Twice-denied, Chabad Fox Chapel still aims to place its menora at the Fox Chapel municipal building.
Disappointed that Fox Chapel Borough Council refused to grant it permission to place its menora on public grounds, Chabad remains hopeful that a solution can be worked out for the future.
On advice of its solicitor, Fox Chapel council rejected Chabad’s request because the area where the menora would be located, the southern side of borough hall, is not a public forum and that private groups are not allowed to place objects there.
“We’re disappointed. … Our goal is community unity,” Chabad’s Fox Chapel Rabbi Ely Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld said that Chabad has received “a tremendous outpouring of support” including a significant amount from non-Jews.
Rosenfeld rejects the borough’s legal argument and thinks that there is sufficient legal precedent for locating a menora on public property.
“There’s no reason why [to reject it]. It’s not a legal issue,” Rosenfeld said.
He noted that Chabads in greater Pittsburgh have placed menoras at the Pittsburgh City-County building and Pittsburgh International Airport as well as on the grounds of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg and the White House.
“Menoras are a very common thing in America today,” Rosenfeld said. “It should be second nature for Fox Chapel to approve it. It’s a good opportunity to recognize the Jewish community here in Fox Chapel.”
Chabad held a menora lighting ceremony on private property at Fox Chapel and Freeport roads in O’Hara, Dec. 21. More than 250 people attended, including 50 school children from the O’Hara Elementary School chorus who sang Chanuka songs.
Fox Chapel Borough Manager Gary Koehler said he had a cordial meeting with Rosenfeld, but the borough still stands by its solicitor’s opinion. It also rejected Chabad’s menora request two years ago for the same reason. He pointed out that he’s only received two calls about council’s decision — one for and one against.
The borough practice of stringing lights on a mature pine tree at the municipal building has been going on for at least 60 years and that no one has objected to it, Koehler added.
Rosenfeld remains hopeful that Chabad and the borough will find common ground next year. He said his meeting with Koehler “focused on ways to influence council and ways to inform them more.”
“I am sure once they see what [Chabad’s request] is about, [they’ll support it]. I think ultimately they will come around,” Rosenfeld said.
(Ron Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)