Support against holiday display heartening and humbling

This past Tuesday evening three members of the South Brunswick Town Council, acting with courage and dignity, voted down a proposed resolution which would have opened the door to religious holiday displays on government property. Town Council members Carol Barrett, Frank Gambatese and Edward Van Hessen recognized that the multicultural community that they represent is best served by a high wall of separation between church and state. By taking to heart the powerful words of the Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black that the first amendment rests "on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion," they acted to protect the religious freedom of our community. Most importantly, they remembered "we, the people," by placing the best interest of "we, the people" in our diverse community. In limiting the role of government, they insured the freedom of religion, an individual freedom which benefits all the people.

The Jewish concept of "Hakarat Hatov," of "appreciating those who act to benefit others," demands that we express our gratitude to all those whose voices were raised in the protection of a cherished ideal. In addition to the three members of the Town Council mentioned above, I must acknowledge the Rev. Francis H. Hubbard of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and convener of the South Brunswick Area Clergy Association. The Rev. Hubbard has remained unwavering in his position that government not intrude itself into the realm of religion, that equating the sacred symbols of Christianity and other religious traditions with Frosty the Snowman and reindeer is both "insulting and demeaning."

I appreciate the eloquence with which Gwen Southgate warned the council that "any display will create another crack in the separation of church and state." She also shared her memories of how the assertion of religious beliefs can isolate individuals within a community. One could not listen to her words without conjuring up the image of wave after wave of people, from the pilgrims to the present day, coming to these shores searching for religious freedom.

Support from all corners of the community, both clergy and laity, was both heartening and humbling. I have seen our multifaceted community join together in our interfaith celebration of Thanksgiving, in the communal commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. and I saw it again in the assertion that actions that disenfranchise anyone injure us all.

Shai Goldstein, director of the New Jersey region of the Anti-Defamation League, reached out to us with moral encouragement and technical support. His visit to our congregation before Tuesday’s meeting and the presence of Phil Rosenbach, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional Civil Rights Committee, at the Tuesday meeting helped us realize that the lofty ideals we have as a nation are ultimately expressed in how local communities treat their citizens.

May we always live in a community that serves as a model of respect and tolerance for the religious beliefs of its residents — a community where the heartfelt expressions of belief shine forth from homes and houses of worship and from the hearts and souls of "we, the people."

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

Congregation B’nai Tikvah

North Brunswick