LtE: Menorah on Town Common

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To the Editor:

I am writing to voice my full support for the Select Board decision to place a menorah on the Town Common this year, which was approved at their last meeting. For anyone wading into this debate, I urge you to first watch the 11/16/22 Select Board meeting to hear the thoughtful discussion by the Select Board, and the important advice and opinions offered by Town Counsel Ivria Fried. One issue that arose was a desire to have a Christmas tree on the Common if a menorah was allowed, and the reason presented by a Select Board member was the town’s desire for more diversity, equity and inclusion.

There will now be another Select Board meeting on Monday to discuss the placement of a Christmas tree on the Common in addition to menorah. As a life-long Catholic and active member of the Reading Catholic Community, I am opposed to placement of a Christmas tree on the Common at this time. I am disheartened that a request for a menorah was immediately met with a request for a Christmas tree, both at that meeting, on public facebook forums and to the Select Board the next day.  

In a letter to the Select Board I sent on Wednesday, I attached the official publicity by the Reading-North Reading Chamber of Commerce for the Holiday Tree Ceremony on the Common to be held on November 27, which can be seen here.

While the event is billed as a holiday event and not a Christmas event, the image on the flyer is of a traditional Christmas tree with lights and a star of Bethlehem (Christian symbol) in the sky over the tree.  During this event, Santa Claus (always associated with Christmas) turns on the light.  I, and others with whom I have spoken, have always seen the lighting of the trees on the Common as a symbolic lighting of a Christmas tree.  My goal in mentioning the flyer and event is not to criticize the Chamber of Commerce or to take the Christmas out of the holiday season, but to recognize what someone (myself included) who is part of a religious majority might easily take for granted, and how someone else might feel excluded or marginalized. 

(My sincere thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for their hard work and effort in organizing this wonderful event enjoyed by many residents over the decades, including my family.)

With the lights on the Common, wreaths on lamp-posts, against the backdrop of beautiful Old South Church at the head of the Common, I am reminded that Christmas is coming every time I am in the center of town in late November and December.  The addition of a menorah is just that, an addition.  It takes nothing away. My Christian faith and holiday spirit is not diminished by a menorah on the Common  My life is enriched by living peacefully with friends and neighbors who practice other faiths, and by sharing holiday traditions with them and learning about their traditions. The request for a menorah was made in the spirit of inclusivity.  I have never felt excluded in Reading because of my religion, but I know others have had that experience.  That should cause us all pain.  The goal to make Reading a more welcoming community for residents and visitors of all faiths is a worthy one. Perhaps early next fall Town leaders, religious leaders, and all concerned parties can sit down and discuss this matter further.  

However, I fear the message that the request for a Christmas tree now sends to Reading’s Jewish community is that a menorah will only be allowed if a Christmas tree also goes up.  That is a very ugly message to send, and not a very Christian one, in my opinion. I urge the Select Board to stand by their decision to allow the placement of a menorah on the Common. I urge the Select Board to reject the request for a Christmas tree on the Common if one is made on Monday, and I urge the Board to revisit the matter early next fall.  My family, Jeffrey Dietz, Duncan Dietz and Gabe Dietz, join me in signing this letter.


Angela F. Binda
Town Meeting Member

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