The Giving Tree in Ashland – a follow up

I blogged a few days ago about my friend’s decision to remove a Christmas tree from the school where she recently became principal. The letters to the editor in the local newspaper have been overwhelmingly nasty, and mostly not worthy of rebuttal. A few would be entertaining, if only they weren’t so darned depressing. Here’s one, apparently penned by the guy recently featured in The Onion, under the headline “Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines The Constutition To Be.”
Michelle Zundel, you are a disgrace to your school, community, our state and our country. The U.S. is a country of freedom of speech and religion. You are breaking the law! I, as well as many of my coworkers agree you are violating our Constitution and our freedom in the name of public education.
I also liked this one, whose author reminded me of a cross between Ed Anger and Lazlo  Toth:
…those offended by the innocuous tree display …can either “suffer in silence” or they can find themselves a place to live that does not bother their sensitivities. I remind them that the United States was founded as a Christian nation with our freedoms, and especially with freedom of religion, as principle rights. We do not compromise their rights to worship as they choose, nor are they free to compromise our rights therein. That is what freedom means! The giving tree display is simply a symbol of our charity. Making it otherwise, and making us bow in acquiescence to their request to remove it, is disgustingly short-sighted. Even worse, it is wrong!
(It does bring up an interesting philosophical question, though. Is “wrong” actually worse than “disgustingly short-sighted”? Talk amongst yourselves.)
Apparently, the tree went back up today. I haven’t read more about it or spoken to Michelle. But I did write my own letter to the paper, since the Jewish community in Ashland seems to be holding its collective tongue so far. Here it is:
There’s No Such Thing As A Holiday Tree
As a former Ashland resident and employee of the Ashland School District, I’ve been following the debate at Bellview with great interest. Christmas is a beautiful holiday with many wonderful traditions. As a parent of a Jewish family, I welcome invitations to the homes of friends and extended family who celebrate the birth of Jesus so that my young daughters can learn more about other religions. I understand that living in a country with a Christian majority also means that my daughters will see Christmas celebrated in malls, grocery stores, and almost every other private institution we visit, and I have no problem explaining to them why this is the case. However, I do expect that when they enter a public school or other government building, they should find an environment that reflects all, not just some, of the American people. Why dilute our rich religious traditions? Let’s display our beautiful menorahs, Christmas trees, Diwali lights, and all the other observances in our melting pot with pride and joy – in our homes, our places of worship, and our private institutions. And to those who believe that generosity can only be symbolized by a tree, I suggest it’s time the public schools teach more about why giving to those in need is an American tradition, not limited to one culture, or one time of year.

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posted December 9, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Can I quote you in the future? This is so wonderfully stated, and so respectful of the diversity of this country. Thanks for speaking up in Ashland, and then sharing your words with the rest of us.

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the Rebbetzin

posted December 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

That’s gross. Not what you wrote, of course, but the situation. Yikes. Your letter was well-written and articulate. Sad to think it didn’t influence more people.

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Mrs. G

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Wonderfully well written! “Holiday” trees make me crazy.

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Frume Sarah

posted December 10, 2009 at 12:55 am

A very well-written letter. Please keep us posted on any responses you receive :)

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posted December 10, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Ooh, this makes me so mad!!! Great letter.
Aliza Houseman quotes Linda Oppenheim’s comment from a listserve about “making waves” in Montana, where Linda points out that it was a Jew-by-choice who solicited support from non-Jews when the community was attacked, since she didn’t grow up feeling like she ought ever to “suffer in silence.” Food for thought there.

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posted December 10, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Also, was it really called “the Giving Tree”?? Because that’s SUCH a Jewish-mother book from Maurice Sendak… makes the whole thing even more ludicrous.

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posted December 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm

great letter – so articulate….

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posted December 15, 2009 at 12:50 am

To Tzipporah: The Giving Tree is by Shel Silverstein, not Maurice Sendak. The latter is the author of Where the Wild Things Are, among others.

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