Holiday trees are back at Sea-Tac

Decorations restored following uproar over inclusion of menorah

The Associated PressDecember 12, 2006 

SEATAC - The Christmas trees are going back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Pat Davis, president of the Port of Seattle Commission, which directs airport operations, said late Monday that maintenance staff would restore the plastic holiday trees, festooned with red ribbons and bows, that were removed during the weekend.

Airport managers had ordered removal of the 14 trees from the main terminal's public spaces.

They had said they believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display, as Seattle Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky had requested, they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures, which was not something airport workers had time for during the busiest travel season of the year, Airport Director Mark Reis said earlier Monday.

No lawsuit

Port officials received word Monday afternoon that Bogomilsky's organization would not file a lawsuit at this time over the placement of a menorah, Davis said in a statement. "Given that, the holiday trees will be replaced as quickly as possible."

Davis added that the rabbi "never asked us to remove the trees; it was the port's decision based on what we knew at the time."

There were no immediate plans to display a menorah, airport spokesman Bob Parker said. He added that restoration of the trees was expected to take place overnight Monday.

"A key element in moving forward will be to work with the rabbi and other members of the community to develop a plan for next year's holiday decorations at the airport," the port statement said.

The rabbi said publicly Monday he would not be pursuing a lawsuit, his lawyer, Harvey Grad, said Monday evening in a telephone interview. Grad said he conveyed that information to the port's chief counsel, Craig Watson.

The rabbi also offered to give the port an electric menorah to display, Grad said.

"We are not going to be the instrument by which the port holds Christmas hostage," Grad said, emphasizing the rabbi never sought removal of the trees, but addition of the menorah.

The rabbi had received "all kinds of calls and e-mails," many of them "odious," Grad said. He added he was "trying to figure out how this is consistent with the spirit of Christmas."

The rabbi was not reachable by phone Monday evening; one phone number rang unanswered.

"For many people, the Christmas tree is an important symbol of the season. Our goal was to include a menorah in the airport as well so that we could bring extra light with Hanukkah's universal message of hope," Bogomilsky wrote earlier Monday on behalf of his organization, Chabad of Greater Seattle. "Our discussion of possible legal action was never about removing Christmas trees - it was about protecting the right to add menorahs."

As to the port's statement about developing a plan for next year's holiday decorations at the airport, Grad said, "I think it's bogus - 'We'll talk to you next year.' All they're offering is what they were to begin with."

Thirteen of the original trees sat above foyers that lead outside to the airport drive. The largest tree, which Reis estimated to be 15 or 20 feet tall, was placed in a large lobby near baggage claim for international arrivals.

Some airline workers had taken the holidays into their own hands earlier Monday, decorating ticketing counters with miniature Christmas trees. The airlines lease space for ticket counters from the airport, and can display trees there if they want, Reis said.

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