To the Editor:
Happy Holidays! This is a familiar greeting around the U.S., in addition to the traditional Merry Christmas, often indicating a certain level of tolerance and understanding of the diversity that defines the United States of America. Despite the fact that the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian and was initially established in an attempt to separate itself from the idea of state-sponsored religion, Christmas trees and other festive decorations gird the public display.
It’s no different on the Vineyard among its municipalities. And while the decorative trees and lights do not specifically profess a particular religion, it is widely known and respected as such that the 16th century tradition originated among pious German Christians. The Vatican has deemed the tree a “symbol of Christ” and representative of the original “tree of knowledge.” Surely, among many, the tree has become a secular symbol, and thus it has bypassed the typical guards against mixing church and state, making its way to the White House lawn and other publicly funded venues, Vineyard town squares being no exception.
As a man of faith, and an advocate of the multifacetedness of the Island, I would encourage each township to incorporate the menorah into the public holiday display, which would openly acknowledge the tolerance and acceptance that surely exists Islandwide. Surely Jews are well integrated in the public and private life of the Island, yet despite that reality, there does not yet exist a public menorah in holiday displays.
Secularists should agree on the grounds of inclusion and celebration of diversity (or agree to no decorations at all, which I do not advocate). Religionists should also agree on the grounds that the original Christians celebrated the winter holidays exclusively by lighting a menorah in the public domain, including Jesus himself. Not only did George Washington welcome the open practice of the Jewish faith in public letters to the Jewish community over 200 years ago, but even today, President Obama encourages a public menorah lighting at the White House. This should be no surprise, however, since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of diversifying public holiday decorations, including a menorah, back in 1989, when it was contested. It is certainly not a partisan issue.
I would respectfully encourage all residents of Tisbury to attend the board of selectmen meeting on Dec. 20 to discuss this long-overdue symbolic display of public acceptance of such diversity. I would also entreat other townships to integrate and diversify their public holiday decorations with a traditional menorah, the age-old symbol of “the house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7) and a remnant of the primordial concept of the infinite illumination of unity.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef P. Glassman