Rabbi Francine Roston of Whitefish was honored for her support of the fight against terrorism at the Building Resilience in the New Threat Paradigm summit on faith-based terrorism held at Stockton University in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on June 11-12.
Rabbi Roston, of the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom Congregation, was a speaker at the conference. She shared the story of her community standing up to terrorism and harassment when a white supremacist began cyberattacks on her family and other Jewish families in Whitefish and the Flathead Valley.
Whitefish and its small Jewish community were the focus of a vicious anti-Semitic online “troll storm” in late 2016 when the publisher of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer urged his followers to “take action” to defend the mother of white supremacist Richard Spencer of Whitefish.
“Rabbi Francine Roston experienced hatred firsthand,” Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman said in a press release, “and she chose a message of hope and kindness. Uniting the community showed the hate groups that they could not divide the community. We honor her for her bravery in the face of hatred.”
“It is difficult to be honored for being attacked,” Roston said. “I just did what I had to do to make sure my family was safe and the community was safe.”
She said it was hard to follow the advice to stay silent and not engage the attackers, which would only inflame the rhetoric.
“It was frustrating,” she said. “But I called a friend, and she said to look at it like a boxing match, and you’re just ducking the punches until the time is right.”
She is speaking out now, and said she hopes it will encourage more people to take cyberterrorism more seriously.
Whitefish City Manager Adam Hammatt also spoke at the summit on a panel titled “Managing the Fallout.” He talked about the importance of building relationships and a culture in the community where everyone stands up against hate and prejudice.
“You have to build the relationships before something happens so you are ready,” Hammatt told those attending the conference. “An attack on one is an attack on all.”
The international summit was sponsored by the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers, the Rutgers Center for Critical Intelligence Studies, and Stockton University in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.