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Former Billings Symphony director feels 'enormous sadness' from war in Israel

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Posted at 10:09 PM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 08:09:47-05

BILLINGS - For one Billings man, the war in Israel hits way too close to home.

Uri Barnea was born and raised in Israel before moving to Billings.

In 1993, his family was among the first to be targeted by anti-Semitic sentiment in Billings, motivating residents to rally around Jewish families in the city.

That started the Not In Our Town movement, now in its 30th year.

Barnea was the music director for the Billings Symphony from 1984 to 2004.

He's a longtime Billings resident and before he came to the United States in 1971, he lived in Israel and served in the military.

"It has been such a trauma in Israel because such a carnage does not happen on the Jewish state's soil since the Holocaust," Barnea said.

"One missile actually fell two blocks for my niece in North Tel Aviv and they had to hide in the staircase," he added.

Barnea was born in what is now the state of Israel and his parents were Holocaust refugees.

He says his family in Israel is doing fine physically, but not mentally and emotionally.

"Everybody is completely wrecked," Barnea said.

Barnea himself has experienced the horrors of war firsthand. He grew up in Israel during the War of Independence in 1948 and 1949.

"It's been almost 75 years after the state was created," Barnea said. "There was quite a few skirmishes with Hamas until now. But this time, it was an unbelievable event."

Barnea personally understands conflict, having served in the Israeli Defense Forces for 10 years as an officer and fighting in three wars.

And it's something he didn't totally escape upon moving to Montana, 40 years ago.

Barnea was here in 1993 when the homes of several Jewish families, including his, were vandalized.

Jewish headstones were knocked down and homes were spray painted with Nazi symbols that sparked the Not In Our Town movement, where Billings residents banded together to support Jewish families.

Barnea says he hasn't seen that kind of anti-Semitism here during this conflict.

"I did not notice anything in person compared to for example, 30 years ago with a Not In Our Town activities," Barnea said.

After leaving the Billings Symphony, Barnea became a rabbi in 2007, serving in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

He retired as a rabbi in 2014.

He says Hamas needs to be eliminated for there to be peace in Israel.

"To sum up my feelings, I would say first and foremost, enormous sadness in my heart, Barnea said. "The second is anger because things could've been avoided and prevented. But people who did not have good intentions created them. "But I want to close also with the feelings of hope because without hope, this sort of carnage and belligerence will continue forever. We need to find ways to live together for dialogue and for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip."