The Trees Are Back

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

Seattle-Tacoma Airport maintenance workers returned 14 artificial Christimas tree to the terminal after a flap over a rabbi’s threat to file suit over the lack of menorahs – lamps that commemorate the Jewish celebration of Hanukah – at the airport.

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of the Seattle Chabad Lubavitch had requested that an 8-foot-tall menorah be added to the display but had never asked for the removal of the trees, according to a December 11 statement released by Patricia Davis of the Port of Seattle commission.

Rabbi Bogomilsky “never asked us to remove the trees, it was the port’s decision based on what we knew at the time” according to the airport’s statement. “There’s been such an outcry from the public – from people of all faiths – who believe that the trees should be reinstalled,” Davis said, “I’m very thankful that we can return the trees and get back to running our airport during this very busy holiday season.”

As the Walla-Walla Union-Bulletin put it today, “threatening to file a federal lawsuit, as the rabbi did, is probably not the most diplomatic way to approach the situation.” The rabbi, unsurprisingly, got hate mail over this, and thankfully cooler heads eventually prevailed all around.

Next year, of course, the rabbi will probably get his Menorah — and will proceed to recite blessings over it while simultaneously attempting to get non-Jews to believe it’s a non-sectarian symbol.

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8 Responses

  1. Sholom says:

    “I never understood what is to be gained by the public lighting. Is it to promote and spur the lighting of the menoreh by the Jewish public in private homes? Is it not possible that some Jewish attendees at these lightings might feel that they are yotzei the mitzveh with the lighting ceremony CHABAD conducts”

    The audience at which a public lighting is aimed has no clue what “yotzei the mitzvah” is.

    No, as R Eliezrie said, it’s to connect with those assimilated Jews who otherwise have no connection at all to any Jewish institution. There are, r”l, millions more of those kinds of Jews than the rest of us.

  2. Dovid Eliezrie says:

    Two points:
    What is gained by the public Menorahs. More than you can imagine. Chanukah is the one of the few times a year that American assimilated Jews look for something Jewish. The Menorahs have become a way for them to connect with Yiddikiskiet. I see from my lightings. People come out of the woodwork and almost every year it leads, for some to greater connection. You can see it by the numbers. Hundreds of thousands of Jews come to these lightings.
    As for Seattle. The airpot was unreal. It started as a simple request from an employee. He invovled the Schliach who met with the ariport. They said yes, they said no, they cancelled meetings, simply put they really acted like jerks. Finally the Bala BAtim wanted to send a lawyers letter and things went haywire.
    There is no precedent for this. In thousands of locations, from Laos to Los Angeles tons fo religions do not come out with their tradiitons. The airport was looking for an excuse. If it was anti semetism, which seems to be at play in Fr. Collins, I can’t tell you. But their reaction was quite a suprise.
    In the meanwhile if you want to see a Menorah at an airport, try Sofia on Hawaii.
    Dovid Eliezrie

  3. Micha Berger says:

    Except he was mirepresented. No one wanted to remove the tree. Rather, he pushed for his menorah. The airport management thought about the wide variety of religious minorities in the US (plus Kwanzaa!), and thought it was easier to take down the tree than open that can of worms.

    As the AP described it: Airport managers believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display, as Seattle Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky had requested, they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures, which was not something airport workers had time for during the busiest travel season of the year, Airport Director Mark Reis said earlier Monday.

    Some reporter decided to spin it as an anti-Christian thing, but it wasn’t. It was trying to get a menorah out there for Jews to be proud of. You know the kind of Jew I’m talking about…. Comes to you at the convenience store in Nowheresville Kentucky making sure to throw some Yiddish in a very contrived attempt to start conversation, just desperate to be able to say “Hey, I’m Jewish too!”

    Which explains why, when Rabbi Bogomilsky lost, he isn’t pressing the issue. Taking the tree down doesn’t serve his ends anyway.

    -mi

  4. Rafael Araujo says:

    I never understand the CHABAD drive to do public menoreh lighting, which, it can be assumed, justified the Rabbi’s action in his own mind. Besides the fact that public menoreh lighting is a contentious issue in halocheh, I never understood what is to be gained by the public lighting. Is it to promote and spur the lighting of the menoreh by the Jewish public in private homes? Is it not possible that some Jewish attendees at these lightings might feel that they are yotzei the mitzveh with the lighting ceremony CHABAD conducts, which is not the case? In fact here in Canada, I have seen writeups about these ceremonies where city officials, who are non-Jewish, actually lit the menoreh.

  5. Yirmeyahu says:

    If I understand the situation Rabbi Bogomilski’s lawyer threatened legal action if they did not respond by a given date. Rather than respond, they took down the trees. This may have been expected/unusual if face of someone challanging the presence of such displays at all, but I have never heard of such case when the objection is for inclusion. And no, the Rabbi didn’t wait until December to discuss this, it has been ongoing.

    “Next year, of course, the rabbi will probably get his Menorah—and will proceed to recite blessings over it while simultaneously attempting to get non-Jews to believe it’s a non-sectarian symbol.”

    Meantime we pretend that these are “holiday” trees. Many, if not most Jews, celebration of Chanukah is every bit as secular as the secular aspect of their holiday. These trees aren’t like flowers one brings in on special occassions, they are specifically placed in honor and celebration of a decidedly religious holiday.

    I am not one who thinks every public reference to religious is unconstitutional, but it seems to me that what has been done does not jive with the establishment clause. What has been said, in effect, is that it is only worth publicly celebrating the Christian holiday if it can be celebrated alone.

    I have had do listen to numerous co-workers comment that if the Menorah went up then everything else would have to be welcome? So what? Nevermind that there aren’t so many competing “holidays” to give displays to but as far as I’m concerned it is really all or nothing. If there is a community, especially who is willing to flip the bill for the display than they have the right to expect to be included when other religions are.

    I’m not sure how helpful that the mention of lawsuit was but I do not think that this outcome could have been anticipated.

  6. Ahron says:

    Well and truly summarized R. Menken.

    We have to admit that this rabbi was simply following standard operating procedure in modern American society: If you want somebody to do something, threaten to steal their money legally. The ACLU does stuff like this all the time–it’s practically their raison d’etre and now that they’ve successfully threatened to sue the cross off the LA County seal they may well turn their attention next year to Sea-Tac airport’s (secular) (non-)”holiday” displays. If the ACLU had done this instead of a rabbi wouldn’t it have passed without much comment? It’s so common as to be almost boring.

  7. Daniela says:

    I saw this as a news on TV as about Jews who wanted to remove xmas trees. I was angry at rabbi, because anyone can pass the trees and ignore them. Reading this, I understand this better. However, the word of the media is out–Jews stole the Xmas in Seattle! Airports are buerocratic institutions with political correctness and when rabbi brought this issue, they probably did not know immediately what to do. The easiest road was to remove tree not to “offend” anybody–nobody is mad then, right? I thought it would be nice to have menorah displayed, but next time rabbi needs to come to city with proposal in August, not December.

  8. alfie says:

    a real kiddush hashem, eh?