Looking at your calendar you may notice that Thursday (12/10) is Hanukkah. Like many Montanans, I knew very little about the Jewish holiday. In fact, I would bet that for most of us, our only exposure to Hanukkah is Adam Sandler's famous song.

Longtime residents of Billings may remember the awful hate-crime circumstances that escalated on December 2, 1993 when a brick was thrown through the bedroom window of 6 year old Jewish boy. The window was displaying a menorah, the 9 light (sometimes 7) candle holder that usually looks something like this.

Hanukkah Candles
Photo by Carly Hennigan/Getty Stock/ThinkStock

The story attracted national attention and many people in Billings will recall how the community came together in support. In case you need a refresher on the Not in Our Town movement (and documentary film that followed the hate) take a quick watch of this PBS synopsis.

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So what is Hanukkah actually all about? My Protestant childhood upbringing told me lots of stories about little baby Jesus, but not much about Judaism. Today I had the opportunity to interview Erik Uriarte, a former Marine who is currently the Student Rabbi and Director of Religious Programming at Billings' only Jewish synagogue, Congregation Beth Aaron (at 2031 Broadwater, right behind the St. V's walk-in clinic).

Credit: Jenna Peskin
Credit: Jenna Peskin

Part of the reason many of us don't really understand much of the Jewish faith is probably that there simply aren't many Jews in Montana. Erik told me he estimates between 1,000 and 2,000 people in Big Sky Country are Jewish. Jews make up just 1.8% of the total US population (with the majority located in the NY area). There are only 15 million Jews worldwide and about half of those live in the United States.

I had a great chat with Erik and he answered many of my questions, like:

  • Are there special foods for Hanukkah?
  • Why does it last eight days?
  • What does the menorah signify?
  • Are gifts exchanged during Hanukkah?
  • Do Jews put a Christmas tree up too?
  • What's it like being a Jew in Montana, and have you felt any animosity?

Take a listen below and happy Hanukkah!

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