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Billings Jewish groups boost security in wake of Hamas attacks

Steve Heimbichner
Posted at 4:01 PM, Dec 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-13 08:06:43-05

BILLINGS - The annual lighting of the Billings menorah looked a little different this year, as Billings police provided multiple officers on sight as security.

This is just one example of increased security among Jewish groups and at Jewish events followingthe Hamas attacks on Oct. 7.

Richie Solomon was among the hundreds who visited the Yellowstone County courthouse lawn on Sunday for the menorah lighting, and he said the police presence was necessary.

"There's more threats out there for us," Solomon said Tuesday morning. "It's sad that it's come to having to have security, but I got to say I feel safer that they were there."

Part of Solomon's concern stems from a rise in anti-semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2,031 incidents nationwide of recorded acts of anti-semitism since the Hamas attacks, which is a 337 percent increase from the same time period a year ago.

"I was worried to come out and be in such a public space," Solomon said. "But then I thought, 'If I don't show up to represent my people, how can I expect anyone else to allow us to?'"

The Anti-Defamation League also said that of those 2,031 incidents, more than half, or 1,411, could be clearly linked to the Israel-Hamas War.

"It's really sad," Solomon said. "It's frustrating. We have to worry about ourselves. We have to worry about our kids. It's really disheartening to worry about security on top of everything else."

It isn't just the menorah lighting event that has upped security. Pastor Steve Heimbichner of the Everlasting Covenant — a Jewish congregation located on Central Avenue — said they've added security cameras and safety drills to help visitors feel safe.

"We're locking our doors, we've got cameras out, just to make sure we know who comes inside," Heimbichner said Tuesday morning. "We have drills that if someone says, 'Hit the floor,' everyone in the congregation hits the dirt."

Heimbichner said it's become his responsibility to keep his congregation safe and that the security adjustments are just a part of the times.

"We're being very careful because we don't know," Heimbichner said. "We pray that nothing ever happens. We pray that God protects us and watches over us and that's what we depend on."

Beth Aaron, the largest temple in Billings, also told MTN during a phone call that the temple is installing new security cameras and fences around the property. Both are changes temple leaders said are overdue, but the recent events have sped up the plans.

It's a concerning time for Jewish people nationwide, but Solomon said he's grateful to live in a community as welcoming as Billings.

"Honestly, I don't know what it is about Billings, but I feel safe here and understood," Solomon said. "That's what it's all about. If you teach, if you learn, if you expose others, hopefully it minimizes the hate. It's hard to hate anyone you know or understand."