by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Usually, the stupidity of the masses is fought by the integrity of the few.

Now and then, it’s the other way around.

Take the case of Jill Burstein. She is a security guard at Detroit’s Renaissance Center. She sits behind a desk in one of the building’s many hallways.

The RenCen can be a cold, sterile place. So Jill decided to warm it up a little. At Halloween, she put a pumpkin on her desk. People smiled when they walked past.

At Thanksgiving, she put up two paper turkeys and a balloon. People smiled again.

Last week, she hung the words “Happy Chanukah” across the desk front.

And her boss told her to get rid of it.

She asked to see a higher official.

He told her the same thing.

“I got very upset, and I was crying,” Burstein said. She couldn’t understand why they hadn’t minded the Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, but suddenly took offense to a $5 Hannukah message. Was it something against Jews?

She was told a tenant had complained. She was also told the center’s policy: no religious displays outside stores or in hallways.

Take it down.

She took it down. Freedom for most

Now, America is a funny place. It was founded on religious freedom, and birthed in the idea that no man should impose his will or beliefs on another.

And yet, each December, America is turned over to Christmas, a holiday that celebrates the birth of one religious figure, Jesus, and one religion, Christianity. Elevators play Christmas music. Shopping malls have huge Christmas trees. Banks, office centers, and apartment building lobbies are decorated with everything from Santa Claus to nativity scenes — and nobody complains.

The radio stations are filled with songs like “Silent Night” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which includes the lyric “Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day.”

And nobody complains.

Public schools put on plays, pageants, children sing Christmas songs, celebrating the birth of Jesus. And nobody complains.

That is because Christianity is the majority religion of this nation. And what the majority wants, the majority usually gets. But think for a moment: Can you imagine how a Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or atheist feels this time of year, shopping in a store with “All hail the newborn king” coming from the loudspeakers?

This was Burstein’s point. The RenCen had the music, the trees, the wreaths, the lights. If you’re going to allow one religious message at this time of year, allow them all.

“Take it down,” she was told.

Now. It is worth noting that Jill Burstein was not born Jewish. She married

a Jewish man, and apparently has learned how to make room in her life for more than one belief.

Which is more than could be said for the order-givers at the Renaissance Center.

Until the story hit the news.

Then, the RenCen folks began backpedaling. First they said they had never condoned Burstein’s Halloween or Thanksgiving decorations. Then they said it was simply policy. When asked why trees, wreaths, and Christmas music were allowed, they said those “are not religious symbols.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League were in their face immediately.

Then came the good part. Phone calls get through

The phone began to ring. And ring and ring. People supporting Burstein. People demanding action. Some were Jews, outraged by a possible act of anti-Semitism.

But the vast majority were Christians.

Dozens. Then hundreds. So many that some officials had to take their phone off the hook. Almost all the callers supported Burstein. They said things like, “This is not what being a good Christian is about.” Some were so upset, they were crying. “Please tell Mrs. Burstein we don’t all think like that.”

The RenCen people were swamped. They immediately agreed to change their policy. Displays will now also be erected for Hannukah, as well as Quanxas and Las Posadas. The word “inclusiveness” — I know, a politically correct term, but one with a good deal of common sense — will become the policy. The RenCen will officially “thank” Burstein for bringing the issue to its attention.

And Burstein? She’s quitting.

Not over this incident — she had planned to leave anyhow. But no doubt the fuss over a $5 decoration will stay with her for a while.

“I’m happy with the outcome,” she told ADL officials, “I feel good about things now.”

She has a right to feel good. In a funny way, her Hannukah message helped bring out the bottom-line message of Christmas: Peace on earth and good will towards men.

All men.

Or, in modern terms, all shoppers.


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