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Medford mayor apologizes for menorah display at City Hall that offended Jewish community

Medford City HallJonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn of Medford Tuesday apologized for the “appalling error” made by her office last week, when a City Hall menorah display outraged members of the local Jewish community for its antisemitic presentation that included Christian terminology.

“I am deeply sorry for the harm this incident has caused to our Jewish community and I know we have a lot of work to do to restore the trust of many of our residents and ensure something like this never happens again,” Lungo-Koehn said in a statement.

She said the “appalling error” is something she takes “full responsibility” for, adding that the controversy exposed “a lack of understanding from my office on diverse faiths and beliefs, and the damage this limited awareness can have.”

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The mayor also said she’s spoken with local Jewish leaders, expressing her “deep regret” and vowing the mistake won’t be repeated.

And, she stressed, her team’s not stopping there.

“Next week, my staff and I will be meeting with Jewish faith and community leaders to learn more about their concerns and priorities — and will work with them to increase inclusivity and belonging in our City and strengthen our relationships with the community,” she said. “These are the first steps we will be taking, with more to come. We will learn from this, we will make the necessary changes to our operations and we will be a better government.”

The mayor’s statement followed an outcry over the menorah display that appeared as part of the city’s Holiday Extravaganza, which celebrates a variety of faith traditions.

Many people took to social media to note that the display in question included a photo of a menorah with Christian references.

“This image was displayed in a frame in front of the Chanukah menorah at Medford City Hall’s holiday celebration last night,” resident Michael Bernstein posted last week in the Mobilize Medford Facebook group, above the image of a menorah with captions asserting some candles represent the “cross,” “resurrection,” and “atonement for Israel.”

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Bernstein wrote that “putting this image with the menorah is deeply offensive. Does anyone who understands this have the mayor’s ear?”

Peggy Shukur, deputy director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England branch, said in a separate statement Tuesday that the menorah error was preventable.

“This is a situation that never should have occurred as the local Jewish community could have and should have been consulted to explain its holiday and traditions,” Shukur said. “The focus must now shift from the act to the impact on the Medford Jewish community. This incident perpetuated antisemitic tropes.”

Shukur said the mayor “should take steps to repair the harm and turn to learning and inclusiveness — informing and educating staff and employees about antisemitic behaviors in order to reach a deeper understanding of the issues.”

Temple Shalom of Medford said in a statement posted to Facebook Sunday that the city has historically been “incredibly supportive” of the Jewish community.

“We were incredibly disappointed to see an antisemitic display at a city celebration, though heartened to learn it was not intentional,” the statement said. “We are grateful to those residents who brought it to our attention and to all who have raised their voices in support. We look forward to the city delivering on its promises of inclusion and engagement of the Jewish community.”

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Medford City Councilor-elect Kit Collins was among the many community members who had taken to social media last week to criticize the city for the display.

“To all those who spoke up about the erroneous and offensive depiction of a menorah displayed at last night’s holiday festival at City Hall, I see you & I thank you,” Collins tweeted Friday. “As a Jew, I understand how frustrating and painful it can be to have one’s faith be so egregiously misrepresented.”

Collins said she’s grateful “that the Administration responded swiftly to remove the offensive picture. I’m sorry this happened, but I hope and expect that it will spur us to do better going forward at properly respecting, representing, and celebrating the many cultures that exist in Medford.”

She concluded her Twitter thread with a call to action.

“We can do better, and we must,” Collins tweeted.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.