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Pardeeville library displays menorahs

November 27, 2018

PARDEEVILLE — “Let the light shine,” proclaims a corrugated plastic sign, illuminated at night in the courtyard of Pardeeville’s Angie Williams Cox Library.

It’s a menorah, the symbol of the Jewish festival of lights Hanukkah, which starts at sundown Sunday.

The courtyard, as well as the library’s interior shelves, display both the menorah and a scene depicting the birth of Jesus, an event that most Christians celebrate at Christmas on Dec. 25.

“The public library supports all faiths,” said Library Director Joan Foster, of the library Endowment Board’s decision to display, for the first time, both the Nativity scene and the menorah.

Endowment Board President Carol Ziehmke said the endowment board, which owns the library building at 119 N. Main St. and the land on which it stands, had received a request from a Pardeeville resident to display a Nativity scene during the holiday season. Since the library property is not owned by the village of Pardeeville, she said, exhibiting any religious display would not constitute government endorsement of a particular religion.

However, she said, the endowment board also decided to include a menorah — in the courtyard area commonly called the “library park,” and on the shelves inside the library where, in addition to the menorah, there also is a crèche (Nativity scene) and books about both Hanukkah and Christmas.

Ziehmke said the decision to display the menorah was made before a photo surfaced, depicting many male members of the Baraboo High School class of 2019 showing a stiff-arm gesture reminiscent of a Nazi salute. The photo has attracted worldwide attention.

“But certainly, I have thought about the situation in Baraboo since the menorah went up,” Ziehmke said. “Such an unfortunate situation.”

Ziehmke said she ordered online the plastic menorah displayed inside the library, featuring electric light bulbs that can be lit, sequentially, to mark the eight days of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish festival. It commemorates the rededication of the temple. According to the Jewish Talmud, there was only enough oil to light the lamp for one day, but the oil lasted eight days, which is why the menorah includes eight candles, one for each night, plus a ninth candle in the center that is typically used to light the other eight candles.

The timing of both Hanukkah and Christmas in December is coincidental. The two holidays are not related.

Kristina McGuire, library aide at the Angie Williams Cox Library, noted that Christmas was timed to coincide with the winter solstice, and has its roots in a solstice festival that the Romans celebrated before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 313.

In fact, McGuire said, her family celebrates the solstice, not Christmas.

“We celebrate this time of year — the changing of the seasons,” she said. “We exchange gifts. And if it’s nice out, we have a campfire.”

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