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Menorah Display Comes Under Fire

December 03, 1989

In attempting to rationalize the Beverly Hills City Council's decision to permit the display of a Hanukkah menorah on public property while simultaneously denying a similar request to erect a cross, Mayor Max Salter is reported to have said: "All five of the council members are Jewish. The last thing we would want to do is uphold one religion against another." Yet this is the inescapable impact of the council's actions.

Since 1986, when Beverly Hills first allowed the fundamentalist Orthodox Jews of the Chabad movement to construct their 28-foot-high menorah on public land diagonally adjacent to the City Hall, the American Jewish Congress has protested this display.

Not only are such displays constitutionally suspect, they are wrong as a matter of public policy and are contrary to the interests and desires of the City Council's decision. While asserting that the Hanukkah menorah is "a secular symbol," Chabad's rabbis nevertheless announced their intent to conduct a public recitation of blessings over the menorah's candles.

In truth, as the U.S. Supreme Court declared this July: "The menorah, one must recognize, is a religious symbol; it serves to commemorate the miracle of the oil as described in the Talmud.

It is unfortunate indeed that the Beverly Hills City Council continues to ignore the collective voice of Los Angeles' mainstream Jewish community, which again this year condemned such displays. In a letter sent to all local elected officials, the Jewish Community Relations Committee joined with the American Jewish Congress and the other major national Jewish agencies in declaring that "the presence of religious displays on public property constitutes an improper dedication of those premises to one sect or creed to the exclusion of others."

This letter further noted that "there are ample non-governmental sites for such displays. There is no need for public land or structures to used for this purpose."

Sadly, too, in the face of its menorah decision, Beverly Hills' appropriate refusal to permit placement of a cross on public land may be viewed as discrimination against Christianity and as a preference for symbols of Judaism. Such a communal perception, even if inaccurate or unintended, causes irreparable damage to the fabric of our society and invariably creates interreligious disharmony and conflict.

DOUGLAS E. MIRELL

pres., American Jewish Congress

Pacific Southwest Region

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