Seattle Airport Removes Christmas Trees After Chabadnik Demands Addition of Menorah

For all the talk about America being a melting pot, blah blah blah, I still recognize and accept the fact that America is a Christian-dominant society. So when I see a menorah in a holiday display in a store window, I usually think, “Look at the goyim pander. Isn’t that cute?” Likewise, if I see a holiday display in which there is no menorah, I generally don’t take it personally. Perhaps it’s because I’m not big on the whole “Chanukah as a Christmas analogue” thing. That, and I don’t really feel the need my faith to be affirmed by municipal halls and department store windows. It’s just not worth having a bug up your ass about, as one Chabad rabbi in Washington state recently discovered, after he threatened to sue the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for not having a menorah in their holiday display:

All nine Christmas trees have been removed from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport instead of adding a giant Jewish menorah to the holiday display as a rabbi had requested.
Maintenance workers boxed up the trees during the graveyard shift early Saturday, when airport bosses believed few people would notice.
“We decided to take the trees down because we didn’t want to be exclusive,” said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt. “We’re trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year.”

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky’s lawyer responded to the airport’s decision saying, “There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.”
No shit? Maybe the good rabbi should’ve thought of that before threatening a lawsuit. Thanks for looking out, chief.

40 thoughts on “Seattle Airport Removes Christmas Trees After Chabadnik Demands Addition of Menorah

  1. I find the airport’s response curious.
    Why was taking down the trees a better response in their eyes than adding a menorah, and perhaps, while they’re at it a bit of stuff for Kwanzaa and solstice as well?
    Taking the trees down “because we didn’t want to be exclusive” just doesn’t fit – it’s not inclusivity that was achieved, but equal opportunity exclusivity.
    It is a move that seems designed to fan the flames of “the war on the war on Christmas” by saying, in essence, the damn Jews ruined it for everybody.

  2. Dan,
    The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with you. According to them, in a case fought and re fought 30 times over the last 20 years, the courts have ruled that in any case whee a tree is displayed a menorah could and should be displayed as well. While you may enjoy from a liberal political standpoint in pointing out this country is very christian, in the end, it should be like that. Either we make room for everyones holiday or nobody’s.
    I agree with Rich’s statement. Th Airport over reacted. Nebech, they would have had to add a Menorah to their display. Not only was this not hard, but the Rabbi was offering to provide the Menorah.
    I’m surprised THIS is a angle you went with this story and not with the ridiculousness response of the airport. Additionally, while you call it ““Chanukah as a Christmas analogue”, I call it Persumei Nisah, which is part of the celebration and tradition of Chanukah. What better way to be Persumei Nissah then to have it displayed in such a public setting. Especially where there already is another holiday display.
    It’s also about Jewish pride, being proud of our history and wanting to celebrate the great miracle that Hashem preformed for us. I’m surprised you would want to take the postilion of, “let’s just be a good little American Jews and not complain too much”
    Respectfully yours, Chaim

  3. Hareidm of any stripe have no right to set policy or claim representation of the American Jewish community. They claimed the U.S. was a “treifa medina” prior to the end of WWII, and now they should shut the fuck up, and stick to core issues like legally protecting (through machinations) sucking bloody baby penis immediately following an infant’s circumcision, risking mental retardation and death of the child. These are the policies they may protest. Not Christmas trees.
    I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

  4. Who the hell cares what the goyim think? The Chabadniks don’t care what the goyim think. They know that Yeedishkeit must be proclaimed loudly and proudly throughout the land — with gigantic menorahs in every public square — so that everyone will know that we are Jews and that we have our own holiday, Chanukah, which is even more important than Xmas, since it commemorates our absolute refusal to surrender to the dark and hideously disgusting forces of assimilation and Hellenism during the second century BCE.

  5. If asking for a little token gesture of a menorah will get people to take down the X-mas trees, I’m gonna send a letter to every business in the country. I don’t want to see menorahs in public. I’m sick of people thinking that Chanukah actually matters simply because it happens to share some temporal proximity with X-mas. I just loathe X-mas more and more every year. My loathing for it is directly proportional to how long it lasts–hence me loathing it more and more seeing as how it gets longer and longer. It’s not that I’m Ebenezer Scrooge here, it’s just that you CANNOT ESCAPE IT. In the US, 3 things are certain: Death, Taxes, and the fact that you WILL learn the lyric of Christmas carrols…whether you like it or not. If a ridiculous Chabadnik is gonna give me a little solace, mazal tov.

