Each evening this week, Congregation Aitz Chaim will be gathering outside the Great Falls Civic Center celebrating Hanukkah.
Mendel Spiro, a Rabbi at Touro College in Great Falls, said he has felt very welcomed by the community of Great Falls.
“It’s been really amazing; we moved here not knowing much about the Jewish community, but [it's] just amazing,” Spiro said. “The people are so excited about, you know, getting involved and doing Jewish things, and it’s personally for me, that’s very amazing.”
According to Aaron Weissman, treasurer of the Great Falls Hebrew Association, there are nine Jewish communities in the state of Montana; however, Congregation Aitz Chaim is the only organized Jewish community in north-central Montana.
“The Great Falls Hebrew association was originally founded in I believe 1910. The first thing that they did is they purchased a plot of land for a cemetery, which is just south of town off Eaton Road, and we still maintain that cemetery today,” Weissman said.
Weissman said they gather and celebrate Hanukkah together as a congregation each year, but they also celebrate and remember a former member of their congregation, Diane Kaplan, who the menorah is dedicated to.
“We gave this [menorah] to the city of Great Falls fourteen years ago; It’s the Diane Kaplan memorial menorah,” said Weissman. “There was a woman in our congregation by the name of Diane Kaplan, who it [was] originally her idea, and it actually took about three years to put the money together and talk to the city and arrange the donation and all that. It turned out she had she had terminal cancer, and we received the menorah three days after she passed.”
They have been lighting this menorah each year since after Kaplan’s death in 2009.
The last day of Hanukkah is December 15th and they will be gathering outside the Great Falls Civic Center each night for the traditional lighting of the menorah at 5:30pm each night.