Monday, May 23, 2022 -
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On cultural missteps, are we too harsh to judgement?

Are we too harsh? Or unforgiving? Do we assume the worst motivations?

The troubling ‘menorah’ is seen bottom left. (Screenshot from Facebook)

In Medford, Mass., a government’s holiday photo display went a bit pear-shaped when the menorah included turned out not to be one used on Chanukah, but instead one used by messianic Jews. Oy vey! The “menorah” was labeled with the words “cross” and “resurrection.” Nope, not exactly the message of Chanukah.

Naturally Medford’s Jews were upset and many complained to the municipality. Some, according to the JTA report, were concerned that the municipality had reached out to messianic Jews for guidance on Judaism, instead of to representatives from the Jewish community.

According to the city, that wasn’t the case. The staffer who had created the photo collage said she’d come across the image online. “We sincerely regret the harm and are committed to learning from this mistake,” the city’s apology read.

Indeed, the city must learn from this mistake, as it implies it will. When constructing any kind of ethnic message, it is vitally important that that ethnicity be included in the crafting of the message. That’s clear.

It’s understandable that Jewish community members are upset. Some even said they were “furious.” But is it fair to say that this undercuts the city’s claim that it values diversity? That’s what one Jewish resident claimed.

If a city seeks to include multiple faiths and traditions in a display, is that not evidence that it values diversity — even if it might not get it 100% correct? Can we not allow a modicum of understanding on our part that it’s not always easy to get these things right? Have we lost the ability to give people and institutions any benefit of the doubt?

Yes, the city should have consulted with local Jewish community leaders, and it was a mistake that it didn’t. But have we lost our ability to forgive? Must we always assume the worst motives?

According to the JTA report, Medford is a city where classes are canceled for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — something the local Jewish community fought for. Classes canceled for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? In Denver public school closures for Jewish holidays sounds like absolute fantasy! Perhaps Medford Jews don’t realize how good they have it?

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