  6. I’m with Mobius on this one. Regardless of anyone’s personal issue (or non-issue) with having Menorahs next to Christmas trees, the fact is that a Chabad rabbi threatened to sue an airport for not having a Menorah up.
    It’s a bad look a) Because he’s playing into the stereotype that when Jews don’t like something, they sue because they figure they can get money out of it. And b) because while the Chabad definitely DO NOT represent the Jewish American community, they are pretty visible Jews. Meaning that when people see them, they might say “Oh, look, it’s those Jews trying to take Christmas away from us.” Those Jews = All Jews.
    (And I know from having had a few people say that to me, that there are people who do indeed think Jews are trying to take Christmas away from them)

  7. M, first he ASKED, then he threatened the suit. Come on … you know that. That’s how its been done around the country for decades. In most cases though the people who make
    these decisions are more rational and realize it’s only fair to represent all religions (or none.)
    This latest thing is a cut off your nose despite your face type of decision. They were LOOKING to make the JEW look like the Grinch, and you taking this position feeds right into their plan.
    Shylock, it’s one thing not to like Xmas, but it’s quite another thing all together to compare it to Chanukah. As Jews we should strive to remember that Chanukah isn’t the same watered down commercialized version of their holiday.
    Be sick of Xmas, but don’t be sick of our own history and sense of celebration and tradition.

  8. I am afraid that I mostly agree with Mobius on this one, but might even go a bit further. in the following respects:
    (1) Whether we like it or not [and I personally don’t like it at all], the U.S. is not only a “Christian dominated” nation, but is so completely pseudo-Christian dominated that the average Ameican looks at all other religions as just some variant of Christianity. Hence, while I think that there are still some Christian Americans who are honestly in favor of “multi-culturalism,” most of these are also totally ignorant of what it is that they would be “tolerating.” Hence, what is expressed is, at best, “tolerance,” not acceptance of another valid alternative.
    (2) While there are still those well intentioned Christian Americans a growing segment [or maybe it was there all along and just was cowed until recently] are breaking out their hoods and robes and becoming vocally and adamently not even tolerant. Peculiarly, some of these people purport to be Jews, as we have seen recently when Dennis Prager publically demonstrated his need for psychiatric counseling.
    (3) The above creates a need to choose one’s battles and tactics carefully, not only so they don’t aid the growing Klan contingent, but also to be certain that they demonstrate what it is you are, in fact, meaning to achieve.. The Chabad rabbis’ threatened lawsuit was about the stupidest move possible given the situation and the need to be particularly clear about our communal ends in light of the situation. If I may paraphrase the message this conveyed “If you don’t put our symbol up [even though you don’t understand it and it just pisses you off to see it there] we will take away your secular/pagan/Christimas tree [propably the one symbol all year that makes most of these pseudo Christians feel good]. ”
    Oh, ya, that’s smart and will undoubtedly sternghen toleance and most American’s positive interest in Judaism. Maybe these same Chabad rabbis could next sponsor a picket line with signs reading “the so-called Virgin Mary was really an adulterous whore” for their local Catholic Church Simdau servoce. That would make “it” clear, whatever the “it” is in the minds of these guys..

  9. I saw this on the news last night and it made the guy look so crazy. While I’m a big supporter of Chabad, he could have had more tact and it was unnecessary to call his lawyer.

  10. The spokeswoman for the airport said, “We’re trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year.” It may be that they simply didn’t want to deal with it. Often, these things have to go through committee and a whole bureaucratic mess. They also might have been advised by legal counsel not to set a precedent – then they’d have to accommodate everyone, and it would be logistically impossible. I have to agree that the rabbi should have just left it alone.
    What troubles me most is that there’s always a lawyer willing to take the case, no matter how crazy or offensive or frivolous the lawsuit, and regardless of whether people will get hurt – and how often is that lawyer a Jew?

