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After Williamsburg menorah lighting cancellation, Jewish leaders look to other celebrations

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

Rabbi Mendy Heber was excited about adding a menorah to a Williamsburg street fair on Dec. 10.

Heber, who runs a local Jewish organization called Chabad Williamsburg, has sold challah at the Second Sundays fair since May.

It was a wonderful relationship, he said, and organizers were “excited” to include a menorah lighting.

Then Heber received a message mid-November from Second Sundays organizer Shirley Vermillion: She and the board of LoveLight Placemaking, who run the street fair, canceled the menorah lighting.

The message said Second Sundays couldn’t be seen to be “supporting the killing of thousands of men, women and children” in the Israel-Hamas war, he said.

“It was a kick in the gut, not just for the Jewish community here, not just for Jews throughout the United States, but for all decent people," Heber told WHRO.

LoveLight Placemaking sent a statement to media partner WTKR, reading in part “(The menorah lighting) was proposed but was not consistent with the purpose of this non-religious, community art and music festival, and the proposal was denied.”The United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula released a statement Dec. 3 calling the cancelation antisemitic.

“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,” the statement read.

Heber agreed that the cancellation was rooted in antisemitism.

“I am a Jew in the diaspora. I am an American citizen with equal rights like everyone else, to discriminate (against) me because of something that's going on in another land is discriminatory.”

The Anti-Defamation League defines antisemitism as hostile behavior toward Jews just because they are Jewish, along with stereotyped views of Jewish people and political efforts to isolate them.

In May, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill formally defining antisemitism for use in law enforcement and educators’ training.

The working definition considers Holocaust denial antisemitic, as well as holding individual Jewish people responsible for Israel's actions, or conspiracies that say Jewish people control worldwide systems, like the media or the economy.

Heber said he hopes the nonprofit’s board will reconsider their decision, but in the meantime he’s refocusing his energy on another menorah lighting — one on the William & Mary campus on Dec. 7, the first night of Hanukkah.

“We're going to make this Hanukkah bigger and brighter than ever. This is how we respond to darkness,” Heber said.

The world changes fast.

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