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Should Springfield's Holiday Display Include a Menorah?

Is Springfield's holiday display not inclusive?

The lights adorning Springfield’s are down. Nonetheless, they were the center of a public debate about whether the town is doing right by its Jewish population with a winter holiday display lacking depictions of Judaism.

During public comments session of Springfield’s annual reorganization meeting last month, township resident Gail Donner decried the lack of a menorah on town hall.

“If Obama can have a menorah on the White House then we can have a Menorah here,” Donner said.

Donner said she had repeatedly contacted members of the Township Committee and administration about her complaint. She said she was distressed to learn the Menorah once affixed to Springfield Town hall had been broken down by Springfield Public works department employees.

“We’re paying for all of those bulbs,” Donner said. “We’re asking for nine lights."

Former Springfield Mayor William Ruocco took the mic and said that the first Menorah was erected in 1983, when he was Mayor. The large Menorah, Ruocco said, was taken down over concerns about separating church and state.

“There were objections that we were trying to make it a religious holiday,” Ruocco said.

Springfield’s winter decorations and event are officially called holiday celebrations, but many residents have noted that lights, particularly when involving a tree, trend towards Christmas. 

Springfield resident David Gerber asserted “the Jewish community was responsible for taking down the Menorah.” He said Springfield is a place where diversity can foster.

“I love living here,” Gerber said. “It’s always been a town of inclusion, not exclusion.”

Mayor Ziad Shehady said he would discuss the matter with Springfield’s Clergy Council.

Committee member Marc Krauss said that while he valued the lengths Springfield goes through for its annual holiday display, he believes it is not inclusive of the township’s sizable Jewish population.

“The town has a tree lighting ceremony for Christmas, Santa Claus pays a visit coming down the roof of Town Hall with the help of the fire department and the Recreation Department sets up a stage for so Christmas Carols can be sung,” Krauss said in an email. “These are all great things that brings a portion of the community together but excludes others, namely the Jewish community of Springfield.”

Krauss said a menorah or candelabra should be displayed in the same spirit as the tree lighting ceremony and other events. He implied that calling the annual festivities a holiday celebration was misleading, as it employs so many clear Christmas symbols.

“Garland, wreaths, red ribbons, lights in tree are representative of Christmas along with the events that have previous taken place in front of town hall.” Krauss said. “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

Shane Ronan February 01, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I personally think the township should end the practice of displaying holiday lights on town hall. It took considerable time for the town DPW employees to put up and take down the lights. Time which could be better spent on projects throughout town.
Doug W February 01, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I agree. The DPW employees spend too much time decorating town hall. Their time could and should be spent elsewhere in more a more productive manner. It was especially painfully evident this year when leave pick up took a back seat to Christmas decorations. Plus, a large number of our residents decorate for Christmas by putting lights outside. Why does the township need to do the same and have a tree lighting celebration with Santa? That most definitely needs to go.
Tom, Retired Springfield Firefighter February 01, 2012 at 11:04 PM
If you have a non religious Christmas light display there is no reason not to have a display representing the Jewish community as long as none of the other faiths displays represent religion. IF there is any display with a religous meaning then every religion should be able to share a spot on any townhall lawn. As I remember none of the current lights were religious in nature. IF it were religious there would have been a manager with Christian symbololic figures. The Christmas tree, Santa Claus and the lights are not a part of the bible or the story of the birth of Christ. The lights and tree are part of the general holiday season spirit not the Religious Holiday. In most towns it brings excitement for customers and merchants. If you go to Linden center you find representation of Jewish, Christians and other faiths. Other towns in the area have a Christmas Tree, Lights, Nativity scene, Menorah and other religious and non religious displays on government property. Isn't it possible that at this one time of the year when various religious believers of all faiths and those non believers can come together out of respect for each others religions, customs and beliefs?
ASquared Video Productions February 02, 2012 at 01:02 PM
As a Jewish resident of Springfield (the last name would say otherwise) it would have been nice to see a menorah by town hall considering we have a large Jewish population. I don't think stopping the tradition of the tree lighting and decorating the town hall is an answer considering ... no offense ... that the town is slightly more dull than the surrounding towns
Zachary Sandman February 03, 2012 at 04:37 AM
The "holiday" lights in front of town hall are a nice way for the town to celebrate the holiday season in a beautiful and meaningful way (although, in my opinion, they don't necessarily need to shine all through the night). The holiday lights are just that: holiday lights. Even if they are more closely associated with Christmas than Chanukah, they are by no means an explicit religious symbol. The same can absolutely not be said about a Menorah. A Menorah is a ritual object which is lit each night of Chanukah by Jews in fulfillment of a religious obligation. To put a Menorah on the lawn of Town Hall would be inappropriate unless overt symbols of other religions were placed there as well, such as a nativity scene. If I may suggest, as an alternative to the Menorah, perhaps a (giant) dreidel (the four-sided top traditionally used as a game during Chanukah) be placed on Town Hall, as a dreidel reflects Jewish culture and heritage without being a religious expression, much the same was that the holiday lights suggest a celebration of Christmas rather than an actual religious observance.
Rita McNany February 03, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Why would we even write about this? Leave it alone, it is fine the way it is. They are holiday lights! We have talked about this for years in Springfield. Let us enjoy our holiday while everyone else enjoys theirs. Keep religion out of it.
Michael McMahon February 03, 2012 at 09:22 PM
You are all idiots, if it wasn't for Jesus Christ there would not be a Christmas. No matter what the politicians and others think it is a religious Holyday in a holiday season. Cetainly the Jewish community is entitled to the same governmental approach to a major Holyday in a holiday season as any representative religion should. Just remember to leave a note for your children and grandchildren what they had taken away from them by a deteriotating society overly consumed by thier materialistic concept of life.
Ricarda Freydel November 25, 2012 at 03:01 PM
As a a Jewish resident of Springfield that celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas (my better half isn't Jewish), I would love to see a menorah up by the town hall. We do have a sizable Jewish community here in town. There are other towns that have both a christmas tree and a menorah. Why can't we do the same thing? I am sure most of the Jewish residents would appreciate seeing a menorah up for the holidays.
Springfield Neighbor November 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
A great idea by Mr. Sandman, it puts just the right "Spin" on this issue.... A Dreidel (or two) would be the appropriate balance to the other holiday lights and none religious symbols (Christmas trees and wreaths) without being a "Religious" symbol (like a Menorah or Nativity scene). The Dreidel would be one more holiday reminder without crossing the line to religion.
Let's be honest November 25, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Trees adorned with lights, wreaths, and Santa Claus are all representations of Christmas, not the " GENERAL holiday season," regardless of whether they are religious in nature. I challenge you to find one Jewish resident who feels the Town Hall decorations and fesitivites are simply for holiday spirit., as it is a Christmas - time custom to display lights during this time of year. I always appreciated the snowflake decorations on the street lights and used to be proud to see a menorah in front of the town hall in addtion to the Christmas decor It would be nice to see it up again.

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