Teaching Tolerance This Holiday Season
The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate
By Janice Cohn, D.S.W. illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
How do we teach children tolerance? As the holy days of Hanukkah and Christmas approach, held in reverence by the Jewish and Christian faiths, it seems an appropriate time to bring books to the attention of young readers that evoke the “reasons for the season” as the phrase goes.
Such a book is “The Christmas Menorah” by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., with lush, but realistic oil paintings by illustrator Bill Farnsworth.
Based on an actual series of events in Billings, Montana during the holiday season of 1993, it emphasizes the message to children that in order for hatred and intolerance to flourish, good men usually do nothing. But not so in Billings.
A small menorah with 8 candles to be lit for each of the nights of Hanukkah, glows in the bedroom window of Isaac Schnitzer. A rock flies through his window one night, shattering glass and knocking the menorah to the floor.
“Who did it?” and “Why would someone do this”?, questions Isaac. The police are called and Isaac hears his mom say to the police chief who is very concerned about the targeting of Jewish families in Billings, “We’re not taking down the Hanukkah decorations. Being Jewish is who we are – we’e not going to hide it.”
But that is just what Isaac admits to his mom in a very telling moment. The year before kids were bringing Christmas presents into school. Isaac brings in his Hanukkah gifts and at the last minute says, “Uh…I guess I sort of told them that they were Christmas presents.” Will Isaac continue to hide his faith with the menorah incident as a catalyst for his decision this year?
A classmate named Teresa Hanley and family discuss Isaac’s family at dinner and decide to DO something. I love the family discussion that ensues where each of the members and their feelings are taken into account as they reach a decision that involves some risk.
The Henley family display a picture of a menorah in THEIR window during Hanukkah. Neighbors follow suit and Billings’ windows are filled with pictures of menorahs!
How many times do we see dark deeds done under cover of night as people might be too timid or ashamed to do the same thing in the cold light of day. It takes a moment to destroy, but the creation of something of beauty and goodness like tolerance is a process that takes time.
As the menorah lights shone in Billings, begun by ONE family, just so the destructive force of a rock was thrown with one hand. But the community of Billings, lead by a single family’s commitment, said that intolerance for any faith would not stand in their town without some decent folk standing up for tolerance.
Oh, and by the way, Isaac learned a powerful lesson too. He brought his Hanukkah gifts to school that year and announced what they were. Hanukkah presents!!
This is a picture book based on true life events in 1993 that still resonate today in 2014. Our children need to know that darkness cannot extinguish light as long as a single candle burns. And they may just be the young people who can light it in the future.