A Nation of Grinches

(More comments have been added to this entry.)

A Hassidic rabbi “asked” the Seattle-Tacoma airport to place an eight-foot-high menorah next to the highest of the nine “holiday trees” in the airport’s international arrival hall, as reported in the Seattle Times. The airport felt that if they had a menorah, they would have to have symbols for every religion, and the “staff didn’t have time to play cultural anthropologists.” As the negotiations went on, the rabbi’s attorney, Harvey Grad, threatened to sue the airport. At that point the airport decided to take down the holiday trees—which had been a familiar, decades-old tradition at the airport—so as to avoid the issue altogether. This got a lot of people upset. The rabbi, Elazar Bogomilsky, says he is “appalled” at the airport’s response to his “simple” request. His attorney Grad complains: “They’ve darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up. There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.” Isn’t that rich? These Jews make the trouble, they threaten to sue, they virtually force the airport to take down the trees, and now they’re whining that Jews are being unfairly blamed.

The trees are a non-denominational expression of our common culture, derived from Christianity, but not specifically Christian. Bogomilsky wanted a Jewish symbol. The airport was right that this would soon mean every religion under the sun would have to be represented. But Bogomilsky didn’t care about that. He wanted his religion represented in the airport.

I don’t blame Bogomilsky so much as I blame the majority culture which has given minorities the message that the fundamental meaning of America is diversity, and that minorities should expect as a right the public representation of their cultures and religions. The real result of defining a society as “diverse” is not that you end up with the “riches of diversity.” It’s that you end up in an empty space, with the once-cheerful lights turned out.

* * *

Rabbi Bogomilsky had even more chuztpah than I originally realized. According to the website of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the rabbi didn’t just want an eight-foot high menorah installed next to the highest of the nine holiday tree, he wanted a menorah lighting ceremony:

Holiday Tree Removal: The Port of Seattle is an organization that works with and respects cultures from around the world. The decision to remove the holiday trees was made to avoid litigation with a local religious organization which wanted to install a menorah and hold a lighting ceremony. The airport is not a traditional public forum and it would not be appropriate for such a ceremony, so we made the decision to remove the trees to allow the airport staff to focus on the busy travel season.

Also, Rabbi Lapin of Toward Tradition is urging Jews (including the litigious rabbi who started the whole mess) to sign a petition urging the airport to reinstall the Christmas trees. But Lapin left out a key element for this to work. If the Bogomilsky does not join the petitioners, and does not commit to drop his lawsuit, why should the airport put back the trees, since he might just start up his suit again?

And here’s another angle on this. Who the heck ever heard of a Hassidic Jew caring about what is going on in America’s mainstream culture and secular spaces? Since when do Hasids care about competing with Christians over public symbols? Since when do Hasids care about Hanukah, which is not important as a religious holiday and is more a Jewish national holiday (and not a very important one at that, until in 20th century America it was built up to turn it into an equivalent of Christmas)? By the way, Rabbi Lapin refers to him as his friend.

Leonard K. writes:

I don’t share your indulgence to the rabbi, and below is the e-mail I sent him. I agree with your conclusion regarding the liberal majority culture, but that doesn’t make the rabbi’s behavior, with the threat of law suit, etc., less disgusting.

To: rabbi@chaiseattle.com

Dear Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky:

I would like to “thank you” (sarcastically) for getting Christmas trees removed from the Seattle airport. With your threat of law suit, you succeeded in destroying a historic American tradition, and in poisoning the relations between the Christians and the Jews. You add fuel and ammunition to the Jew haters’ arsenal, and you are a disgrace for the Jewish people.

Do not accuse me of anti-Semitism; unlike you, I love the Jewish people and am Jewish myself.

No regards,
Leonard K.

Sam B. writes:

I’d like to think that most rational Jews—of which I am one—deplore this nut job of a “rabbi.” He’s probably a Reform—i.e., liberal. He’s an embarrassment to the Jewish community. As if we need more anti-Semitic hostility. The anti-Semites will chortle with glee. That’s expected. What bothers is that many well-meaning Christians, and evangelicals, ordinarily Jews’ best friends, may be toppled from a very fragile fence—into hostility. Thus the “good works” this “rabbi” has rendered. He’s a (Jewish) mirror image of some of those imams.

LA writes:

Rabbi Daniel Lapin knows and likes Rabbi Bogomilsky, the Grinch Who Stole the Christmas Trees. Michael Medved (no link at the moment) also knows and likes Bogomilsky, and he strives mightily to show that the removal of the Christmas trees from the Seattle-Tacoma airport was not the rabbi’s fault, but that of the airport authorities, who decided to remove the trees in response to … uh, now what was that in response to again? Oh, yes, it was in response to—and there’s the little fact at the center of this saga which Medved takes many paragraphs to admit: the rabbi and his lawyer threatened a federal civil lawsuit over the Christmas trees. Medved calls this a “mistake.” He declines to identify it for what it is—the smoking gun that destroys any claim, on Bogomilsky’s part, on his lawyers’s part, and on Medved’s part, that Bogomilsky was acting on good will.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 10, 2006 09:57 PM | Send

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