Chabad Wins this Round

The latest round in the decade-long battle over whether Chabad can display a large Chanukah menorah in Beverly Hills has been decided.
December 4, 1997

The latest round in the decade-long battle over whether Chabad candisplay a large Chanukah menorah in Beverly Hills has been decided.

And the winner is…Chabad. Kind of.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Terry H. Hatter Jr. struck down asunconstitutional a provision of a Beverly Hills City Councilordinance that limits to no more than two consecutive days thedisplay of menorahs in the city parks. The law effectively preventedChabad from displaying its 27-foot menorah in Beverly Gardens Park onSanta Monica Boulevard for the duration of the eight-day holiday.

Chabad had sponsored a menorah-lighting ceremony at the park for10 years, until a series of lawsuits by the American Jewish Congressand the American Civil Liberties Union prompted the city to takeaction. The two groups had argued that displaying a religious symbolon public property was a breach of church-state separation, and thatallowing a menorah display showed unfair preference to one religiousgroup.

Their court challenge ignited a controversy that divided many inthe Jewish community and in Beverly Hills.

Shortly after Beverly Hills enacted the two-day rule, Chabad fileda lawsuit, attacking its constitutionality. By barring a menorah frombeing displayed the full eight days, Chabad attorney Nathan Lewinargued, the city was effectively eliminating “75 percent of theholiday of Chanukah” and infringing on Chabad’s “rights of expressionand religious exercise.”

West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin said that thecourt’s ruling “should send a clear signal that federal courts willnot condone religious intolerance, regardless of its source.”

But AJCongress officials see the judge’s decision as somethingless than Gabriel’s trumpet, to put it mildly. “It’s just oneregulation out of a dozen,” said David Waskow, AJCongress’ programdirector. “The others still stand.”

The other regulations in the law severely curtail the type, sizeand use of any symbol displayed on public property. No symbol can beleft unattended or overnight, and none can require a permanentconcrete footing — a regulation that prohibits Chabad from using itsmassive Agam menorah in Beverly Hills.

The ACLU and AJCongress have long argued that governments whichallow display of religious symbols on public property could notdiscriminate against any religion. “We just wanted a fair playingfield for everyone,” said Waskow. When courts upheld the AJCongress’contention, groups, from the John Birch Society to homelessorganizations, applied for display permits. Beverly Hills scrambledto enact laws that severely restricted the length, size and scale ofsuch displays.

The latest skirmish lengthened the allowable period forconsecutive displays to eight days. Flushed from its legal victory,Chabad is planning a massive menorah lighting this year at the park.On Dec. 23, at 4 p.m., thousands of people are expected to take partin the kindling of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah. –Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

Two kidsand a tall friend at last year’s event.

A Mall Gathering

Instead of taking in a movie or chowing down on Chinese food onChristmas day, about 400 young Jewish leaders are expected tovolunteer at about 30 sites throughout greater Los Angeles. Projectsfor the fourth annual Tikkun L.A., which takes place on Thursday,Dec. 25, will include preparing meals for homeless families andbattered women, distributing toys, and interacting with teens andseniors.

This year, volunteers will gather for assignments at the WestsidePavilion at 11:30 a.m. In a new twist, after completing their day’swork, participants and interested members of the public will betreated to an “Israel at 50” Chanukah entertainment program at 3:30p.m. on the third level of the mall (10800 W. Pico Blvd., West LosAngeles).

Events will include the world première of “Rabin,” anorchestral work in five movements composed by Aaron Zigman andperformed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. KABC-AM host DennisPrager will also guest-conduct the symphony in “Hatikvah.” The daywill culminate in a Chanukah candlelighting by Rabbi Harvey Fields ofthe Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Tikkun L.A. is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation’s JewishCommunity Relations Committee and Access departments. For moreinformation about volunteering, call the Access Tikkun L.A. Hot Lineat (213) 683-3433. To learn more about the Chanukah celebration, call(213) 761-8241. — Staff Report

Honoring the Mayor

The Jewish Federation’s FashionIndustries Division will honor Mayor Richard Riordan on Tuesday (Dec.9) at its annual dinner. The mayor is being feted for his businessleadership in the Los Angeles fashion community and for hisphilanthropic and humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Jewish andgreater Los Angeles communities.

A major supporter of the Federation, the mayor traveled to Israela year ago and has been instrumental in boosting a nascentpartnership between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. For the past two years,Riordan has made the first call at the Federation’s annual SuperSunday phone-a-thon and was the featured speaker at the 1995 FashionIndustries Division luncheon.

The Dec. 9 event will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom ofthe Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., BeverlyHills. The cost is $250 per person. Saxophonist Dave Koz will be thefeatured entertainer, and dietary laws will be observed. Seats arestill available, but reservations are suggested. To make them, callKaren Sternfeld, Fashion Industries Division director, at (213)761-8224. — Staff Report

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