A Halloween-themed display at a Westbury catering hall last week has been labeled offensive by local Jewish leaders, who said in exchanges with the venue’s general manager that the “Zombie Holocaust Shelter” was in bad taste, an act of stupidity and anti-Semitic.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, and Rabbi Yakov Saacks, director of the Chai Center in Dix Hills, said in emails Tuesday to Westbury Manor general manager Jerry Scotto that the booth, displayed for three hours inside the venue as part of a Halloween party and fundraiser last week, crossed the line from playful and funny to an insensitive act.
“I don’t think everything needs to be thrown out of proportion,” said Saacks, whose congregation is home to up to 350 families. “It was a stupid and probably childish act but, when confronted, say, 'Whoops! You’re right,' and apologize.”
Scotto said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that he didn’t agree with the words on the display, which also was part of a fundraiser held by Westbury Arts in Westbury. But he said he was sure they were not intended to offend.
“I don’t have any other comments other than I don’t agree with the use of the words,” he said. “I would certainly recommend to them [Westbury Arts] not to do that again, but I don’t feel they were meaning to insult anybody. And I think now that they know that this might be offensive, that they certainly shouldn’t do it again — nor will I allow it.”
Saacks and Teldon said they were upset with what they saw as Scotto’s indifference to their concerns and those of Matthew Kreinces, a Mineola-based attorney who brought the issue to their attention. Kreinces could not be reached Tuesday night.
Julie Lyon, president of the board of directors of Westbury Arts, a nonprofit devoted to community arts programming, said the term “holocaust” was “used in the generic sense of the word” and not meant to offend.
“We would never in a million years want to offend anyone in the community,” she said, adding that she would ask the administrator of the organization’s Facebook page to remove the image of the display. “And if I had thought that a Halloween decoration was offensive, I would not have allowed it to be displayed.”
Teldon said the incident demonstrates how people are unfamiliar with others’ pain.
“When people are victims of some type of oppression, unless someone has been in their shoes, it’s hard to know how they would react to the use of their suffering as a lighthearted and harmless act,” he said, adding that the sense of hurt from the term “holocaust” can apply to many peoples besides Jews. “Sometimes people think they can do anything in the name of Halloween.”