Floridians battle over wreaths on graves of Jewish veterans

Local Jewish community claims wreaths look like Christmas decorations, are disrespectful to the dead.

British cemetery (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
British cemetery
(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 dead.
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.
Wouldn’t 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.
“WAA has, 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 added.
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 dishonorable.
“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 community.”
“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 Post.
However, Katz said, that did not happen.