December 12, 2006

Peace on Sea-Tac

by PG

Though in only partial agreement with this column by Rabbi Marc Gellman, I do appreciate his remark,

As for those secularists who want no religious symbols anywhere in sight on public properties, I respect your objections and I understand your fears that any breach in the wall of separation is deeply troubling. I do not agree, however, that holiday displays are such a breach. They are colorful and benign and easily disregarded by those who wish to walk by them and go on to instead admire the great and sublime beauty of the fast food signs in the food court.
We can go one of two ways while maintaining the separation of church and state: either accept that public displays of trees, mangers, menorahs and so forth will be undifferentiated from the eagerly-awaited Starbucks holiday cups (e.g., don't stress out if the airport employee flubs it and the menorah is fully lit before the eighth night); or maintain the deep religious significance of those symbols by keeping them out of commercial areas (e.g., cease whining when Wal-Mart greeters say "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!"). Holiday displays certainly are colorful and benign, but the successful mainstreaming of Hanukkah means that I have a dishtowel from Duane Reade decorated with Stars of David, dreidels and a menorah. Hey, I'm an ecumenical agnostic -- it's part of my tradition.

The threat by another rabbi to sue the airport if a menorah wasn't installed struck me as odd, considering that Judaism isn't particularly inclined to missionary activity. Christians and Muslims might be excused for trying to fill public spaces with religious paraphernalia because their religion commands that they try to push everyone else into the same faith, much as keeping Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons from going door-to-door would impinge on their free exercise. In contrast, Jews, Hindus and other non-proselytizing believers don't have any justification for similar behavior, other than a demand to have their religions be as publicly acknowledged as the majority ones. Getting "Judeo-" tacked on to the standard references to "Christian tradition" represents a rather small victory in that battle, given how much credit the usually Christian users of the phrase give themselves for not being parochial, relative to how much they actually are thinking about Judaism. As for Kwanzaa, putting up symbols of it in areas that aren't particularly that of the African American community would be weird, given Kwanzaa's focus on empowering black families, businesses and individuals.

December 12, 2006 12:28 AM | TrackBack
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