Recent news spotlighting plans by neo-Nazis to stage a march in nearby Whitefish, Montana, not far from the Idaho panhandle, may raise an obvious question: Is it safe to be Jewish in Idaho?
Rabbi Dan Fink of Ahavath Beth Israel, in Boise, stressed that, contrary to some stories, his town is not crawling with anti-Semitic extremists. The only incident his congregation experienced occurred more than a decade ago, and it involved chalk graffiti on the sidewalk.
“We have no feeling of being in danger here,” he said. Among other things, the local Mormon population, which is quite substantial, is very pro-Israel.
What’s more common in Boise are questions from people who have never met Jews.
Some of the questions are a bit crazy, Fink noted, like, “Do you watch TV?” and “Where do you sacrifice all the animals?” an apparent reference to ancient Jewish ritual practices described in the Hebrew Bible.
Several hundred miles to the East, on the opposite side of the state, there is another aspect to Jewish life in the Rockies. Many Jews in Idaho have firearms, and a major gun dealer in Pocatello is Jewish. In Idaho, for people to have rifles, shotguns and other firearms in the home is accepted practice, as are hunting, fishing and outdoors life in general. While there are active extremist political groups in the state’s panhandle, 700 miles to the north, the militia movement of the mid-1990s, based in Twin Falls, collapsed of its own accord without firing a shot. (Twin Falls is midway on Interstate between Pocatello and Boise.)
Still, folks remember the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation setting up its headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho, from the early 1970s until 2001. That year it was finally bankrupted and shut down by a mother and son’s successful private litigation after the group’s security guards attacked and beat them. What many remember not as well are the years of resistance against the Aryan Nation by local groups that were themselves appalled by its presence.