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.