A Star of David has been removed from the city of Westbrook’s holiday light display following complaints from Arab American residents who “found it to be offensive in relation to the conflict currently in the Middle East,” according to Mayor Michael Foley.

The six-pointed star, a historic symbol of Judaism, is prominent on the national flag of Israel, which is at war with Hamas in the Palestinian territories of Gaza. Westbrook replaced the lighted star with an image of a dreidel, commonly associated with the celebration of Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 7.

The Star of David

Zoe Sahloul, founder of the New England Arab American Organization, which is based in Westbrook, did not respond to messages seeking comment by the American Journal deadline Wednesday. Walid Moumneh, listed on the organization’s website as its board of directors president, also could not reached.

Westbrook Public Service workers had mounted the Star of David on a pole at Main and Stroudwater streets when it installed holiday lights in the city, which is known for its extensive seasonal display throughout downtown. The display features lighted depictions of Christmas trees, animals, snowflakes and snowmen and other winter images.

The star was meant to support the celebration of Hanukkah, Foley said, rather than serve as a religious symbol.

“It seemed to be an honest mistake with positive intentions,” he said.


After receiving the complaints, Foley said, city staff consulted with the Westbrook-based New England Arab American Organization, which recommended replacing the six-point star with a five-point star.

“We didn’t realize it would have caused controversy and (we are) disappointed to be in this situation,” he said in an email in response to American Journal inquiries about the star’s removal.

Molly Curren Rowles, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, said Tuesday she is disappointed that the alliance hadn’t heard about the removal of the Star of David from Westbrook officials.

“It could be a good opportunity for interfaith dialogue to better understand the concerns that are being raised and perhaps to provide some education about the history and meaning of the Star of David, which has been used to symbolize Judaism for millennia,” Rowles said. “However, a dreidel is an appropriate symbol for Hanukkah, if this is a December holiday display.”

Foley said the city has worked diligently in recent years to replace holiday displays depicting “specific religious symbols” with more generic light displays that celebrate the winter season.

“This decision aligns with a legal requirement for government agencies to avoid promoting any specific religion, and with court rulings on non-denominational symbols, such as the Christmas tree, dreidels or snowflakes,” he said.

He provided a copy of a legal opinion dated Nov. 6 from the city’s legal firm, Jensen Baird in Portland.

“We understand that it can be upsetting to some community members who may miss their favorite light displays as we update and expand our downtown lights, but our hope is to provide a beautiful holiday display that everyone in our diverse community can enjoy,” Foley said.

“We work every day toward making our community a more inclusive place to live, work and play, and this work extends to our holiday light investments as well,” he said.

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