  11. I agree that chanukah does not need to be paralleled with christmas and that the huge chanukiot that chabad erects all over the place are kinda tacky but I wonder whether this impulse to outdo (or at least compete with) christmas doesn’t stem from the christian nature of america. seeing as the only way to demand equality for other religions is to point out christian privledge (public christmas trees) and do something similar (public chanukiot). the real egalitarian option would be to allow jews to express themselves in a way that is more appropriate to the jewish religion. but this is not likely because the way to obtain these rights (public chanukiah rights) was only through a comparison with christian rights.

  12. Last time I checked, Christmas trees didn’t really have anything directly to do with religion (heck, the Puritans banned them back when). Yes, they are associated with a Christian holiday, and I therefore wouldn’t put one in my home, but a tree is very different from a crucifix or nativity scene. And last time I checked “ruining it for everyone” isn’t a Jewish value.
    Sometimes you gotta pick your battles… Reb Elazar chose poorly.

  13. Ruchel, I just want to reply to one thing you said, and then I’m gonna leave this alone because I see I’m having my backside handed to me in that no one else seems to agree with me on this thread.
    People keep raising the comparison between the commercialization of Xmas and the will to display the Menorah in these public places. It’s not the intention of the Chabad rabbi or any other Jewish Organization (believe me, it’s not just Chabad) that attempt to display a Menorah in a public place just because the Xmas tree is also there and we demand equal time or to “compete” with them.
    It’s the concept that of all the Jewish holidays, this is one where PART of the MITZVAH is PERSUMEI NISAH. Which means that part of the obligation of this holiday is to tell the world of the miracle that G-d performed for us. That’s why we put our Menorah by the windows. We want to the world to know what Hashem did for us.
    The Chabad Rabbi in this case and in every other case where they seek to display a Menorah in the same public (and heavy traffic) areas is a situation in which they are trying to keep in tradition with this custom of spreading the message of the miracle of Chanukah. The mistake people keep making here is in thinking the Rabbi is just trying to copy or “outdo” his Christian counterparts. That’s just not the case.

  14. I think the Airport is being irrational here. Putting up a Menorah would not necessitate any other religious displays as per the Suprem Courts ruling that the Menora/Chanukiah is more than a religious symbol but has appliacation in a non-religious context as well. So the Airport is full of shit in this respecty. (Dont trust me – google the ruling and run it by any attorney you know)
    Earlier today I heard Neal Boortz discussing this and a caller (a Reform or Conservative Rabbi) said, very condescendingly that Chabad is ULTRA ORTHODOX and doesnt represent mainstream Jews. Okay fine. So if I have a choice of which Rabbis represent me globally (if any) I much prefer Chabad who fanatically put up massive Menorahs on display (promoting Jewish pride – at least for me) than a reform or conservative Rabbi allowing Gay Rabbis but they can only have sex with women – if they are married to them . . . ?!
    One more thing, i’ll bet the only people fighting for the Menorah not to be displayed are Jewish people. The Christians don’t mind, in fact they like it!

  15. Case in point.
    I was at the (non-Jewish) retirement center here when the Chabad Rabbi was putting up a menorah (with permission) and everyone loved it and was admiring it. Then two Jewish ladies went up to the Rabbi and berated him saying that the blue magen david foil around the Christmas tree was enough and this is just TOO much!

  16. Besides all of this very smart conversation about Jews being bad for the Christian holiday season and leading the charge against the Yuletide sprit, can we just stop and think to ourselves when do the Jews come out looking good?
    General POLJ
    War Against Christmas
    ‘This year the trees, next year the world!’

  17. Question: Are we really Americans, or are we just Jews living in America? Are our traditions as legitimately American as theirs, or are just a protected group in a larger host society?

  18. Shmuel-
    Once again I point to the religious document of the United States and say turn to the page with First Amendment and the wonderful and inspired Establishment clause.
    Jews are as selfish, consuming, gluttonous and American as the next guy/gal.

  19. I am actually from Seattle so I understand the airport’s behavior. If a menorah was added to the Christmas tree display, then surely other groups also should have symbols from their cultures or religions. Seattle is a very heterogenous city, with a large population of people from a variety of Asian countries who are neither Christian nor Jewish, or even Muslim or celebrants of Kwanzaa for that matter. The usual monotheistic triumvirate doesn’t have as much power here in the Northwest. Also, as a city and region that has an uneasy relationship with out native population, as we both adore and ignore them, a display that does not include any Native American symbols would be incomplete and would be ignoring the history of the area. I know the Rabbi in question, and he is a good man who does a lot of great work in the community, particularly with Russian Jews.

