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Md. festival axed over Jewish holy day conflict

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Montgomery County's newly minted parks director has canceled a 24-year-old festival because it coincides with the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, angering some fans of the annual event.

Director Mike Riley announced Wednesday that he's cancelling the Harvest Festival, which had been set for Oct. 4, because it falls on Yom Kippur.

The event draws about 4,000 people to activities including sheepdog demonstrations and country music performances.

On his first day as parks director, Riley said he got an email informing him of the conflict and saying that holding the festival on a day when the vast majority of Jews can't make it is insensitive, The Washington Post reported (http://wapo.st/1lEXRHV ).

His staff told Riley that the same conflict happened several years ago but that the festival had gone ahead anyway, since it traditionally was held the first weekend of October.

This time, marketing for the event hadn't begun and only people involved even knew about the date. So Riley, who oversees 421 parks in the county, spoke to some of his Jewish colleagues and other department leaders and "their reaction was totally universal: 'Oh my gosh,'" he said.

After trying unsuccessfully to reschedule the festival, Riley made the decision to cancel it

Since announcing the cancellation, Riley said he's gotten dozens of angry emails

"I am absolutely disgusted with Mr. Riley's poor decision making and leadership," Rex Reed, president of the Friends of the Agricultural History Farm Park, which was to host the festival, wrote to his constituents Thursday.

He said that a few years ago, the festival switched to include Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, which means Orthodox Jews wouldn't be able to go anyway since many don't drive that day.

"Apparently, it is OK to discriminate against some Jews, but not others," Reed wrote.

"In this country we have the freedom to practice our different religious beliefs, and we are all free to make our own decisions as to what we attend," the letter read.

George Leventhal, an at-large County Council member, said he agrees with Riley's decision.

"Especially to have a public event celebrating food on a fast day — that would appear boneheaded, and insensitive," he said.

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