Calgary mayor pulls out of menorah lighting after declaring it 'pro-Israel' event

Jyoti Gondek announced she would not attend the traditional Hannukah event at City Hall as it had been 'repositioned' as a political event.

Calgary mayor pulls out of menorah lighting after declaring it 'pro-Israel' event
The Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh
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The mayor of Calgary has announced she will no longer be attending a menorah lighting ceremony at city hall since it has become a political event. 

Late on Wednesday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek posted a statement to X where she said she had learned the event was "repositioned to be political," which she called heartbreaking. 

"It is with great regret and sadness that I will not be attending," she added.

In her longer statement, Gondek said that she had been asked weeks ago to speak at the menorah lighting in order to "bring traditional greetings celebrating Hanukkah and the spirit of Calgary's Jewish community." 

The mayor said the repositioning of the event as a pro-Israel event goes against the original intention of the event and left her feeling "let down."

"The changed nature of tomorrow's event creates a divide and forces people to choose a side," the mayor said in her statement. Gondek wrote that attending a political event would contradict her responsibility as mayor to attend "diverse and inclusive" events. 

An X user pointed out that in February 2022, Gondek took pride in raising the flag of Ukraine outside city hall "to show support for a sovereign nation under a horrifying & unprovoked attack." Her tweet on the occasion is still public. 

Chabad Lubavitch Alberta has organized the menorah lighting ceremony for the past 35 years. A flier promoting this year's event showcases the phrases unity, supporting Israel and Jewish pride. 

"Unfortunately due to what's going on today, we had to put a program together that speaks to the current events," Chabad Lubavitch Alberta's senior Rabbi Menachem Matusof told the CBC.

"This is celebrating Hanukkah, obviously. At the same time, this is a peaceful demonstration for celebrating light over darkness … demonstrating Jewish pride and demonstrating support for Israel," he said. 

"It's impossible to win a war, so to speak, by having our heads down and we're not [going] to let evil and negativity take over the world." 

"It is with tremendous hurt and disappointment that we learned this evening in a statement by Mayor Gondek, that she has withdrawn her attendance and participation in our annual candle lighting event at City Hall because it is in her words, 'an event to support Israel,'" read an emailed statement by Matusof and his wife Rochel, as well as the president and CEO of Calgary Jewish Federation.

"As always, and particularly at this time, our community does not waver in our support of Israel, nor will our community forget that 140 Israeli hostages still remain in captivity. Our yearning for peace in Israel and Gaza do not run counter to our support of Eretz Israel, but rather are inextricably linked," the email continued.

A later tweet by Jewish Calgary called Gondek's decision "extremely disappointing, harmful, and offensive to our Jewish community."

"To turn her back on our community, most notably on the eve of the two-month anniversary of the Oct 7 massacre, is a slap in the face to our community and to anyone who condemns the barbaric actions of Hamas," the statement continued.

Gondek's announcement was criticized by several Canadian politicians, among them MPs Shuv Majamdar, Melissa Lantsman, Marty Morantz, Michelle Rempel Garner and Anthony Housefather.

Calgary is not the only Canadian city where Hanukkah celebrations have become politicized due to the context of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Earlier this week, the city council of Moncton, New Brunswick reversed a decision to end the traditional menorah display outside city hall. Mayor Dawn Arnold apologized said the original decision showed a "lack of reflection and understanding."

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