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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Grinch That Stole Hanukkah?

Posted by Matt Davis on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 11:39 AM

It seems a Holiday Menorah in the Pearl District's Jamison Square won't be reappearing this year following complaints from area residents.Two years ago, racial justice advocate Sam Sachs noticed that Jamison Square had a Christmas Tree in the middle of it. Sachs thought it would be great to see a Menorah for Hannukah as well, just like in Pioneer Square, so he called Multi-Services Inc., the company responsible for the decorations, and voiced his concern. Sure enough, last year, this Menorah appeared:

menorah.jpg

"It was great to see both The Christmas tree and Menorah side by side and to live in a neighborhood that had the compassion and understanding to honor both Holidays," says Sachs. "I even called back and suggested a Kwanzaa candle next year!"

This month as the Christmas tree went up, Sachs looked forward to the Menorah, but it never appeared. Since today is the first day of Hanukkah, Sachs called Multi-Services Inc. and spoke with James Hanbrick, who is in charge of the decorations in the square. Sachs says Hanbrick told him that last year they received several complaints about the Menorah and that it was confusing to the residents of The Pearl District.

"Hanbrick also said that some residents were offended by the Menorah and its presence," says Sachs.

"I told James that there is a Christmas Tree in Jamison Square, to which he replied 'It's a Holiday Tree'," Sachs continues. "To which I replied 'It's got presents under it, I know what a Christmas tree looks like'. I told James I guess you could call the Menorah a candle holder if you want, but it's still a Menorah," and a Christmas Tree is still a Christmas Tree."

Hanbrick tells the Mercury that it was Sachs who used the word "complaints," and that he had received "comments" about the Menorah, that's all. He says the decision not to have the Menorah this year was taken by the Hoyt Street Yards Community Association's board of directors, for which he is the spokesperson.

"The decoration was chosen not to be re-used due to the positive and negative criticisms or comments that we got about it being in a public park," Hanbrick says. "It'd be just like having a nativity scene there, and in order to avoid offending people or not, it was decided not to re-use that particular decoration."

Hanbrick insists that the tree in Jamison Square is a "holiday tree."

"Presents are given for Hannukah as well. We are very specific in all of our marketing materials about referring to the tree as a holiday tree," he says.

"Why is it so hard for us as a people as a community to hold up and celebrate all the holidays?" Sachs asks. "I never want to take away from Christmas, hell, I'm praying that the snow will stay so Christians can have that white Christmas so many in Portland have longed for. I will still pray for a white Christmas, and that some day this season won't be quote unquote so confusing," he says.

A call to Commissioner Dan Saltzman's parks liaison, Matt Grumm, is yet to be returned. But it is snowing. So Matt, if you're reading this at home, give me a call on my cell: 503 502 2106, and we can get Parks' side of the story. While we're waiting, here's Adam Sandler:

UPDATE, 14:58:

"We've got several concerns from the members of the neighborhood association about the aesthetic quality of the decorations on display, not just the menorah, but also the two skaters," says Bryce Stephens, Hanbrick's boss. "It is true that the members of the Hoyt Street Yards Community Association made the decision not to post the Menorah again this year but they also got comment from an advisory committee that's made up of member building representatives from all the buildings down in that North part of the Pearl."

"It's got nothing to do with the fact that it's a Menorah, and there's discussion about revisiting the issue next year, already."

"The tone of the article about it being taken down because it's a Menorah is completely inaccurate," says Stephens.

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