Christmas trees return to Sea-Tac

The Christmas trees are back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Maintenance staff worked overnight to restore the 14 plastic trees that had been removed during the weekend because of a rabbi’s threat to sue over the lack of a menorah in the airport’s holiday decor.

Airport managers believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display, as Seattle Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky had requested, they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures. Airport workers didn’t have time to do that during the busy travel season, Airport Director Mark Reis said.

The rabbi "never asked us to remove the trees; it was the port’s decision based on what we knew at the time," Patricia Davis, president of the Port of Seattle commission, said in a statement late Monday.

However, port officials learned on Monday that Bogomilsky’s organization would not file a lawsuit over this year’s display, Davis said.

"A key element in moving forward will be to work with the rabbi and other members of the community to develop a plan for next year’s holiday decorations at the airport," the port statement said.

There were no immediate plans to display a menorah, airport spokesman Bob Parker said.

The rabbi offered to give the port an electric menorah to display, said his lawyer, Harvey Grad.

"We are not going to be the instrument by which the port holds Christmas hostage," Grad said. He said the rabbi had received "all kinds of calls and e-mails," many of them "odious," over the issue.

Grad said the rabbi never sought removal of the trees, only addition of the menorah.

"For many people, the Christmas tree is an important symbol of the season. Our goal was to include a menorah in the airport as well so that we could bring extra light with Hanukkah’s universal message of hope," Bogomilsky wrote in a statement Monday on behalf of Chabad of Greater Seattle. "Our discussion of possible legal action was never about removing Christmas trees — it was about protecting the right to add menorahs."

Thirteen trees had stood above foyers that lead outside to the airport drive. The largest tree, which Reis estimated at 15 or 20 feet tall, stood in a large lobby near international baggage claim.

After the removal, some airline workers decorated ticketing counters with their own miniature Christmas trees.

Frontier Airlines customer service agents pooled their money to buy four 1-foot-high trees and placed them on their ticket counter. Delta Air Line workers put up a single larger tree.

The airlines lease space for ticket counters from the airport, and can display trees there if they want, Reis said.

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