Tuesday, December 12, 2006

my crazy homeland

A few days ago, a rabbi who felt that the Seattle-Tacoma (SEA-TAC) airport's fifteen Christmas trees were not a sufficiently diverse seasonal display asked that the airport allow a menorah to be placed on airport property. Barring that, the rabbi, Elazar Bogomilsky, planned to sue the Port of Seattle, which manages SEA-TAC.

Claiming that it did not want to go through litigation and conceding that the Christmas trees might not be representative for all cultures, the airport responded to the rabbi's demand by taking down the decorative trees.

Since that time, the rabbi has received hate mail from citizens who believe he is at fault for having caused this public relations fiasco.

There's enough fault to go around, in my opinion. Rabbi Bogomilsky didn't need to threaten the Port of Seattle with a suit, but his request for the placement of a menorah was, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate.

The Port of Seattle/SEA-TAC's response was shameful in this political correctness, not to mention a snub to the Jewish contingent. The message, albeit unintended, is, "We'll go to any lengths to prevent the display of a menorah, even to the point of taking down our standard decorations."

The general public's reflexive response-- writing hate mail to the rabbi-- was equally stupid. The rabbi was demanding inclusion, which was not an unreasonable thing to ask for. The brunt of the public's anger should be directed against the airport.

From a recent article:

Harvey Grad, the rabbi's attorney, said it was never Bogomilsky's intention to have the trees removed and the rabbi was "saddened" by the port's decision to remove all holiday decorations instead of including the Menorah for Hanukkah.

"We are not part of the war on Christmas," said Grad. "All we asked for was inclusion and now we're getting hate mail and angry messages."

The Chabad of Greater Seattle asked the airport to put the trees back and will not pursue any legal action even if the airport does not include the menorah into this year's holiday decorations.

An airport alive with seasonal displays from specific religious traditions would be heartwarming to me. In fact, I see nothing wrong with religious displays popping up the entire year-- there's always something to celebrate. Rules can be crafted to determine the size of religious displays (I'd recommend leaning toward tasteful minimalism, not chintz and gawdiness); large airports have enough free wall and hall space to accommodate hundreds if not thousands of different traditions. America is a big country; there quite literally is room for everybody. Instead of being afraid to offend, we should be eager to share.


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