Williamsburg, Virginia, has stirred up controversy by not allowing a menorah lighting at December’s 2nd Sundays event. When Rabbi Heber Mendy reached out to event organizer Shirley Vermillion, he was told that the condition for being allowed to proceed was to promote a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Mendy quoted the reply, saying he was told by event organizers, “We are about peace, love, and light. I do not … want to make it seem we are choosing a side supporting the killing, bombing of thousands of men, women and children.”
Vermillion said in a statement to a local news station that a menorah lighting does not fit with 2nd Sundays’ programming.
“We stand by our mission to create a safe place for all to gather and enjoy art and music,” the statement read, “and choose not to showcase religious ceremonies of any faith as part of our programming.”
Prior to the event, Senator-elect Danny Diggs called on the event to let the lighting go ahead. “The free expression of one’s religion should not become politicized, and targeting the Jewish community and attempting to exclude them because of the actions 6,000 miles away is racism plain and simple,” he said in a statement.
The United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula has also been vocal about the decision, which they call “antisemitic.” They pointed out that, since Palestine attacked Israel on October 7, antisemitism has been on the rise around the world. “At a time of well-documented, rising antisemitism, the singling out and targeting of Jews is dangerous and harmful, serving to further exclude and alienate our community.” Now, Williamsburg’s 2nd Sundays have drawn attention from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and news outlets around the country.
But Williamsburg is not alone in canceling Jewish holiday celebrations. Havering City Council in London canceled a menorah lighting out of fear it would “risk further inflaming tensions,” a decision some have called “a monumental dereliction of duty.” In Canada, Moncton city councilors have canceled a 20-year tradition of lighting a menorah outside city hall, and have announced that they will also cancel the Christmas Nativity installation.
Removing religious symbols and forcing people to feel as if they have to hide—or to politicize their religion—does not promote religious freedom, only increased anger and hatred.