(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
A local rabbinical organization in southwest Florida has come out against the
laying of “Christmas wreaths” on the graves of Jewish veterans by Wreaths Across
America, an organization which works to honor America’s war
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the organization has
placed wreaths adorned with red ribbons on graves in Florida’s Sarasota National
Cemetery, including on those of Jews, after being asked not to do so by the
local Jewish community.
“It looks like a holiday wreath. I’m not denying
that,” the WAA’s Victoria Finley told the Herald-Tribune. However, she told the
local paper, the wreathes only appear similar to those which are used as
Christmas decorations because the company that provides her organization with
them manufactures Christmas decorations.
But local Rabbi Jonathan R. Katz
disagreed, telling the paper that using such wreathes, especially during the
holiday season, sends the wrong message to families of veterans. The problem is
that “such strong symbolism associated with one particular religion should not
be readily identified with every grave in a national cemetery. All wreaths are
not the same.”
In a subsequent letter to the newspaper, Finley asserted
that “remembrance wreaths... are not to symbolize one religion above another;
they are placed to remind us that we have the freedom to choose what religion we
wish to have, or not.”
“The timing of red-adorned wreaths two weeks
before Christmas suggests a specific religious identification.
it be more logical for wreaths honoring our veterans to be placed on Veterans
Day or Memorial Day?” Katz shot back in a letter of his own.
for several years, directed its local organizing committees not to place wreaths
on Jewish graves, absent a specific request to do so. This directive, though,
appears to be followed only to varying degree across the nation,” he
Wreaths Across America “notified the Sarasota-Manatee Rabbinical
Association that WAA’s local Sarasota National Cemetery advisory board had
agreed to... a request not to place wreaths at marked Jewish graves, unless
specifically desired,” asserted Rabbi Harold F.
Caminker of the
referenced rabbinical association in a letter to the newspaper, calling WAA
“We are disappointed and disturbed that this agreement was,
in fact, not honored,” he lamented.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post by
email, Katz said that while most members of the Jewish community have been
supportive of his stand, “some haven’t exactly cottoned to my pursuit of this
issue. I get the feeling there is a desire ‘not to make trouble,’ but I and
others think this matter is of significant importance to the Jewish
“The specific policy for the Sarasota National Cemetery that
was adopted by the cemetery advisory board is that they will not place wreaths
on gravesites marked with a Star of David, unless a family member requested the
wreath,” a WAA representative informed Katz in an emailed forwarded to the
However, Katz said, that did not happen.