As Christmas decorations line the outside of Moncton’s City Hall, another significant holiday display will be absent this year.
The president of the Moncton Jewish Community, Francis Weil, says the city told him that the symbolic Menorah will not be put up this year.
“We were given an explanation, but the explanation doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“First talking about separation of state and religion, which in itself is a good reason, except that they were quoting a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada banning prayers at city council, which is right, but that decision was not about putting or not putting a Menorah.”
He goes on to say that if the city wants to separate religion from state, then all Christian symbols should have been removed too, but as it stands right now there are angels with horns and a wreath on the front of the building.
“The mayor is a good person and all the councillors are good people and I’m bewildered by why the council, since I make my protest on the Thursday night, why don’t they realize that they’re making a mistake? It’s so obvious,” he said.
Lighting of the Menorah is a tradition that’s happened in the city for the past 20 years, and it’s one that represents acceptance to the relatively-small Jewish community in Moncton.
“For so many centuries, Jews were not accepted by the rest of the population and to know that we’re accepted makes us feel so good and then to have an end to that? That hurts,” said Weil.
Since the news broke on Friday, there’s been outrage from the community and, in fact, across the country, especially online.
A petition has even been launched to force the city to reverse the decision.
Critics say it’s a slap in the face to the community.
“The first thing that I wanted to do was to say ‘this isn’t Moncton’ and to apologize to our own Jewish community and to everyone in the Jewish communities across this country because it’s a terrible black eye,” said litigation lawyer and former heath and justice minister, Michael Murphy.
“This is not Moncton.”
He goes on to say that all religious symbols should be allowed in the city at the proper time of year saying that it’s a city of tolerance and always has been.
“It’s reprehensible the decision that was made, it’s very disrespectful,” he said.
“Especially at this time when we should be embracing our common history and the fact that we grew up with all of these people and we share the same values and the same ambitions and we’re friends and we’re family. So this is something that I’m really repulsed by.”
While unreachable for an interview on Sunday, two of Moncton’s city councillors have posted publically online that they don’t support this decision and are calling on the city to revisit the issue.
Dave Steeves, the councillor for Ward 3, wrote on Facebook stating in part: “as a reverend in the Moncton faith community, I believe that all religious symbols ought to be displayed at the appropriate time of year as a gesture of inclusiveness and welcome.”
Bryan Butler, who is also a councillor for Ward 3, commented saying “I agree fully with Dave Steeves, as you are aware, we were on the same side on this. Thank you for bringing it forward.”
Experts say not only was it not a good decision, but it’s also not a good look for the city.
“The argument about state and religion being separate, that’s actually a really poor argument because that’s not what municipal government is supposed to do in this way, by eliminating religion, it is supposed to be protecting peoples rights to their beliefs and that means finding ways to be more inclusive, even when times are tough politically,” said Dalhouise University International Development Studies associate professor, Robert Huish.
Adding, “For a municipality to say one religion in particular will not be included, sends a very hurtful message and a very inappropriate message.”
Despite requests for comment from the city or mayor on Sunday, CTV News was told there will be nothing official until Monday.
However, that is encouraging news to those offended by the decision.
“I just don’t think that the decision will last more than another day,” said Murphy.
“There’s a council meeting [Monday] morning. I have spoken to some people and I think the Mayor and those that voted for this will just be overwhelmed with the public backlash.”
Weil says at this point, the city reversing the decision would be enough in his mind.
“I think that tomorrow, the first working day of the week, they would change their decision. I hope so,” he said.
“Hanukah is only starting on the evening, at sundown, on Thursday so they still have plenty of time to set up the Menorah.”
Weil adds that the Menorah is a symbol of freedom of religion and is inclusive to everyone, so he sees know reason as to why the display would offend or hurt anyone by being up at city hall like it has been for two decades.
“We are an inclusive society and we should include everyone,” he said.
“If Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or First Nation wants to have signs of their belief displayed, I’m all for it.”
Huish, who was in New Jersey at the time of the interview, said there’s symbolism in every town that celebrates holidays and he was shocked to hear this decision out of Moncton.
“If other municipalities are considering this, I would really encourage them to hit pause on doing that. That’s not the right answer,” he said.
“There’s definitely worries of anti-Semitic actions that have taken place since the war between Israel and Hamas has gone on for the last couple of months. We’ve seen communities across Canada witness that, but by trying to hide religious characters, symbols, beliefs out of a public space is not a way to deal with it. We get through these hard times by being inclusive, by having open discussions with each other.”