February 2017 Church & State - February 2017

Pa. Jewish Family Center Of Viral Story About Canceled Christmas Play

  AU admin

A Jewish family in Pennsylvania became the focus of unwelcome attention after a Christmas play was canceled at their child’s school – and some people falsely blamed them.

The parents in September sought and were given permission for their fifth-grader to be excused from participating in a production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County had produced for at least two decades, according to the news websites Philly.com and LancasterOnline.com.

When the theatrical production was canceled in November, the family said some blame was cast their way and their child was harassed, even though they had not requested the play’s end.

In fact, school officials decided to cancel the production because preparation for it was taking up too much time. Hempfield School District officials posted a statement on the district’s website attributing the cancellation not on complaints, but rather on the excessive 20 hours of class time required to rehearse and produce the play.

LancasterOnline reported that the school’s first-year principal said the decision also was “rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students.”

The district said community members were offered the chance to revive the play outside school hours, but no one stepped forward to make it happen.

After conservative news outlets Fox News and Breitbart cast the play cancelation as part of the “war on Christmas,” the school district reported that it received more than 200 phone calls and emails. The family and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told LancasterOnline the family was alarmed by comments to the stories on those sites and pulled their child out of school early for a planned vacation.

“There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” the family said, according to LancasterOnline. They were referencing the man who fired an assault rifle in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria Dec. 5 after reading a fake-news story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring there.

The ADL pointed out, however, that some news reports about the family fleeing the area due to harassment were not accurate.

“News reports alleging that a Jewish family has ‘fled’ Lancaster County are untrue and damaging,” Nancy Baer, the ADL’s regional director, said in a statement. “We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays.”

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