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.”