  20. I think the more equitable thing, really, would be to make sure every Jew didn’t have to ask for the days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when OUR major holidays come around. A menorah in an airport? Whatever – however public spaces are decorated doesn’t really concern me. But I don’t like having to explain myself at every job I’ve ever had that yes, I do need to take that many days off in September/October for MY holidays. And if we’re so concerned about decorating public spaces so people know we exist, why not do it on our terms and insist on a sukkah in every airport each year?

  21. Living in China, I’m very removed from many of these problems, but I’m tired of explaining to Chinese people that I don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s a Christian holiday. And I’m not Christian. ‘We’re not Christian, and we celebrate it,’ they tell me, as if that should convince me. (Note: every mall in Shanghai has a huge Christmas tree, but the only large menorah is at the Chabad house, and it’s not so public.)

  22. Are we really Americans, or are we just Jews living in America? Are our traditions as legitimately American as theirs, or are just a protected group in a larger host society?
    our welcome has always been contingent on maintaining a balance between influence and restraint.
    we were expelled from the union at the outset of the civil war, and were pursued by the klan and the feds for leading the civil rights movement.
    mccarthy was also a purging of excessive jewish influence.
    cointelpro was aimed in our direction as well.
    these days we’re feeling a bit too comfortable again, with the scales are tipped in favor of influence.
    however our recent confidence is predicated on israel’s strength — a post ’67 group hallucination that has enraptured some and long disillusioned others. we forget how much israel’s strength is a loaner from the u.s.
    so you get aipac and abramoff scandals, rabbis threatening to sue for menorahs in aiports, and all manner of excessive behavior that betrays our experience of history. we dig our own holes.
    we helped build america. we made it our own. but america has always been wary of us, even as they laugh at our jokes, learn at our universities, and squander the rights and privileges we fought to obtain for all.
    it was the same in europe, the same in the middle east, and it will be the same no matter where we live, whether in chutz or haaretz — that is, so long as israel is a client state, which shall be indefinitely until the arrival of the messiah, our savior.
    until then, we need to keep the balance… and right now, dennis prager is the closest mutation we have to an attempt to do so.

  23. alisa: it’s illegal to proselytize in china. jews can’t invite non-jews to their functions and can’t brandish jewish symbols in the public sphere.

  24. This is really just a media hype thing. Don’t you notice every year the talk show hosts and that creepy John Gibson pulls out the “war on Xmas” topic..This is just for ratings..will be forgotten in a few days.
    Face it, xmas tress have nothing to do with the birth of JC, just like Hanukah is a man made holiday.Let’s celebrate miracles everyday.But also if Xmas trees were not a quasi religous symbol, they would appear in store windows in Feb. or June
    One year I had to fight to have “breafast w/ Santa” stopped at my kids school. Why? I pay tax dollars to that school. It was right before school and melded into the school day. And I asked what would be next…Lunch with Mohamed?Am I a scrooge?Maybe..
    But I used to go talk about Chanukah to my kids 98 % baptist classes. The last year I went a girl stood up during my “q&A” and said : DO you know what the red on the candy canes is for? no I dont…she yells out ” The Blood of Jesus”.
    oo what a creepy ghoulish faith
    jesus would have been reform anyway as he hated all the traditions and laws. He would have hated this Chabad Rabbi…to much competition!
    I love Chabad and will support them no matter…

  25. Mobius,
    it is true that our place as citizens of the u.s. has had some tense moments and no doubt there’s always been a significant portion of the population, individuals of influence, popular and fringe groups, that have had major beef with us.
    but it is also true that we’ve had our defenders who’ve stood alongside us or even before us, including President Lincoln, who, as soon as he’d found out about it four months later, rescinded Order #11 you refer to that the racist General Grant had put into action.
    my parents came to this country from Cuba in ’60. it wasn’t long before that time that the famous fountainblue hilton, designed by a jewish architect, didn’t allow “blacks, jews, or dogs.” and less than 20 years before that, the St. Louis was barred entry to the port of miami and could be seen from the beach behind the fountainblue (it had only come to the u.s. after docking in havana, where my grandfather was part of a welcoming committee that had to watch as the ship sailed away after cuban officials changed their minds).
    there’s tons of cases that can be recited ad nauseum…
    i’m not being very linear here, but our history in this country predates this country. we were colonialists, patriots, loyalists, etc. if what you say is true for most american jews, that our confidence as citizens in this country is predicated on israel’s success (and do not think this is true) this would be a sad and completely ignorant state of affairs.
    i hope i’m making some sense. i’m tired. time to go grade some papers.

