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 Chabad in the Media

After months of controversy a Menorah will be erected in Poughkeepsie

Please click below to watch RNN report

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Lee Ferris/Poughkeepsie Journal
City of Poughkeepsie Tree Department's Frank Harris, left, and Rabbi Yacov Borenstein, right, help carry the front of the menorah as it's moved from his garage in the Town of Poughkeepsie.
Lee Ferris/Poughkeepsie Journal
City of Poughkeepsie Tree Department's Frank Harris, left, and Rabbi Yacov Borenstein, right, help carry the front of the menorah as it's moved from his garage in the Town of Poughkeepsie.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Menorah move irks rabbi

City wants display with other religious symbols

 By Michael Valkys

Poughkeepsie Journal

A holiday battle with constitutional roots is brewing in the City of Poughkeepsie.

A local rabbi may take the city to court after learning Friday city workers would not erect a menorah on the corner of Main Street and Civic Center Plaza, as they have for years.

Rabbi Yacov Borenstein of Chabad of Mid-Hudson Valley said he was informed by city officials Friday morning employees would not erect the 22-foot, privately owned menorah at its usual high-profile spot in front of an office building.

Borenstein expected the menorah to be set up Friday at its traditional location in advance of a Tuesday ceremony to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.

The rabbi said he has sent out hundreds of brochures to the area's Jewish community inviting them to Tuesday's event - at the traditional spot.

"We already advertised where it's going,'' Borenstein said. "I think to tell someone this at the last minute is a terrible thing.''

The city has offered to erect the menorah a short distance away on Main in a city-owned lot, where it would join a Christmas tree and a Muslim display.

Officials said concerns over church-state separation issues, and possible litigation, were among the reasons behind the city's decision to forbid its employees to erect the menorah at its traditional site.

Corporation Counsel Stephen Wing apologized for the city's late notice in informing Borenstein of the location change.

Wing said city officials believed the best location for the menorah is with the other displays in the city lot, where a farmers market is held in summer and fall.

"We said we want to have all the cultural symbols on one lot,'' Wing said. "The city would be happy to put it on the lot where the other symbols are going.''

Wing said the rabbi could put the menorah up at its traditional location, but he would have to use private, rather than city, workers.

Borenstein said he could not find workers to do the job on such short notice. He said he has the property owner's permission to place it there, and did not rule out finding a crew Monday to do just that.

City workers went to Borenstein's Town of Poughkeepsie home Friday and removed the menorah from his garage. But instead of putting it up, workers took the menorah and placed it in city storage until the issue of its location is settled.

The rabbi has retained local attorney Joel Hanig to weigh Chabad's legal options over the weekend.

Hanig said he asked city officials to put off changing its menorah policy until next year but they refused.

"They are refusing to budge,'' Hanig said.

He also criticized them for informing the rabbi at such a late date.

"Saying one day before the holiday 'We're not going to do this anymore,' it's an unreasonable thing to do,'' Hanig said.

Wing pointed out the proposed new location is only a short walk east of the menorah's traditional spot, and the city would put up signs directing visitors to the new site.

"It's not like this is being moved very far away,'' Wing said.

Borenstein said the traditional location, across from the Dutchess County Courthouse and Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel, is the spot local residents have come to associate with the holiday.

"It loses all its visibility,'' Borenstein said of the proposed site.

The menorah issue first came up this year after officials said some residents questioned why symbols from other religions were not included in the city's holiday displays. The Common Council had Wing review the issue.

City officials then determined it would be best to have the menorah moved to the Main Street lot and placed with displays from other faiths.

Promoting religious displays from various faiths makes a constitutional challenge less likely.

Such issues have sparked heated debates in communities across the United States over freedom of expression and the separation of church and state. Civil suits have been brought over mangers, menorahs and other religious displays.

Wing advised the council this year the U.S. Supreme Court has found Christmas trees and other decorations such as wreaths and candy canes are secular, not religious in nature. That means they do not violate the separation of church and state provisions in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Courts have ruled menorahs are religious symbols.

Key for Poughkeepsie and other municipalities is to avoid creating the appearance that government endorses one religion over another.

Borenstein said he is not sure how the matter will play out.

"We'll see what's going to happen Monday,'' Borenstein said of possible court action. "It's just all very shocking. The city knew about this weeks ago and they didn't tell me.''

Wing acknowledged the late notice should not have happened but that the menorah is welcome at the proposed new location with the other displays.

"We felt the best thing to do was to make the city's holiday season as open as possible to everyone,'' Wing said.

Reach Michael Valkys at mvalkys@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-437-4816.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Menorah, back home, to usher in Hanukkah
Judge orders city to erect symbol

Click to enlarge

Lee Ferris/Poughkeepsie Journal
Rabbi Yacov Borenstein, left, and attorney Joel Hanig use a bucket truck to light the menorah at the corner of Market and Main streets in the City of Poughkeepsie on Tuesday.


A menorah lighting is set for today at its traditional location at the corner of Main Street and Civic Center Plaza in the City of Poughkeepsie after a judge Monday ordered city workers to erect the Hanukkah symbol there."I'm very, very happy,'' Rabbi Yacov Borenstein said after the judge issued his decision. "Now, I feel the holiday can really be expressed with religious freedom. ... Ultimately, good always prevails.''

City officials had refused to allow Poughkeepsie's employees to set up the 22-foot, privately owned menorah at its home of more than 15 years. Officials informed Borenstein, of Chabad Mid-Hudson Valley, on Friday workers would instead erect the menorah only in a city-owned lot about 250 feet away on Main Street.

The menorah is expected to be moved by city workers from storage and erected this morning.

City officials had cited potential litigation based on constitutional church-state separation issues in deciding to move the menorah to the nearby lot, where holiday displays of other faiths are also located.

