Now that the trees have gone back up at SeaTac Airport, what lingers is anger and sadness in the Jewish community — and not much warm feeling at this time of year.
Nobody comes out of this episode looking good.
The whole situation could have been dismissed as another salvo in this ridiculous so-called war on Christmas, but for one thing: the resentment exhibited toward all Jews for the actions of one.
Should Chabad Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky have threatened a lawsuit, if that is indeed what his attorney did? Probably not. Should the Port of Seattle have pulled down the Christmas trees? Most definitely not. Should the phone calls and e-mails to more than a dozen Jewish organizations, and Web postings on local media sites from people with nothing better to do but rant and threaten — oftentimes based upon false or incomplete information — have been so hateful? Absolutely not. But here we are.
The noisy voices who have finally found a tangible scapegoat for this war on Christmas are having a field day, and will continue to do so until the next travesty to complain about comes along. Whatever collateral damage in their quest for a good story, facts be damned, now lies ravaged by the side of the road.
I don’t for a second believe that Rabbi Bogomilsky intended to cause damage — and whether it’s by him (and by extension, Chabad) or the Port of Seattle is certainly up for debate. It appears, though, that hiring an attorney was the only way to get the airport to do something. And while the rabbi has said he is appalled by the action the Port took in removing the trees, he was naïve in allowing things to go as far as they did.
The Anti-Defamation League reports that the rabbi has received hundreds of angry and in some cases threatening calls. Letters sent to JTNews have been just as anger-filled (some are printed below). From one man, who wrote, “I hope you are quite pleased with yourselves,” as if we are all responsible for this debacle, to the woman who tells the rabbi that he has “stolen a reminder to the countless numbers of people that pass through those doors that do not know God” — and is therefore in need of healing, these letters were ugly, spiteful, and woefully misinformed. And they’re calling the rabbi a Grinch?
That people can devote so much time and anger to what is, ultimately, an issue of incredible unimportance is beyond me, particularly at a time when there’s much more to be worried about. Iran’s president, for instance, made headlines by hosting a conference on Holocaust denial. Why not take their misplaced anger and direct it there?
This whole mess makes me think that this can be a moment where members of our Jewish community, whether or not they agree with Rabbi Bogomilsky on this or any other issue, can educate the general public on who the Jewish community is. We can demonstrate the many different voices, beliefs and backgrounds that define us, and the futility of attaching one man’s opinion to that of the entire population.
So again this becomes a call to action, and there couldn’t be a better time to remind you of two events coming up before the end of the year that show how the Jewish community can unite to help others in need.
The first is this coming Sunday, December 17, when Rabbi Jim Mirel, Matzoh Momma Catering, and a host of others (including JTNews) host the annual fundraising dinner in support of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. This organization has been operating for years to help provide meals to the hungry — an endeavor that provides for not just Jews. JTNews — and I mean its staff, not just the paper you hold in your hands — support this event each year with advertising and editorial space because we believe in its mission and we think of it as an event that can bring the community together.
While the meal is free, the organizers are asking for a per-person donation of $50 at the door, all of which will go directly to MAZON. The event takes place at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill (1520 E Union St.) at 5 p.m. Please join us!
Also, an ad we printed in last week’s issue of JTNews mistakenly gave the date for the event as Dec. 12. For any of you who mistakenly showed up at the synagogue hoping for a meal, we apologize profusely, and implore you to please come back for the Sunday event!
The second thing going on is the community-wide Mitzvah Day volunteer effort. You may recall, in August, immediately following the shooting at the Jewish Federation, I issued a call to action to create a day of volunteering based upon a conversation that Pam Waechter, who died in the shooting, and I had had a few weeks before that terrible day.
Plans for such an event are quickly coming to fruition, and on December 25 the Federation’s Young Leadership Division is organizing its Mitzvah Day to help organizations both in and out of the Jewish community with any help they may need.
Though the event is being put together by YLD, it is open to anyone and everyone — and that means you. You have to sign up in advance (forms are available on the Federation’s Web site at www.jewishinseattle.org), but once you’re registered, you will be placed on a team of volunteers on projects that range from painting and cleaning to visiting the elderly or serving dinner to homeless people. You can also contact 206-774-2216 or yld@JewishInSeattle.org to get more information.
We may not all be comfortable wearing our Judaism on our sleeves by asking for a menorah on a public space, but we can show the world that as a community, we are more than willing to help where help is needed most.
We’re taking a couple of weeks off, so we’ll see you next year.