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Monday, December 18, 2006

PC Gone Mad: Get that Menorah away from the Town 's Christmas Tree!

Every year at this time, the battles start. When community puts up a Christmas tree, one of two things happens. Either there is a battle to take it down totally or someone fights to get a Chanukia (thats the real name not Menorah) placed right next to it. Then Fox news follows by running stories about the latest battle in the "war against Christmas" Two great examples of this PC gone crazy happened last week. One at the Seattle airport, and the other involving Ice Skater Sasha Cohen.

In Seattle the airport responded to Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky’s request (and threatened lawsuit) to add an 8-foot menorah to holiday decorations, officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport instead decided to remove all nine Christmas trees. Then when the Rabbi decided against suing the trees returned.

The second incident occurred in Riverside California, where Olympic Skater Sasha Cohen was performing. A high school choir had been ordered (by police yet) to stop singing Christmas carols at a holiday show because the arena feared that they would be insulting the skaters (she is half-Jewish). The skater was unaware of the incident, and was shocked when she was informed.

People who look toward December as an opportune time for the celebration of PC multi-culturalism have to stop! I understand that people are trying to be fair, but the true meaning of Chanukah is the exact opposite of that multi-cultural rubbish The Maccabees not only fought for more than getting the Greeks out of Israel and the cleansing and dedication of the Temple. The Chanukah Story also includes a Civil War in Israel. Judah and the boys were fighting other Jews who had turned away from their faith buy combining it with Greek/ Hellenistic practices. The resulting assimilation caused loss of Jewish faith and tradition. Its almost like today's Jews trying to celebrate Chanukah as the Jewish Christmas.

Let me suggest that if If Matthias and his Sons were alive today, they would be fighting every Jew that wanted a six foot menorah next to a Christmas tree a star of David next to a Cross or even the term Judeo-Christian values. There is no such thing ! There are wonderful Christian values and wonderful Jewish values, and there are similarities but there are also major differences. We need to celebrate those differences not merge into one hodgepodge of mediocrity, that celebrates absolutely nothing.

I would also suggest that All Jewish and Mixed marriage families who celebrate both holidays are also missing the meaning of Chanukah,
the Maccabees where horrified that an idol was placed in the holy Temple. Rather than trying to fit with "modern" culture they wanted to make sure that the House of G-d was a Jewish household, to remember the Maccabees, we should do the same with ours. The Rabbi's tell us that we are not to use the Chanukah candles for reading or seeing, as we would with a regular candle or a light bulb. The Chanukia is supposed to be placed near a window so the light of G-d and his miracles will shine outward into the world. Mixing up Chanukah with other people's traditions a their messages, no matter how wonderful they may be in their own right, diminishes the light and message of Chanukah as well as those other traditions.

One thing to my Christian friends, please don't go get assimilated on me either. That tree in the mall IS A CHRISTMAS tree, not a holiday tree, Santa is not a secular character. You have a nice tradition don't try make it PC by taking away its religious nature. Or as Judge Judy would say, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me its raining !"

America is a great country, it is not great because everyone celebrates the same, it is great because we can all celebrate our differences.

Chag Chanukah Samayach


Jeremy Jacobs said...

Nice to hear that political correctness happens in the US. And you've got a Republican in the Oval Office!

Anonymous said...

Fight or Light?
Controversy and Irony at SeaTac Airport

Public menorah lighting in downtown Seattle, circa 1985
Public menorah lighting in downtown Seattle, circa 1985

One thing I've come to realize is that many of us have an innate, enduring loyalty to our preconceptions. We'll stick with them through thick and thin, no matter what reality sends our way.

I first realized this some twenty years ago when a friend and I, as two young Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students, spent our summers canvassing the state of Montana looking for Jews. We'd drive from town to town--some of which only had one or two Jewish families--and try to do our bit to encourage Jewish identity and observance.

We were quite a curiosity, and were often featured in the local newspaper. The publicity proved useful in both drawing local Jews out of the woodwork and gaining us a welcome response when we called on people.

One thing irked me though about these newspaper stories. After spending an hour lecturing the reporter on Jewish identity and explaining about Shabbat, kosher, tefillin and mezuzah--what did s/he write about? About the "Two Hasidic Men Wearing Traditional Hasidic Black Hat and Long Black Coat" who've rolled into town.

The black hat part was true. Below the neck, however, we wore ordinary business suits. In all fairness to the reporters, these do tend toward the darker end of the color spectrum. Still, we weren't in town to promote traditional hasidic garb, and we'd have much preferred that the article focus on the more substantive parts of our message.

So one day we left our hats in the car. My partner wore a light grey suit to the interview, and I put on the most light-colored garment I owned--a light-tan plaid sports jacket.

Sure enough, the next day's paper ran a full-sized photograph of two hatless, light-jacketed young men posed in front of the newspaper building. One held a pair of tefillin, and the other a Shabbat candlestick. The caption under the photograph read: "Tauber, 21, and Begun, 22, two hasidic rabbis sporting the traditional black hat and long black coat, visit Montana on mission."

I was reminded again of how attached people can be to their preconceptions when seeing the news reports on the menorah controversy at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The irony is that Rabbi Bogomilsky and his colleagues are squarely on the very opposite side of the debate... First the facts: Seattle Port Authority consultant Mitchell Stein, along with Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, a Seattle-based Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, wanted to erect a Chanukah menorah at SeaTac Airport. The airport already had 14 large Christmas trees set up in various places throughout their terminals.

