Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced her decision to skip the city’s annual menorah lighting ceremony at City Hall, claiming she could not attend because of the event’s support for Israel.
Gondek wrote in her press release, posted to X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday, that she has looked forward to attending the event over the years.
She said that when she initially asked to speak weeks ago, it was to bring traditional greetings celebrating Hanukkah and the spirit of Calgary’s Jewish community. However, she claimed in her release that the event had been repositioned as an event to support Israel.
“This last minute change goes against the original intention, and has left me feeling let down by leadership,” Gondek wrote.
She added that this change makes it impossible for her to attend, citing concern that people wishing to celebrate Hanukkah will have their good intentions compromised.
Calgary’s mayor recognized her responsibility to attend diverse and inclusive events with and for Calgarians from many faith-based and ethnic communities.
“However, when a celebration of community is turned into something with political intentions, it goes against the mission to uphold diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Gondek explained that she believes the changes in tomorrow’s event create a divide and force people to choose a side.
“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,” she wrote.
“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.”
“My heart remains with Jewish and Palestinian Calgarians who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones,” Gondek concluded.
The comments in response to Gondek’s press release on X have been very negative.
One of the most liked comments highlighted the hypocrisy in Gondek’s messaging.
“You realize this letter announcing you won’t attend is…political,” wrote the user on X.
“Weak and predictable from you. Seems like you were just waiting for an excuse not to attend,” wrote another.
Calgary’s federal Conservative MPs issued a joint statement in response to Gondek’s withdrawal from the event.
“We are deeply troubled by Mayor Gondek’s decision to withdraw from tonight’s menorah lighting event at Calgary City Hall. Her decision to withdraw could dangerously normalize antisemitism at a time when across campuses and communities, Jewish Canadians are already feeling threatened,” reads the statement.
The Conservative MPs strongly urged Gondek to stand with Calgary’s Jewish community and reconsider her message and decision to withdraw.
The Calgary Jewish Federation also released a statement hours after Gondek’s press release on Wednesday night.
“It is with tremendous hurt and disappointment that we learned this evening in a statement by Mayor Jyoti Gondek, that she has withdrawn her attendance and participation in our annual candle lighting event at City Hall because it is in her words, ‘an event to support Israel.’”
The Federation said that its community does not waver in its support of Israel, nor will its community forget that 140 Israeli hostages remain in captivity.
“Our yearning for peace in Israel and Gaza do not run counter to our support of Eretz Israel, but rather are inextricably linked,” said the Federation. The nonprofit organization released the statement at midnight on Wednesday and said they will issue a formal statement sometime on Thursday.
The Calgary Jewish Federation’s statement was released in conjunction with Rabbi Menachem and Rochel Matusof from the Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta.
The Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta has been organizing the community Menorah Lighting for 35 years.
Menachem Matusof, the religious organization’s senior Rabbi, told CBC that the event would function as both a celebration and a demonstration in support of Israel amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
“Unfortunately, due to what’s going on today, we had to put a program together that speaks to the current events,” said Matusof.
The senior Rabbi said that the event will include fun elements, such as music and dancing, but also feature solemn moments for prayers and songs of encouragement for the local community and people in Israel.
“It’s impossible to win a war, so to speak, by having our heads down, and we’re not [going] to let evil and negativity take over the world,” he said.
Rabbi Matusof said that his organization worked with city officials and the Calgary police to bolster security for the event. He added that the event is open for all residents of Calgary to attend.