Calgary mayor says she won’t attend Hanukkah ceremony because it’s too political

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek has opened up further on her decision to skip the menorah lighting at City Hall Thursday night.

By Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

The mayor of Alberta’s largest city says she won’t attend the annual menorah lighting ceremony to mark the beginning of Hanukkah because she believes it’s too political, but her decision led to a backlash from the Jewish community and Conservative politicians.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek posted a statement on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, saying Thursday’s ceremony at city hall has been repositioned as an event to support Israel.

“When I was asked to speak weeks ago, it was to bring traditional greetings celebrating Hanukkah and the spirit of Calgary’s Jewish community,” she said in the statement posted late Wednesday.

“This last-minute change goes against the original intention, and has me feeling let down by leadership. I am saddened that this change makes it impossible to attend.”

The Calgary Jewish Federation said in an email to its community members that it’s hurt and disappointed by the decision.

“As always, and particularly at this time, our community does not waver in our support of Israel, nor will our community forget that 140 Israeli hostages still remain in captivity,” the statement said.

“Our yearning for peace in Israel and Gaza does not run counter to our support of (the land of) Israel, but rather are inextricably linked.”

The federation added on social media that the mayor’s decision is also harmful to the community.

“In more than 35 years, a mayor has never chosen to miss this annual celebration during which we welcome in the light from the darkness,” it said in a post on X.

Gondek’s decision also prompted criticism from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and nine federal Conservative politicians from Calgary.

“I disagree with the mayor,” Smith told reporters during an unrelated news conference.

She said the United Conservative government will have a representative in attendance.

“We stand by the Jewish community at this time and we want to make sure that they know they are valued by us, so we will take part in their cultural event,” Smith said.

Pat Kelly, chairman of the federal Conservative caucus, said Calgary MPs are also troubled by the decision.

“Her decision to withdraw could dangerously normalize antisemitism at a time when, across campuses and communities, Jewish Canadians are already feeling threatened,” he said in a statement.

“Further, her absence and the statement she issued last night will not bring our city’s communities together. As public servants, we need to show up, provide leadership, and bring people together for our common good.”

Gondek was asked about her decision Thursday morning after she spoke at a housing conference in Calgary.

“I feel gutted by this,” she told reporters. “I am here in this role to bring communities together and (we’re) at a time when communities are fracturing among themselves.”

Gondek said she doesn’t know how the communities are going to get through it without some compassion and understanding.

She added in her letter that the changed nature of the event creates a divide and forces people to choose sides.

“There are no sides to choose when terrorists incite violence by murdering innocent Israelis, knowing retaliation will follow and lead to the murder of innocent Palestinians,” wrote Gondek.

“It is absolutely possible to condemn acts of violence and war without choosing one community over another. We have a moral imperative to do so.”

This week marks the second month of a brutal conflict that has killed thousands of civilians, including the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants and Israel’s swift and sustained retaliatory war in the Gaza Strip.

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