Borenstein Monday took the matter to court, asking acting state Supreme Court Justice James D. Pagones to order the city to erect the menorah at its traditional spot. 

Pagones granted Borenstein's request for a preliminary injunction directing city workers to set up the menorah today, in time for the start of Hanukkah. Pagones' ruling was limited to the injunction request. It did not address the larger constitutional issues the case raises.

"I believe plaintiff has met the threshold,'' Pagones said in granting Chabad's request.

Pagones issued his ruling following a 45-minute hearing at the Dutchess County Courthouse in downtown Poughkeepsie. Both sides are due back in court next month for a conference, where they will likely address whether the city will continue to supply equipment and labor to erect the menorah.

Local attorney Joel Hanig represented Borenstein and Chabad in court. He argued the city failed to give Borenstein enough notice of the location change, and that the proposed new site farther east along Main was not as visible as the traditional one off Civic Center Plaza - across from the Mid-Hudson Civic Center and the courthouse.

Hanig noted Borenstein had sent out thousands of invitations for today's ceremony, which listed the traditional spot.

The alternate location, Hanig argued, "is out of sight of anybody expecting to see the menorah'' in its usual place.

City officials said Borenstein could use private workers to erect the menorah at its usual location, where the rabbi has permission to do so from the property owner.

But Hanig said Friday's notification of the site change left the rabbi no time to find workers to do the job usually done by city workers with city equipment.

"It would become impossible for Rabbi Borenstein to solicit other arrangements,'' Hanig told Pagones, adding the city had placed an "incredible hardship'' on Chabad.

Avoiding lawsuits
Attorney James Fedorchak, representing the city, told Pagones officials decided this year to have displays from various faiths exhibited in one location, an effort to protect Poughkeepsie from potential litigation.

Court rulings indicate promoting religious displays from various faiths makes a constitutional challenge less likely.

Fedorchak argued the city acted based on "what it thinks is constitutionally correct,'' and was "in good faith seeking to insulate itself'' from possible lawsuits.

The menorah issue first came up this year after officials said some residents questioned why symbols from other religions were not included in the city's holiday displays. The Common Council asked Corporation Counsel Stephen Wing to review the issue.

Officials eventually determined it would be best to have the menorah moved to the Main Street lot and placed with other holiday displays.

But in court papers filed Monday, Borenstein called the city's decision to change the menorah's location "a deliberate attempt to hide the symbol of the Hanukkah celebration and religious freedom from view and to deprive it of the visibility and prominence that it has enjoyed for more than 15 years.''

Borenstein also claimed in court papers the city's conduct was done "to deprive'' Chabad "of its free exercise of religion and free speech'' guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Wing denied that was the case.

"It's unfortunate the city didn't advise Rabbi Borenstein earlier than it did,'' Wing said. "That was a mistake, and that's all it is.''

Borenstein took the stand and told Pagones he did not understand why the menorah had to be moved after 15 years in the same location.

"Absolutely, and with a smile, it was going on for many, many years,'' Borenstein said of the lighting ceremony. "Jews and non-Jews are delighted to see the beautiful lights of Hanukkah in that spot. ... It brings out the warmth and spirit of the holiday. Why should it be moved?''

Reach Michael Valkys at mvalkys@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-437-4816.

Saturday, December 8, 2007
Menorah joins display on town hall lawn
Rabbi: Symbol is way to bring community together

Click to enlarge

Lee Ferris/Poughkeepsie Journal
A menorah with a message wishing a "Happy Chanukah" from the Chabad Lubavitch of the Mid-Hudson Valley was set up at the Hyde Park town hall on Friday.



 

HYDE PARK - A menorah was added to the holiday display at the town hall Friday.

 

 

Rabbi Yacov Borenstein of Chabad Lubavitch of the Mid-Hudson Valley said he contacted town Supervisor Pompey Delafield about putting up the symbol of Hannukah near the manger scene.

 

"It's shining; it's beautiful," Borenstein said after it had been erected and lighted.

 

 

He said he wanted to use the menorah to get rid of negativity in the community.

 

 

"I want to show that we can all get along and have a peaceful holiday," Borenstein said.

 

 

 

Hanukkah is the celebration of the 168 B.C. victory of a small group of Jews in Israel, the Maccabees, who fought off a Syrian and Greek occupation of their holiest temple.

 


 

The menorah represents the miracle of the oil used in rededicating that temple. While there was only enough for one day, it lasted for eight.

 


 

Asked for removal

The manger, which has been a 30-year tradition, had been threatened with removal when Bonnie Meadow, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Dutchess County, requested it be taken down because it offended some non-Christians in Hyde Park and said it violated federal law.

 


 

Meadow withdrew her request Thursday.

 


 

Delafield did not return calls Friday seeking comment.

 


 

On Thursday, he an-nounced the manger would remain and also said the town would welcome the placement of other religious symbols on the town hall lawn.

 


 

After reading about Delafield's comments, Borenstein decided to find a menorah and put it up.

 


 

"What could be better than this, a message of peace and harmony," he said.

 


 

Borenstein got an injunction Monday to have City of Poughkeepsie workers erect a menorah at the corner of Main Street and Civic Center Plaza, its home for more than 15 years.

 


 

City officials wanted it moved to a vacant lot on Main Street with other holiday displays.

 


Reach Michael Woyton at mwoyton@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-451-4518

 

 


 

 

 

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Food, stories relate Passover significance

 

Kathy McLaughlin/ Poughkeepsie Journal
Rabbi Yacov Borenstein watches the burning of the Chametz with his children, from left Yosef, 5, Chaya 31 2/3 2, and Menachem, 14, in the driveway of their home in the Town of Poughkeepsie on Monday.

Monday, April 2, 2007
No need to panic over Passover preparations

 








 
 
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