MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Christmas trees are back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Last week, the trees were taken down when a rabbi threatened to sue after he asked the airport to add a menorah to the display and the airport declined. Well, yesterday, the rabbi backed off his threat and the trees were put back. Commentator Holly Lebowitz Rossi is impressed. No, actually, she's not impressed.
HOLLY LEBOWITZ ROSSI: Well, whoopee. The Christmas trees are back. But there's still are no immediate plans to display a menorah, at least according the airport's spokesman. And for that, the airport is wrong.
Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, who made the menorah request, is from the Chabad Lubavitch community, which is known for lighting enormous menorahs in public places all over the world. Here in Massachusetts, the large Chabad menorah will stand right next to the city's Christmas tree on the Boston Common. And a Chabad menorah will be lit in the rotunda of the Washington State Capitol Building on December 18.
So the rabbi was shocked at the airport's rejection of his proposal. But by calling his lawyer, he played right into the hands of a nation and the media that still seems hungry to perpetuate the so called war on Christmas.
In far poorer taste than the rabbi's threatened lawsuit, though, was the airport's trifling display of cowardice in the face of his challenge.
Airport spokespeople said if they display the menorah, they would open themselves up to a myriad of other religious holiday display requests. So what? Were they worried that Wiccans would insist on massive solstice decorations, or afraid that the Buddhists wouldn't be far behind with the demands for a Rohatsu display. The airport decided, let's just undeck the halls altogether rather than wade into an infaith mess. The incident accomplished nothing, except, maybe, reenergizing the Christmas worst foot soldiers.
But in the process, the airport managed to make Jews out to be grouchy scrooges who are out to ruin Christmas. The message boards on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's Web site are fully of swipes like I think this rabbi should be put on a no-fly list, and this rabbi was clearly rabid. These comments are an embarrassment for so many reasons, not least of which is that the rabbi said he only wanted to add light to the season, and he never asked that the Christmas trees be removed.
Personally, I've always felt impatient at the suggestion that I would be offended as a Jew because Christmas is so culturally pervasive in America. I don't feel proselytized too when a stranger wishes me merry Christmas. At worst, I feel inaccurately marketed to when it happens in a store. But come on, to me, far worse than having to smile awkwardly at the checkout counter would be to endure yet another year of a politically charged debate that assigns insanely high stakes to how we talk publicly about the winter holidays.
So I still hold out hope that all will quiet on the Christmas front. Then, maybe we can even head toward John Lennon's utopian ideal - happy Christmas, war is over. The word Hanukkah, by the way, means dedication in Hebrew. What an inspiring possibility that we could dedicate ourselves to issues that really matter, wars that are really being fought. Then, we could finally embrace that beautiful, fragile December lesson. War is over if you want it.
NORRIS: Holly Lebowitz Rossi is an editor at beliefnet.com. She chronicles the political, cultural and religious whirlwind that accompanies the holiday season.
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