Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2nd Sundays Faces Backlash Over Menorah Lighting Decision

2nd Sundays in Williamsburg (WYDaily file)

WILLIAMSBURG — A decision by LoveLight Placemaking to turn down a menorah lighting event proposed by local Rabbi Mendy Heber of Chabad of Williamsburg at 2nd Sundays has created far-reaching backlash for the organization and the community.

2nd Sundays is a large, popular street fair held on six blocks of downtown Williamsburg on the 2nd Sunday of each Month from March to December.

The conversation between Heber and LoveLight Placemaking came to light in an email sent to news organizations by Eric Maurer, Executive Director of the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula, on Sunday, Dec. 3.

The email stated that 2nd Sundays “decided to cancel” a menorah lighting event to be part of its festival on Dec. 10, claiming it did not want to appear to choose sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Attached to the email were screenshots of the conversation:

Screenshot of a now-deleted post from LoveLight Placemaking (WYDaily/Staff)

Lovelight Placemaking attempted to make a statement on its official Facebook page before it was deleted after the comment section was filled with backlash from the community.

That statement included text from Heber thanking the organization for allowing him and his wife to take part in the 2nd Sundays anniversary event in June.

Referring to the menorah lighting proposal, the statement went on to explain that there had never been a planned religious activity of any kind scheduled for 2nd Sundays in its 14 years of operation.

Since its deletion, commenters have stated their disapproval of the decision on the organization’s other posts, including the 2nd Sundays page and LoveLight Placemaking Founder and President Shirley Vermillion’s personal Facebook page.

Disclosure of the conversation has had wide-ranging repercussions for the nonprofit and the Williamsburg community as a whole, which have both faced backlash on social media as national media have picked up on the story to varying degrees of accuracy, many highlighting the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula’s language that the proposed event was “canceled.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin even weighed in on the social media site X, saying, “Singling out the Jewish community by canceling this Hanukkah celebration is absurd and antisemitic. The event organizers should immediately reconsider their actions and move forward with the menorah lighting.”

Del. Amanda Batten and Senator-Elect Danny Diggs also made statements on social media.

“I am appalled by Second Sundays’ attempt to compel political speech as a prerequisite for observation of a religious ceremony in our community. This position does not reflect the values of our Williamsburg community, and I join UJCVP in calling on Second Sundays to reverse this antisemitic decision,” said Batten.

“This type of anti-Semitic behavior is unacceptable and appalling. The event organizers of this festival to make this right ASAP,” said Diggs.

The backlash has also reached other area nonprofits, who have been falsely identified in the media as organizers or associated with the festival.

“Recent reports on Breitbart.com, Fox News, and other outlets have led to confusion surrounding the reported cancellation of a Hanukkah Menorah Lighting event in Williamsburg, Virginia,” said the Virginia Arts Festival. “The Virginia Arts Festival had no involvement in the referenced Williamsburg event. We respectfully and urgently ask that any news outlets that have erroneously reported a seeming connection between the Virginia Arts Festival and the reported cancellation of the Williamsburg Hanukkah event correct their reports as soon as possible.”

Chabad of Williamsburg has since announced on its Facebook page it will be holding a public menorah lighting on Thursday, Dec 7. at the Sunken Garden at William & Mary at 5 p.m. Chanukah foods, festive music, and a raffle will be at the event.

WYDaily has reached out to Rabbi Mendy Heber of Chabad of Williamsburg, Eric Maurer, Executive Director of the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula and LoveLight Placemaking Founder and President Shirley Vermillion for further comment.

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