SeaTac is a major international gateway; why not share the menorah's message with the tens of thousands who pass through it? There's a public menorah in Red Square. At the Eiffel Tower. Inside the Brandenburg Gate. And in thousands of places throughout the United States and across the globe. Washington State's own governor is proudly hosting a menorah lighting ceremony in the capitol during Chanukah.

But the folks in charge at SeaTac didn't want a menorah. After weeks of stonewalling, bureaucratic double-speak and suddenly canceled meetings by Port brass, Rabbi Bogomilsky's lawyer warned of possible legal action. The airport's now infamous response was to.... remove the Christmas trees, claiming that they wouldn't be able to handle the onslaught of religiously diverse requests.

"Rabbi Forces Removal of Christmas Trees" screamed the headlines. For the first 24 hours after the story broke, the news outlets, reflecting statements being made by airport officials, actually reported that the rabbi was "offended" by the trees and had threatened to sue to have them removed. Eventually the stories themselves became more factually correct, but the original slant remained, and most viewers and readers were left with the impression that all this was part of what's lately being called the "War Against Christmas," spawning reams of hate mail to Jewish organizations and websites across the country.

Some of the news stories had an almost surreal quality to them: the rabbi would be quoted insisting that he has nothing against the trees, that he never in any way implied that he would sue to have the trees be removed, and that he is simply fighting for the right to put up a menorah; yet as he speaks, we see the news banner on the screen behind him: "Rabbi Threatens Lawsuit; Christmas Trees Removed." The reporter interviews the rabbi, asking his prepared question and then delivering his prepared sign-off, as if completely oblivious to what his interviewee has actually said.

It seems that there isn't much you can do to separate a person from his beloved preconceptions: apparently, some reporters and news editors already "knew" that the rabbi is against the trees, and once they knew that, nothing--not even their own reportage--was going to change the way they present the story.

Even now, when the trees are back up, the rabbi promised not to sue (at least not this year), and the airport has (sort of) intimated that they may respond positively to his request.... next year (maybe), the media continues to spin the "War Against Christmas" story and the hate mail continues to pour in.

The irony is that, for the last 25 years, there has been an ongoing debate within the Jewish community on the very issue of religious displays in public places during the winter holiday season--with Rabbi Bogomilsky and his colleagues squarely on the very opposite side of the debate than the side that's being attributed to him.

The sight of one menorah burning proudly through the night will do more for Jewish continuity than the removal of 1000 Christmas trees... There are 300 million people living in America, a large majority of whom are proud Christians; among them live about 5 million Jews. Come December, trees and other holiday paraphernalia blossom forth throughout the length and breadth of the land. Many Jews feel challenged by this phenomenon. "How can I raise my child to feel secure in and proud of his Jewishness," they wonder, "when he's confronted by these displays in every store window, hotel lobby and village square? How can I myself avoid feeling resentful, left out, discriminated against?"

Not long ago, the answer for many was: We'll fight the trees! We'll take them to court, we'll cite the Establishment Clause, and get all religious symbols removed from the public domain.

Chabad-Lubavitch took a different tack. Don't fight to remove the trees--put up menorahs! Don't direct your efforts to make America "less Christian"--work to celebrate America's freedom to encourage Jews in their Jewishness. Would not a single positive message be so much more effective than a thousand un-messages? Would not the sight of a single menorah burning proudly through the night do more for Jewish pride and Jewish continuity than the removal of a thousand trees?

Today, most of the Jewish community has been won over to this view. But it wasn't so long ago that Chabad-Lubavitch encountered vehement opposition for spearheading the "shower them with light" approach. I remember one particular year in the mid 1980's when I was involved in helping organize the activities surrounding the public menorah lightings during Chanukah in Seattle (yes, the very same Seattle). A national Jewish organization took the city to court to try and force them to revoke their permission for Chabad-Lubavitch to put up the menorah. They were actually quite apologetic to us: "Please understand, we have nothing against your menorah, but we're suing the city to make them take down the Christmas trees and crèches, so in all fairness, we need to fight the menorah too..."

So, irony of ironies, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi trying to put up a menorah is portrayed in hundreds of newspapers and television broadcasts from coast to coast as... the man who made SeaTac Airport remove the trees.

Shamefully, the airport is still obfuscating about why it is one of the only places in the United States to deny a menorah request. Hopefully in the short time left between now and Chanukah they will "see the light."

But if there's a lesson here for the rest of us, it may simply be: don't presume. Don't think that you already know what your fellow human being is all about, what he or she stands for, what s/he wants to achieve. If we'd listen to each other more, we might actually like what we hear.

Happy Chanukah!

Unknown said...

I only wish that you would have left your name so we could have had a dialogue

Anonymous said...

Well, Yid I really like this. It is about time....

I don't have a problem with "Most" religious celebrations" However when the other religions tell me I can't celebrate while they do? I have a real problem with it.


Anonymous said...

Well written, thank you :)

Jack Steiner said...

Happy Holidays is an appropriate greeting. Really, I mean it. I wrote a post about it that still gets plenty of attention.

People go nuts over this.