Airport Christmas Trees Gone After Rabbi’s Request

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That’s ABC News’ title for the following story, for which ABC also managed to provide the most inflammatory first paragraph that I’ve seen:

There is a damper on Christmas cheer at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: A rabbi’s complaint led to the removal over the weekend of synthetic Christmas trees that have decorated the entrances every holiday season for the last 25 years.

What the Rabbi did was not ask for the removal of the trees — like Chabad shelichim everywhere, he asked for the addition of a Menorah. But not content to ask for a Menorah, he demanded it, and threatened to sue if they said no. The airport then realized that this “would have required adding symbols for other religions and cultures in the Northwest,” and they logically decided that the best move was to pull the trees.

The Rabbi’s lawyer is quoted as saying, “There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.” No, you’re kidding. Really? It requires a truly penetrating legal mind to realize this might make the Jews look bad, given the national news coverage of this story. As a friend and Kiruv professional in Milwaukee put it, “I don’t think they call this ‘Kiddush Hashem.'”

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24 Responses

  1. Moshe says:

    No doubt the Shliach’s PR handling was awful, but the hardest part of this story to me is to have to read the shameful reaction of frum Jews, which is a far greater chilul hashem to me than any of the Rabbi’s action or his lawyer’s.

  2. Philip Kouse says:

    I reside in the Seattle area and daven at a Conservative shul, and have watched the national reports as well as local news. National media tended to present removal of the Christmas trees as a reasonable response to threat of a lawsuit and a lamentable concession to Jews demanding political correctness. The rabbi and the lawyer (I am acquainted with the lawyer, and he is a very reasonable and gracious person) have denied in the media that there was any threat of a lawsuit. The general feeling here, except among the Christian Right, seems to be the Port overreacted. The Sunday Seattle Times quoted Port of Seattle authorities, however, as saying they were afraid that the precedent might require that the airport staff, might be required in the future to erect the hanukkiah. Said the POS, there just is not enough staff to erect the 8 foot hanukkiah too. Apparently there were enough staff to erect and decorate 14 Christmas trees, take them down, and put them up again. I have an idea what is going on here, and I do not think it is Chabad that should be blamed.

  3. One Christian's perspective says:

    I don’t remember reading about Christmas trees in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. A religious symbol would be a stable with a small donkey a mother, father, child and shepherds – BTW, the wise men came much later – and displaying these in public spaces have/would cause a major uproar. Go for the menorah, it puts a big smile on my face because it celebrates G-d’s faithfulness and provision and it does have religious significance. Rabbi Daniel Lapin was more upset about the tree than I was and that brought joy to my heart. He showed me the torah is all about loving your neighbor as yourself. Here’s a hug; don’t beat yourself up. In todays growing secular world, we’re both minorities.

  4. Sarah Elias says:

    But the anti-Semitism that was awakened is not going to go away quite so fast. Aizehu chochom? Horoeh es hanolod.

  5. joel rich says:

    The trees are back, it was all a big misunderstanding.
    KT

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Chabad, like anybody else, needs to consider the results of its actions ahead of time. Intentions are not the whole story.

  7. Michoel says:

    Thinking of noble intentions reminds me of a nice humorism attributed to Rav Hutner. Please excuse my approximation of the Yiddish.

    “Chachmah. Binah. Da’as. Uber, in a bissel seichal iz felt.”

    Everyone considers their own intentions noble. Neturei Karta in Iran, Religious Zionists kids yanking head coverings off Arab women, Charedim throwing rocks. A person has to think responsibly.

  8. Sara says:

    Chabad has done more for yiddishkeit then many of the Chabad bashing posters will ever do in their whole life. The way the Rabbi went about putting up the menorah was not the smartest idea, but his intentions were noble. If you ask why they have to have these huge menorahs that don’t blend in like the x-mas trees, then maybe you should go to one of the menorah lightings and see how many non-frum Jews are attracted to such events. If you don’t like something then change it, but don’t be nasty about people whose whole life’s buisness is about tending to the needs of others.

  9. Nachum says:

    Hillel, do you really think that secular American Jews need to be reminded about Chanukah? It’s probably the one thing that they actually know a lot about.

    Furthermore, there’s no mitzvah to have huge menorahs in public.

    Yes, it is an obssession. Want proof? Look at the shape of the menorahs in question.

    Bob: Even worse, Orthodox Jews have long used the defense of “Well, it’s just secular Jews who complain about Christmas- don’t blame us.” No longer.

  10. Michoel says:

    I think this discussion provides a nice case study for the discussion about daas Torah posted by Rabbi Adlerstein. Did this young Chabad Rabbi ask someone bigger than himself whether or not it is a good idea to threaten legal action? Could that person please stand up? If this rabbi decided on his own that such a rash act was in the interests of Klal Yisrael, someone should forward to him the words of the Chazon Ish quoted by Bari in the daas Torah thread.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    As far as the public could tell, this rabbi represented the Jews and Judaism, or at least Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism, not a subgroup with its own agenda based on its own leader’s distinctive approach. This fact put added responsibility on the rabbi in Seattle when he made his foolish decisions.

  12. barry says:

    That Chabad went overboard in Seattle, and that the rest of us will be perceived as Grinches, and worse, is obvious.

    What is even more regrettable is that it’s our fault. Too many of us have aquiesced over the years–and for what?–in not challenging Chabad’s sham argument that the menorah/chanukiah is a cultural, and not a religious, symbol–and as such ‘eligible’ for display on public land.

    The Chashmona’im are rolling in their graves over that one.

    If Chabad truly believed in cultural vs. religious symbolism, they’d erect 40 foot high dreidels in public parks.

