Winter Garden reschedules city commission and budget meeting for Jewish holy day
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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Courtesy of slgckgc Licensed under CC by 2.0
The shofar (a ram's horn) is blown to signal the end of Yom Kippur.
This story was updated Oct. 6 to reflect comments by the Winter Garden mayor and commissioners.
On Sept. 29, Winter Garden city commissioners were slated to discuss the final budget, among other matters. When the evening was preempted by Hurricane Ian, the city rescheduled the meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 5. However, that’s also Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement — the holiest day of the Jewish year.
That means even if they wanted to, Jewish residents may be unable to attend the budget hearing.
Yom Kippur is a day of “introspection, prayer and asking God for forgiveness,” according to the Jewish organization Chabad. Observant Jews are expected to spend the day in synagogue and refrain from eating and drinking for 24 hours. Yom Kippur lasts from sundown Oct. 4 until sundown Oct. 5. The fast is broken with a light meal after sundown.
“It’s certainly not ideal because Yom Kippur is not technically over until about 8 p.m. on Wednesday,” Cantor Kim Singer who leads Temple Shir Shalom of Oviedo said in a phone interview. “It seems like you’re cutting out members of the community by scheduling a meeting on a major religious holiday of any religion. I’m sure they wouldn’t schedule a meeting for the 25th of December.”
The re-scheduling may also potentially violate one of Winter Garden’s own policies.
Holding a public city meeting at a time when an entire class of people in the community is not able to attend appears to go against the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) Resolution that the city unanimously passed just three months ago.
The resolution reads in part:
The City of Winter Garden always has and will continue to uphold the inherent dignity and right of all people to have equitable access, opportunity, and participation in their city. The City of Winter Garden is dedicated to creating a safe environment where hate, racial injustice, discrimination of any kind, and the politics of division, including social marginalization, will have no place in our City.
“If they’ve said that they intend to be inclusive, then they ought to stick to that,” Singer said. “Would they have a problem with a meeting on Dec. 25th? If they would, then they really shouldn’t have one tomorrow until it’s at least 8 o’clock at night.”
This is the second time in two years that Winter Garden has scheduled budget and commission meetings on Yom Kippur. In 2021, the city shifted its Sept. 9 city commission meeting to allow a special exhibit for the 20th anniversary of September 11 to occupy the Commission Chambers at City Hall. That meeting was rescheduled for Sept. 15, at the start of Yom Kippur.
When asked by VoxPopuli during public comments at Wednesday's meeting how the decision to meet on Yom Kippur reflected the city's new DEI Resolution, a visibly annoyed Mayor John Rees cited scheduling conflicts, without directly answering the question.
"We apologize and ... okay," he snapped. "We didn't do it on purpose."
Other commissioners sounded a more conciliatory note.
"We probably do need to do better," said Commissioner Mark Maciel, who represents District 3. "We’ll try to do better. If we did offend anybody, I do apologize for that. We’ll certainly do better going forward. I’ll talk to the city manager about that. I think we can try to do that. It’s a small thing."
District 1 Commissioner Lisa Bennett offered apologies. "I also am sorry about Yom Kippur," she said. "It wasn’t intentional."
District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller, who asked "for forgiveness on this Day of Atonement," gave assurances the city would be more mindful of the the calendar next fall.
"Your words are heard by us," Mueller said. "We are now wiser to that ... we are now more sensitive to that. And I will carry that forward into 2023 with a promise that we will be cognizant of Yom Kippur so we do not meet on this holiest of days."