In the wilderness no more 

When a pending deal fell through on the former funeral home at 3035 S. Russell St., members of Missoula’s Har Shalom Jewish Community saw it as a sign from God.

The 50-year-old organization—“mountain of peace” in Hebrew—had been searching on and off for a place to call home for decades, but this time everything fell into place. They made an offer, and held the consecration for Missoula’s very first synagogue last Saturday.

“Up until now we were the wandering Jews of Montana,” said board member David Jolles.

For lack of a temple, members had for years held informal services in homes and flown in student rabbis to conduct ceremonies. But when members learned that an actual edifice was in their future they stepped up, volunteering time and money to make it a reality.

The building was a perfect fit, said Jolles, a turn-key operation that required almost no renovation. The good fortune kept coming when the Garden City Montessori School leased part of the building and a congregant offered to put on a new roof for free.

With approximately 200 congregants, Jolles thinks numbers will grow “now [that] there is a culturally Jewish community they can feel a part of.”

Montana is not particularly a magnet for Jews, said Jolles, who noted, tongue in cheek, that “it’s hard to get a good bagel.” But there is, he said, some truth to the idea that people stay away because preconceived notions about Montana don’t include the comforts of city living. The people that do come are often looking to get away from their old ways of life, shunning obligations and focusing more on individualist activities. But with a temple now in Missoula, Jolles thinks that people might come out of the woodwork to regain touch with their heritage, or perhaps learn about a new one.

For now, members are looking hard for a permanent rabbi to preside over their new permanent home. But Jolles anticipates that a famous quote, slightly tweaked, will work for Har Shalom. “If you buy it, they will come,” he said.
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