Members of the public came out in force at a meeting Wednesday night to speak in support of a proposal by a menorah committee, introduced in early August, to light a privately funded menorah on the Ridgewood Avenue side of Van Neste Park.
Lara Cohen noted the numerous other public displays around Bergen County, and along with other residents in attendance emphasized the importance of sending a positive message about religious tolerance.
“My children always ask, ‘Where is the menorah in Ridgewood, where is the menorah in our town?” she said.
Many of those present, including John Hartnett, the rector of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Ridgewood, who spoke in support of the proposal, said a menorah would complement the annually lit town Christmas tree and underscore the diversity of the village.
“What a gift in our village that we can shine a light on one another, each in our own season of light,” said Elyse Frishman, a rabbi at Barnett Temple in Franklin Lakes and a Ridgewood resident, referring to the two holiday displays that could at times coincide downtown.
For others, the proposal was a testament to how far the community has come in its acceptance of diverse faiths, “for people who lived in Ridgewood all these years who weren’t shown houses or weren’t treated fairly in school,” as Nicole Cohen put it.
One resident raised concerns about abandoning separation of church and state, a principal which Village Attorney Matt Rogers said did not pose a legal obstacle to the proposal. He did, however, advise the council that the village’s installation of its first explicitly religious public display could require the accommodation of other religious groups in the future.
“In order to withstand any type of constitutional challenge, you would have to embrace [all religions],” he said.
While some on the council, including Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli and Councilman Tom Riche, expressed some reservations about losing control of the groups that could in the future request similar public displays, all five on the dais expressed support for the proposal.
Riche said that possibilities down the road should not be a “deciding factor” in the vote on the proposal.
Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh added that the display was long overdue, saying it was “ridiculous that we have not had a menorah in Ridgewood.”
Mayor Paul Aronsohn, pointing out that 28 other towns in Bergen County already have similar displays, said that the council would review the proposal with members of the menorah committee and hammer out the specifics.
He said that it would be unlikely to come up for a vote at the council’s Sept. 18 meeting, but that the council would move forward with the proposal expediently to bring it to a vote in time for an early Hanukkah start this year.