A choir teacher removed a Hanukkah song from a middle school holiday concert in Rochester, Minnesota, after students “expressed concern that singing a traditionally Jewish song could be perceived as taking a side in the ongoing international conflict,” according to a report by KTTC-TV.
The story, by reporter Megan Zemple, says the incident involves Kellogg Middle School and was confirmed by the School District, which stressed it does not have a district policy banning religious songs.
According to Zemple’s report, the teacher also removed a Kwanzaa song from the concert. The teacher was not identified in the report. The incident comes after a controversy over a menorah lighting ceremony that won’t be held in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Here’s what you need to know:
The District Says the Teacher ‘Removed 2 Songs’ From the Holiday Song List
According to KTTC, the television station learned about the report from a parent who was concerned that the teacher removed the Hanukkah song after saying it was too “controversial” because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“This was not a district directive. We don’t prohibit religious songs from being performed at holiday concerts,” Rochester Public Schools told Zemple.
The district also told KTTC:
A teacher removed two songs from the planned repertoire of holiday songs: a Kwanzaa song and a Hanukkah song. Both proved too difficult to learn to the quality expected within the time available. In addition, several students expressed concern that singing a traditionally Jewish song could be perceived as taking a side in the ongoing international conflict. The teacher engaged in dialogue with the students, which led to the teacher’s decision to remove these two songs from the concert program in early November. The District does not consider a song from any faith tradition to be inherently controversial.
ABC6 News reported that it had also obtained the above statement from the school district. Heavy has contacted the school district to get additional information.
A Somewhat Similar Controversy Broke Out in Williamsburg, Virginia, when a Community Group Opted Against Holding a Menorah Lighting
Meanwhile, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is criticizing a decision to not hold a menorah lighting at a community event in Williamsburg.
“Singling out the Jewish community by canceling this Hanukkah celebration is absurd and antisemitic,” he wrote on X. “The event organizers should immediately reconsider their actions and move forward with the menorah lighting.”
The Virginia Gazette reported that a local rabbi and the director of the 2nd Sundays Art and Music Festival “also disputed whether the menorah lighting had been canceled,” with the director “saying the event had not been formally scheduled.”
The event is sponsored by the nonprofit LoveLight Placemaking, according to the Gazette.
The rabbi told The Gazette that he wanted to hold a “30-minute Hanukkah celebration,” but the group rejected it as too controversial because of the Israel-Hamas war.
“The outrageous part … is the reasoning for not moving forward,” Chabad Williamsburg Rabbi Mendy Heber told The Gazette. “If you want to say no religions, you have the right to say what you want, go ahead. But to give that discriminatory reasoning is shocking and alarming to the broader Jewish community.”
According to The Gazette, Shirley Vermillion, the organization’s founder, told Heber the board did not want to be seen as “choosing a side” or appear to be “supporting the killing/bombing of thousands of men, women & children.” She told Heber the event would be allowed if it was held “under a cease fire banner,” The Gazette reported.