  26. I should have written “and I do not think this is true.”
    also, i forgot to say that i don’t know why the rabbi was so quick to resort to the law, but i primarily put the blame in this situation on the airport. there are two major holidays during this season. and wether you agree with putting menorahs up in public or not, he had every right, as an american, to ask, request, attempt to persuade…
    and those of u freaking out b/c chabad doesn’t represent u, may i suggest relaxing a tad with some tea? you don’t want it, don’t have it, but you don’t contribute either when all you can do is knock a perfectly legit right of a fellow jew you may disagree with.
    and kelsey, your vehemence is sad. that’s not a personal attack, btw. feel as you wish.

  27. Here’s something that I received from a friend of mine, who is a Chabad Shliach in Seattly:
    “As for the happenings in SeaTac, no one EVER meant to force the trees to be taken down. In fact, the trees never even came up in the discussions between Chabad and SeaTac. The issue was to put up ONE menorah amongst the many trees. When the beurecrats refused to make a decision one way or the other and the holiday fast approaching, the decision was made to threaten with a lawsuit – with the SOLE objective to get the Port Authority to make a quick decision. Well, they did make a decision, but the worst one. 🙁
    Since then, Chabad has publicly announced that it was never their intent to sue, and they are not planning on it now.”

  28. I also agree with mobius, and miss hipstah… but chaim, use some common sense, understand how law and perception are two different things. And unfortunately, law doesn’t mean much.
    I don’t care what supreme court says. who wants to make a big stink about a christmas tree. really, who cares? it ain’t baby jesus in a nativity, its a tree with ornaments in it. we have to relax about these things. I don’t get angry when I see an easter bunny or santa clause either, to be linked with “war on christmas” isn’t a good thing, let people have their holiday, i don’t see how it is hurting you, your children, our society. its a capatilist socitey that panders to the majority who will buy stuff, case calosed.
    and when you make a big deal out of this, you just end up looking like a jerk, and when rabbi does things like this, they make it out like he speaks for the entire community, and he doesn’t.
    miss hipstuh is right, the rabbi fed the stereotype of a.) i don’t like something, i’m going to whine b.) i don’t like something, i’m gonna sue.
    i recognize that this isn’t how people should view it. But how is CNN going to report it, or god forbid FoxNews? Even the NY Times, it looks bad period.
    Realize, most peope are idiots, but that is reality. live and let live, concentrate on your life.

  29. BT, you ignorant moran.
    “oo what a creepy ghoulish faith
    jesus would have been reform anyway as he hated all the traditions and laws. He would have hated this Chabad Rabbi…to much competition!”
    thats really nice, very intelligent comments too! its a fact jesus was just full of hatred?
    And be honest here, the founders of this country, were by and large (really large), christian. Even I can admit, “we jews built this country” is a stretch. Christians are alright with me, Muslims area alright with me, hindus, etc… I don’t give a fuck if you believe in some crazy bullshit, its your life. To put that much negative energy into things like BT is doing, is disappointing, kind of sad, and exceptionally pathetic.
    I’m 28, I have no kids, but if I did, I would spend my with them, instead of complaining about santa.

  30. “chris” your name says it all and explains your above posts. Why Why don’t you blog on one of your own faith’s boards…yea and I do have kids…and we all have our own time and space to do what we enjoy…so don’t go off on my blogging vs. parenting!

  31. who cares? hankuah is to xmas as tanenbaums are to, well, xmas. Its not a particularly important religious holiday for us, and the tree is an inoffensive symbol as well. its actually a pagan symbol adoped by germanic christians, so what do we care? A cross or nativity scene is different… As long as get off for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, let em have a tree. in fact, I think that a very jewish thing would be for them to plant a whole forest rather than cut down one tree… we can keep our menorahs in our windows as we should….

  32. Why not put up a symbol of every holiday, there are not THAT many, I mean sure its a bit of work, but it would look good, and it’s an international airport right. I’m sure everyone would be cool with that.

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