Menorahs in Public Places
Sunday, April 11, 2021 - 29 Nisan 5781
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Menorahs in Public Places
3 Teves, 5742 [1982]

The Jewish community in the U.S.A. is as old as the U.S.A. itself. We know the problems it faced, and the actual discriminations it suffered, until it has won its place in this country. Yet, even in this day and age prejudice and anti-Semitism exist, not only latently, but also overtly. Under these circumstances we must not relax our alertness to any sign of erosion of our hard-won positions.

One of these positions is the annual lighting of a Chanukah Menorah in public places. As mentioned in my previous letter, such Chanukah Menorahs have been kindled in the Nation's capi-tal (in Lafayette Park, facing the White House), in Manhattan, Albany, Philadelphia, Chicago, and in many other cities of the Union. There has been no opposition to their being placed on public property from non-Jewish quarters. Regrettably, there have been some Jews who did raise objections in several places out of fear that kindling a Menorah on public property, would call attention to the fact that there are Jews living in that city; Jews who would apparently be willing to forgo the claim that the public place belongs also to them, as part of the public.

I also pointed out that in Washington. D.C. the President personally participated in the cere-mony, that in New York City the Attorney General of the State of New York personally participated in the ceremony, and elsewhere public officials and dignitaries were on hand at this public event. There is no need for any stronger evidence that the Chanukah Menorah-with its universal message, which is especially akin to the spirit of liberty and independence of this nation - has won a place not only in Jewish life, but also in the life of the American people.

In light of the above, when a Jewish community in the U.S.A. publicly raises objections to placing a Chanukah Menorah in a public place-on whatever grounds, and however well intentioned-it is thereby jeopardizing the Jewish position in general. It is also undermining its own position in the long run, as mentioned above. With all due respect to the claim that hitherto this policy has resulted in a "steady reduction of all Christological elements in public life," I doubt whether these have been eliminated completely. But granted, for the sake of argument, that this is the case, it would be most exceptional and unnatural in American life, since by and large the American people is Christian.

Some day, someone will raise the question, "Why should Teaneck be different from any other American town, and be hindered by Jews-a minority-from expressing itself in terms of religious symbols?" The answer that Jews, on their part, likewise refrained from placing a Chanukah Menorah in a public place-will hardly satisfy the majority of the Teaneck population.

Now, to come to the essential point; Why is it so important for Jews to have a Chanukah Menorah displayed publicly? The answer is that experience has shown that the Chanukah Menorah displayed publicly during the eight days of Chanukah, has been an inspiration to many, many Jews and evoked in them a spirit of identity with their Jewish people and the Jewish way of life. To many others, it has brought a sense of pride in their Yiddishkeit and the realization that there is no reason really in this free country to hide one's Jewishness, as if it were contrary or inimical to American life and culture. On the contrary, it is fully in keeping with the American national slogan "e pluribus unum" and the fact that American culture has been enriched by the thriving ethnic cultures which contributed very much, each in its own way, to American life both materially and spiritually.

Certainly, Jews are not in the proselytizing business. The Chanukah Menorah is not inten-ded to, and can in no way, bring us converts to Judaism. But it can, and does, bring many Jews back to their Jewish roots. I personally know of scores of such Jewish returnees, and I have good reason to believe that in recent years, hundreds, even thousands, of Jews experience a kindling of their inner Jewish spark by the public kindling of the Chanukah Menorah in their particular city and in the Nation's capital, etc., as publicized by the media.

In summary, Jews, either individually or communally, should not create the impression that they are ashamed to show their Jewish-ness, or that they wish to gain their neighbors' respect by covering up their Jewishness. Nor will this attitude insure their rights to which they are entitled, including the privilege of publicly lighting a Chanukah Menorah, a practice which has been sanctioned by precedent and custom, as to become a tradition.

I also must point out that I do not think that a Jewish community can disregard its responsibility to other Jewish communities in regard to an issue of this kind, which cannot remain localized, and must have its impact on other Jewish communities and community relations.



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