‘It hurts us’: Austin-area Jewish community questions funding holiday decorations that exclude menorah

Hays

BUDA, Texas (KXAN) — The City of Buda is now allowing a designated space for a menorah to be displayed on city property for the first time to mark Hanukah celebrations.

But the city won’t fund it, as it does other holiday decorations.

Several Buda neighbors have reached out, saying this is unfair. They either couldn’t be interviewed or didn’t want to—but wrote:

“They approved it to be on display somewhere. However, they will not pay for it…disappointed…”

“Our taxes already pay for Christmas decorations, so it seems like there’s an issue with allocating funds towards the inclusion of a Menorah.”

“They are supporting Christianity with tax money but refusing to do the same for Judaism.”

 The Chabad of San Marcos is the only synagogue for Jewish worship in Hays County.

Now, congregants like Andrew Cousineau question why Judaism isn’t getting equal treatment with Christianity in their community of Buda.

“I wouldn’t ask someone to fund something for my faith if they’re not funding it for other faiths,” Cousineau said.

According to the City of Buda, on average it spends roughly $134,500 on costs related to holiday decorations including a tree with lights that are considered more secular, than religious. A part of these costs includes generators for electricity and labor for putting everything up.

But the city doesn’t put up a menorah.

“A lot of it has legal implications from the Supreme Court, the separation of church and state,” City of Buda Parks and Recreation Director Greg Olmer said.

The Jewish community argues the city’s assessment of what’s secular versus religious isn’t accurate.

“The menorah’s message is the idea of light over darkness,” Chaya Weingarten, co-director of Chabad San Marcos said. “If the Christmas displays are there because they share more of a universal message, the menorah plays right into that.”

Though the City of Buda won’t pay for a menorah, it is offering a spot on Main Street for religious groups to set up displays.

“In downtown, it’s a prominent area,” Olmer said.

One Jewish community member started an online fundraiser for the menorah. Another Christian faith-based group has even offered to help fund it.

“If it were my faith that was somehow being set aside, and other faiths elevated in favor, I would feel the same way,” Reverend Lisa Straus with the Buda United Methodist Church said.
 
Still, some Jewish leaders argue, just making space isn’t enough.

“I think there’s moments like this, where we aren’t treated equal, and this is a minor thing to many people, but it hurts us,” Adam Loewey, a Jewish Community Leader said.

The City of Buda says menorah displays in other surrounding communities don’t use tax-payer dollars and are funded through separate community groups instead.

We confirmed that’s true in San Marcos and Austin.

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