More than 20 years ago, someone hurled a brick through the window of Tammie Schnitzer’s Billings, Mont., home for no other reason than the fact that a menora was displayed there for Hanukka. The violent act catapulted Schnitzer into national fame as a woman who defied prejudice and inspired a movement to resist intolerance.
On Sept. 21, Schnitzer brought her story to the Greenbriar community of Monroe Township, where she was the featured speaker at an event sponsored by Hadassah Associates/Alisa chapter.
Over 200 people attended the afternoon presentation, which included a showing of Not In Our Town, a documentary depicting how Schnitzer helped rally the town’s residents to combat anti-Semitism and other manifestations of racial and religious hatred.
The film relates how the town reacted after that brick went through the bedroom window where Schnitzer’s son, Isaac, then five, was sleeping. The Billings Gazette reproduced an image of a hanukkia and urged readers to display it in their windows. Within days, about 10,000 windows had menoras on display — even though many of the town’s residents had never knowingly met a Jew.
Residents also organized marches in response. According to the film, it was part of a pushback against several years of largely unanswered threats of violence and acts of vandalism perpetrated by skinheads and other white supremacists. Targets of the haters included a Jewish cemetery, a Native American family home, and a predominantly black church.
In her talk at the Hadassah gathering, Schnitzer said, “The Billings story is not just about anti-Semitism, but about human failings and human values. Fear and a lack of knowledge about others breeds prejudice.”
According to Schnitzer, “It took a photographable moment — broken glass on my son’s bed — to get good people to do the right things.”
Schnitzer questioned whether it is enough to teach children the principles of respect for others. “Most kids are natural philosophers with good instincts,” she suggested. “What we have to do is reach adults — parents and teachers — who have hardened attitudes.”
Other speakers at the Hadassah event included State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Dist. 14), Monroe Township Council President Gerald Tamburro, and Schnitzer’s husband, Mashaal Ahmadieh. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12), who did not attend, sent a copy of a tribute he had entered into the “Congressional Record.”
Describing Schnitzer, Greenstein said, “She is a woman of outstanding character and exceptional determination. And she recognizes that when one group is attacked, all groups are being attacked.”
Tamburro read a proclamation from Monroe Township Mayor Richard Pucci that included a pledge: “The township will continue to seek ways in which to promote greater civility and understanding of our collective differences and similarities, which contribute to the cultural richness of our community.” Pucci also designated September as Not In Our Town/Solidarity Against Acts of Intolerance Month.
Ahmadieh read from a letter by Schnitzer’s daughter Rachel, a recent college graduate. “You have taught many the invaluable lesson that it does not take an extraordinary person to be someone’s hero,” she wrote. “Every act of kindness counts, and every second of silence hurts.”