Why I Donated to the Montana Jewish Project

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I made my $100,000 donation to the Montana Jewish Project in memoriam of my father. His name was Mausas Erdmanas when he came to the United States before World War II.  The army changed his name to Marshall Erdman. He went back to Europe to fight against the Nazis. But the rest of his family in Lithuania was killed during the Holocaust.

I did not learn until after my father died that he was Jewish! Looking back, I can see that he raised me with very Jewish values: Tzedakah (giving to charity as a moral obligation), Tikkun Olam (working to make the world a better place), and valuing education and hard work. 

MJP is the first Jewish charity I’ve given to. MJP is trying to buy back Montana’s oldest synagogue from the Catholic Bishop of Helena to house their statewide Jewish community. This is important to me. Too much history gets forgotten. This landmark building needs to be back in the Jewish community, and I’m excited MJP will make their programming and space available to non-Jewish Montanans.

It makes sense that my father would feel like he had to hide his Jewishness. Just look at the history of pogroms in Lithuania and how he lost his family in the Holocaust. 

This makes watching the shocking increase in antisemitism here in Montana more disturbing for me. These are exactly the types of the threats that would have pushed my father, as a young immigrant to the United States, to feel like it wasn’t safe to be Jewish. 

MJP’s plan to provide curricula to Montana schools about what it means to be Jewish and about the history of Jewish contributions to the state is one way we can fight back against this rising hate. MJP’s interfaith partnerships are another. Change only happens when we talk to one another, so we can learn from one another. 

I can see the cultural and ethical ties to his heritage my father maintained and passed onto me, even when he felt like he shouldn’t or couldn’t be openly Jewish. It’s heartening to think about all the cultural and community events MJP will offer, and the connections these will help build.

I urge you to join with me in supporting MJP.