Hanukkah in the Mall and on the Mall

The Giant Menorah Controversy has raised its head again, as reported in JTA. It usually is a debate over the public square, fueled by Chabad. While we are indeed concerned about the separation of church and state, we at JOI believe in the public celebration of Hanukkah and other holidays. After all, are we not instructed to place the Hanukkah menorah in a window so that it can be seen by those who pass by our homes—to “publicize the miracle”? But that is why we speak of public spaces (like malls, stores, etc.) and not the public square (like buildings on the Washington DC “mall”).

When a child—or an adult—walks through a shopping mall this time of year and encounters Christmas with no trace of Hanukkah, that person may feel excluded. When that same person walks through that same mall and there is a puny Hanukkah menorah alongside a large Christmas true, that person may feel puny. But when a giant Hanukkah menorah is placed next to a large Christmas tree, it sends the message that as a minority in America, he or she belongs as a full equal in our diverse society. This is particularly important for the nurturing of Jewish identity in children.

May the lights of Hanukkah illumine a path for us all in this world.


  1. Interestingly enough many Christians are ‘instructed’ to “spread the good news of Jesus”. Hopefully, both we Jews and our Christian friends can see our commandmants/instructions for what they are: guidance and not a mandate to force ourselves on others. Secondly, Hanukkah is a MINOR Jewish holiday. We are doing ourselves and our children a disservice by elevating it to Christmas and expecting our symbols (the menorah) to be equally sized and represented with the Christmas symbols. While I fully agree that symbols of Hannukkah should not be ingored in public displays, let’s not try to make it equal to Christmas.

    Comment by Sue Johnson — December 15, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  2. Thank you for your insights. But I must respectfully disagree with an important point. The Hanukkah miracle is not minor. That is why we are instructed to place the Hanukkah menorah in the window so that all may see it. The term “minor” is a technical term that the Rabbis used to distinguish it from the “major” festivals and their prohibitions of labor. As far as I am concerned, all Jewish holidays are major and we should observe them to the max.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — December 21, 2006 @ 5:54 pm

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