Rabbi Jack Paskoff

In this FILE photo, Rabbi Jack Paskoff is seen in front of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster. (Marty Heisey / Staff)

Concerned citizens are reaching out to a Jewish family who pulled their child out of a Hempfield elementary school because they felt blamed for the controversial cancellation of a Christmas play.

An initiative by the Lancaster Interfaith Coalition has resulted in some 100 messages of support and encouragement for the family.

Rabbi Jack Paskoff of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster is relaying the messages, which came from across the country and from people of many faiths.

“There are people who agree with the cancellation and people who don’t agree, but universally, everyone has expressed that this is not the way that we should behaving, that a child and a family should not feel threatened, that it is unconscionable,” said Paskoff. “I can only hope that the family is finding some level of comfort in that.”

As LNP reported Thursday, the family said it felt blamed and singled out for Centerville Elementary School’s decision to end its longstanding production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

They took their child out of school  and left the area temporarily after being disturbed by reader comments like “Exterminate them all” on conservative media outlets such as FOX News and Breitbart News Network, which portrayed the school’s decision last week as a “war on Christmas” prompted by parent complaints.

The family told LNP that they had asked only if their child could be  excused from the play, and were told yes. School officials said the play was canceled because it takes too much classroom time to produce, not because of any complaints.

On Thursday evening the Anti-Defamation League, which works to fight anti-Semitism, called reports that the family fled “untrue and damaging.”

Robin Burstein, the league’s associate regional director, told LNP Friday the family left the area for vacation “one day earlier than they had originally planned, because they were concerned about the backlash of the media that was put out over the weekend, but they did not flee.”

No further comment was available from the family Friday.

Messages of support

Paskoff said he hopes that more people step forward to speak against intolerance, and also that school districts “will look more proactively about building a sense of mutual respect.”

Messages for the family can be emailed to him at jpaskoff@shaarai.org.

Activist Kevin Ressler, who runs the Lancaster Meals on Wheels, said he and others are working to co-found a group called Lancaster Action Now Coalition “to be vigilant in highlighting concerns around oppression and rapid response.”

“People who attack children because their religious beliefs differ from their own need to take serious levels of introspection,” he said.

Those  interested in joining the coalition’s effort can email LANCoalition@gmail.com or contact them using the group's new Facebook page.