Santa Monica nativity ban hits menorahs, too


The Santa Monica City Council has banned all future nativity, anti-nativity and Chanukah displays at the oceanfront Palisades Park. The 5-0 vote on June 12 ends a nearly 60-year winter tradition.

The religious displays have been the subject of controversy in recent years, with friction rising between religious groups and atheists. Historically, these displays have mostly been Christian, with Chanukah displays appearing in more recent years. Atheist community members made a formal complaint in December 2010 objecting to religious symbols being displayed on public property.

The result was that in June 2011, the seasonal display places were put up for a lottery. Of the 21 plots given out, 18 were won by atheists, two by Christian groups and one by Rabbi Isaac Levitansky of Santa Monica’s Chabad. The atheist displays that went up later that year expressed anti-religious sentiments, causing further complaints from a Christian group, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce started the nativity tradition in 1953 to attract more visitors to the area. This year visitors will have to do without.

Levitansky, who organized the only Jewish display in Palisades Park, says he’s disappointed with the decision.

“I feel bad that the city council and the city attorney could not find a medium to have the displays in public,” he said.

But Levitansky says the ban won’t deter him from promoting his religion.

“We will be putting around 60 public menorahs around Simcha Monica,” he said, “and if one goes down, two will go up.”

Rabbi Jeff Marx of the Reform Santa Monica synagogue Sha’arei Am says religious displays should stay on religious property.

“Religious displays make sense to be on religious property,” he said. “I would put it in our parking lot, as I wouldn’t expect the city to host our symbols.”

Marx also says menorahs have deep religious meaning, and are not meant to be cultural.

“There’s nothing traditional about a having 17-foot menorah in public. It’s unnecessary; these symbols belong in our homes,” he said.

Even as the city council was creating the ban, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, a coalition that includes 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, submitted a petition with 1,721 names, requesting that the ban be rescinded.

Karen Ginsberg, director of Santa Monica’s Community Recreation Division, which had allocated spaces for the displays, says the ban on unattended private displays will apply to all of Santa Monica’s parks, and will allow the city to continue to be religiously impartial.

“Under the first amendment, we cannot favor one religion over another, or one religious display over another,” she said. “This ban will help normalize the rules for all of our parks.”

Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle


Bubbie, my sweet grandmother, is a small woman, barely
5-feet tall. Her candelabra wasn’t just a candleholder used for the Sabbath and
Chanukah lights. It was a family symbol; a magnet that brought family and
friends together. On Sabbath evenings Bubbie would don a special Shabbos
kerchief. With great fanfare she would light each candle. When she finished
lighting the last candle she stood in front of the candelabra and clenched her
eyes; tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children
and her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, “Her mien tinere tata heat mien
kinder un de eynikloch” (Dearest Father, God watch and protect my children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May it be Your will that they grow up to
be good people and are loyal to our religion. Please grant my dear husband a
livelihood and patience. Watch over us all.).

We all stood by the Shabbos table in awe. Bubbie looked like
a queen speaking to the King of Kings, the Almighty God. When she finished her
prayer, we began our Sabbath.

As our family grew, Bubbie spent more time with her candles.
By the time she reached the beginning of her 96th birthday, Bubbie had many
married grandchildren who also had children. There were five generations in
Bubbie’s family. When lighting the candles, Bubbie prayed for each family
member.

Her candelabra was made of solid silver with a heavy silver
base. It was 2-feet tall. Year round it had three branches of two candlesticks.
In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbos
eve is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each
child is born, another candle is added. Throughout the year Bubbie’s candelabra
was fitted for five candles.

During the week of Chanukah she added another branch of two
candlesticks each, making a total of nine candles. The candelabra was built in
such a way that the candle holders could be removed and oil cups could be
inserted for the special lighting on Chanukah. Our Shabbos candelabra became a
menorah.

During Chanukah the prized candelabra was given to my
grandfather. He used it to fulfill the commandment of lighting candles for the
holiday. Chanukah was the happiest time for the family. All the children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Bubbie and Zadie to receive
holiday gifts of Chanukah gelt and joined in the lighting of the menorah.

Imagine the menorah lit with nine candles shining in its
glory. Zadie stood like a Kohen, the Jewish high priest, when he lit it. He
would be dressed in a special fur hat, called a streimel, with a magnificent
long, silk caftan.

When Zadie died, Bubbie would spend her winters in Miami
Beach. She took her candelabra with her. Every Shabbos, Bubbie would polish
it and pray, “May my mazel (luck) always shine!”

All this came to an end when someone stole her candelabra.
Bubbie was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke
about her most prized possession. How could anyone steal it? Her only concern
was how she would light her candles.

She believed it would return.

“I have prayed that the menorah would protect us and I’m
sure that the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect
itself and be returned to me.”

With silent determination she prayed and prayed. We, the
family, did not know what to do. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend from Austria,
Bubbie’s birthplace, visited us and announced, “I have never seen another
menorah like yours until today. I always wondered if there was a second
majestic menorah. Surprisingly I just saw a menorah just like yours in the
window of a gift store. It is a replica of yours.”

We were dumbfounded. Could it be that our guest had seen the
stolen menorah? Bubbie jumped up and said, “Let’s get my menorah back! It soon
will be Chanukah and I need the menorah.”

Bubbie, my parents, Bubbie’s girlfriend and a policeman made
their way to the gift shop. With a gleam in her eyes and a shout of joy Bubbie
pointed to the menorah and said, “Yes, you have done well. You have protected
us and now you have protected yourself. Come back home to my family and me.”

Before anyone could say anything, Bubbie grabbed the menorah
off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody was going to stop her.
Neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined her in her triumphant walk home. The
closer she got to her home, the more people that joined her. Bubbie, dressed in
the European manner, with her slight frame carrying a menorah that was almost
as big as her, with a procession of excited family and friends following, was a
sight to see. It truly was a Chanukah parade. The owner of the shop was
flabbergasted.

Needless to say, the menorah was given a special cleaning.
It became the most respected object of our Bubbie’s home. That Chanukah was the
brightest in Bubbie’s home. Who says that miracles can’t happen anymore?  


Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.

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