The battles over public menorah displays are drawing to a close for the year as Closter and Fair Lawn agreed to allow Chabad menorahs to be placed at their municipal buildings this Chanukah season.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the borough council of Fair Lawn decided to allow Anshei Lubavitch to erect a menorah for the first time in Rabbi Levi Neubort’s five-year tenure. The opposing vote came from Mayor Martin Etler, who said he respects the decision of the other council members but has "very strong reservations about religious icons being on public property," he told The Jewish Standard Wednesday. "I think this is a further incursion of religion into government." A lighting ceremony was not discussed at the meeting, but Neubort hopes that will be addressed as the council works out the details of the display.
"Just that it’s up is such a big accomplishment, changing the status quo," he said. Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County had been trying since the 1980s to have a menorah set up in Fair Lawn, with no success, he said.
While Neubort said he expected the vote to carry into the future, Etler said the menorah’s placement would be a one-time event and would have to be voted on every year.
The details of the menorah’s size and placement will be worked out at a later session. In previous years, Neubort had offered to donate a 6- or 7-foot menorah to the borough. Now that council has agreed to the display, he said he is willing to donate the new 10-foot menorah that would have stood outside Anshei Lubavitch’s shul. Borough Manager Thomas Metzler expressed interest in his idea, Neubort said, but the rabbi understood that the council would decide how big a menorah would be displayed. Metzler could not be reached for comment by press time.
Despite the possibility of repeating the debate next year, Neubort is happy to have the menorah up for at least this year.
On Monday, Closter’s Mayor Fred Pitofsky told the Standard that the borough council had approved the request of Chabad on the Palisades and the Closter Menorah Committee to place a menorah at the municipal building but without any ceremony.
Pitofsky said he still would have preferred to have the menorah and a lighting ceremony at Closter’s Veterans Park, but that it would have been disruptive to the community to close off the necessary streets.
"It’s a fair solution," he said, "better than not having it at all."
Lubavitch on the Palisades’ Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, who had led the Closter Menorah Committee’s fight to place the symbol, agreed that it was a fair solution.
"We’ve very happy with the results," he said in a phone interview Monday. "We’re looking forward to a time when we’re going to have lighting ceremonies, but we’re happy as of now."
On Tuesday, however, Boyarsky sent an e-mail to the council expressing gratitude for being allowed to display the menorah but requesting a second hearing for permission to hold a lighting ceremony. He offered to cover all expenses related to set up and clean up. The council had not responded to him by press time.
Borough Council President Sophie Heymann said the decision to allow the menorah to be raised "without the major celebration they forced on us last year" had been made almost two weeks ago, after the council received Chabad’s Oct. ‘4 letter a response to the council’s previous decision to deny the organization permission to place a menorah on borough property this year.
Heymann added that the decision had been made at an open meeting that Chabad did not attend. Boyarsky said he had not been informed about the meeting and would have attended had he known.
The menorah will be on display Dec. 14 to ‘3. A cr?che will also be displayed Dec. 10 through Jan. 7.
"We’ve always worked very well with various religious organizations in town," Pitofsky said. "We’re proud of the fact we have a diverse group of churches and synagogues; they’re all an asset to the borough."
While Lubavitch on the Palisades continues its push for a lighting ceremony in Closter, Neubort is enjoying his victory in Fair Lawn. "When you have to fight for something and get it, it’s all the more satisfying," he said.