Ari Ballaban — In Conversation
You Will Soon See a Menorah at Cincinnati City Hall
When I think about the menorah we are donating, I think about a student I used to tutor in Hebrew years ago, while I was a rabbinical student. Let’s call her Sarah.
Sarah was pretty average… not the best bat mitzvah I ever taught, not the worst. She was fine. But where she really excelled was in yiddishkeit—Jewish identity.
I remember one year, working with Sarah, her coming to tutoring some day in December and looking exceptionally flustered. Her parents were too. Apparently, for another year, her school had put out a giant Christmas tree and made no effort to make her feel welcome, as one of the school’s few Jewish students. Sarah was a proud Jew; however, that year she again felt alone and othered. She felt like she didn’t belong.
So, to answer my question: Why the menorah? For all Jewish Cincinnatians who will walk into City Hall in December, who shouldn’t have to feel like they don’t belong. Because symbols and symbolic representation very much matter. And, in that vein, our fight shouldn’t just be for menorahs or Christmas trees: if, as Jews, we are to be open to any religious symbols in public spaces, we need to be open to all of them. I encourage it. But our symbol is the menorah, and my student was Sarah. They’re my why.
My son used to complain when he was younger( six or seven) that it was Christmas, Christmas, Christmas everywhere. Why wasn’t there anything about Hanukkah. So I took Hanukkah things to his school seven hills, I made sure that the cub scouts did not hold major events on major Jewish holidays.
Sensitivity,respect and awareness is a great goal.