  13. Ploney says:

    Bob Miller: The place where it says that we need to put up big menorahs on public property is the writings of Rabbi MM Schneerson. Surely you don’t think this shaliach would have done it otherwise? I don’t think, however, that he justified making brachos l’vatala and other problems which come up with Chabad menorah lightings – at least I hope not.

    PS: I reread the article, and realized that the headline was in fact inflammatory, though technically correct. Still, most of the fault here does not rest with the airport.

  14. HILLEL says:

    Nachum:

    I must disagree with your characterization of ChaBad’s outreach effors as an “obsession.”

    Putting-up menorahs, putting-on tefilin, and giving Jews an opportunity to do the MitzVah of Lulav and Esrog are the various ways in which Lubavitch wakes up ignorant Jews in America and all over the world, who have never had an opportunity to know their heritage.

    The idea is to get such people thinking about Judaism and what it means to be a Jew–to raise Jewish consciousness and, hopefully, to go forward from there.

    This particular Lubavitch Shaliach (emissary) obviously suffers from a lack of guidance in how to conduct himself in carrying out his noble mission of helping his fellow Jews rediscover their authentic Jewish roots. This could never have happened when the Rebbe, ZT”L, was still alive.

    This Rabbi tried to use legal force, and, in the process achieved just the opposite result of what he intended. He became a pariah among the vast majority of Jews and Christians who heard the story.

    His action was a dangerous embarrassment for Torah Jews in America and all over the world.

    “ChaChoMim HiZaHaru BeDivReiChem!”

  15. Nachum says:

    The Chabad obssession with putting up menorahs diminishes Judaism and halacha. It’s that simple. A menorah is not a “holiday decoration,” it’s the way we fulfill a mitzvah on what is, in fact, a “minor” holiday.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Someone show me where it says we need to put up big menorahs outdoors on public property. Some people who should know better twist and turn to justify them as cultural symbols without religious content. How has our mighty symbol fallen!

    But if a Jewish movement wants to make a polite request to do this, whether the idea has merit or not, that doesn’t bother me. The dangerous insanity, though, of making overt or implicit demands and threats in this connection testifies to a lack of forethought and responsibility.

    Like it or not, we are a beleaguered minority and cannot just work our cultural will on the general population. We should save our energy for the fights we need to win.

  17. Jak Black says:

    I posted some fairly extensive thoughts on this over at mishmar.blospot.com.

    From the perspective of Rabbi Bogomilsky, I think the problem is that some have essentially forgotten that the Jewish people are a nation in exile. Yes, perhaps he didn’t mean for this to happen. But he should have thought of every possible outcome before he decided to threaten them with a lawsuit. The headline I saw last night on CNN was: “Rabbi threats bring down Christmas tree.” That can’t be good for the Jews.

  18. Cee says:

    How about reading the whole story. Including the part where the Rabbi asked TWO MONTHS IN AdVANCE for a Menorah to be added and they refused to give him a decision instead they ignored him and went ahead with only the Xmas trees.

    http://michaelmedved.townhall.com/blog/g/abb10fee-2d2b-4625-a868-15161c9bf635

    Ploiny, It’s nice to see you’d rather side with a bunch of anti semitics who couldnt BARE to see a dirty menorah next to thier holy trees and would rather have nothing then g-d forbid have to give equal treatment to Jews and Christians then side with Chabadniks.

    You sadly, reek of Sinas Chinam. How beautiful.

    We have a menorah on display in Moscow, but we can’t have one in the Seattle Airport.

  19. Ahron says:

    Actually my understanding is that the rabbi requested the addition of the Channukah menorah over 2 months ago. After the airport management declined to give any response he apparently took the tack of waving a large scary-looking “LAWSUIT!!!” flag (at least that’s how it must have looked to the aerocrats). It obviously was not R. Bogomilsky’s desire for Sea-Tac to remove the Christian holiday symbols! Quite the opposite–his goal was the addition of a menorah, a seasonal symbol whose appearance has become de rigeur in many major US cities. I tend to think the real story here is not the Rabbi’s request but the airport’s paranoid response–another seasonal item that has become de rigeur in many major US cities….

  20. Ploney says:

    What on earth is inflammatory about that opening paragraph? It’s perfectly accurate. It doesn’t say that he requested its removal. Frankly, the whole thing reeks of Chabad arrogance.

  21. SephardiLady says:

    My mistake. The last part of the short piece my husband brought home was cut off. The last sentence mentioned the threat of a lawsuit and the lawyer.

  22. Yaakov says:

    I think your point could have been effectively made without the snide swipe at the lawyer. On behalf of all Jewish lawyers, I am offended.

    Also, do you think the Rabbi wanted the chillul hashem – who do you hold responsible for the lack of trees, the Rabbi or the Airport? Some airport commissioners were quoted as being furious for their colleagues grinch-like move. They wanted to put up the Menorah and worry about other faiths next year.

  23. SephardiLady says:

    The little tiny piece that my husband brought home was much nicer and didn’t mention the demand, just a request. I guess the reporter was being kind, because demanding and threatening to sue is anything but.

    This report, and others I have seen, made mention that the request was only made weeks ago. If a lesson can be learned from this (besides the obvious), it would be to make arrangements with businesses and agencies that you are dealing with well in ADVANCE!

    There is all sorts of bureacracy in every business. And, since 9-11, airports probably would win the prize for the most red tape that needs to be cut through. The arrangements should have been made 6 months ago, not on “Jewish time.”

  1. December 13, 2006

    […] Thanks to our alert reader Joel Rich, we can report that the trees have returned to Seattle-Tacoma Airport: […]