,” said Uriarte.

Congregation Beth Aaron will hold a holiday service on Friday.