Porrtsmouth menorah

A request for a menorah in Portsmouth’s Market Square this Hanukkah season is being considered by the city council and city attorney.

Request to put menorah in Market Square heads to attorney

{child_byline}By Kimberley Haas

Union Leader Correspondent


PORTSMOUTH — City councilors in Portsmouth decided on Tuesday to move forward with a request that a 9-foot menorah be placed in Market Square during the eight days of Hanukkah.

The issue will now go to the city attorney’s office and be brought back up for discussion at the Dec. 2 city council meeting.

The request was made last week by Rabbi Berel Slavaticki of the UNH & Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center in Durham. Slavaticki said that they would like the menorah to be placed in Market Square, which is public property.

Portsmouth erects a large holiday tree in Market Square and decorative wreaths are hung from downtown lamp posts each December.

Councilor Chris Dwyer said during Tuesday’s meeting that she hopes the council can get more feedback from members of Temple Israel in Portsmouth — which traditionally hosts a Hanukkah menorah lighting outside its building on State Street every year — before they take a vote.

“I think it’s really important that we get some perspective from members of our local Temple Israel congregation before we would go forth with whatever we do with this,” Dwyer said, pointing out that Slavaticki’s center is not located in Portsmouth.

City Manager John Bohenko said he has requested that the local congregations in Durham and Portsmouth work together.

Slavaticki told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday afternoon why the Durham center wants a menorah displayed publicly in Portsmouth. He was not present at the city council meeting.

“We work with members and families and a community of people from all throughout the Seacoast area, so many of them are from Portsmouth. A lot of them always thought it would be a good idea since Portsmouth is also the hub of the Seacoast, and it would be appropriate to have a display of a public menorah,” Slavaticki said.

Slavaticki said they are considering making the request in the city of Dover and town of Exeter in future years.

“We’re trying to add more lights and spread more goodness and kindness in the world,” Slavaticki said.

The Jewish Center made a similar request to the town of Durham last year, asking that the menorah be placed in that town’s Memorial Park for the eight days of Hanukkah.

Durham town officials denied the request, which sparked national news attention and led to a change in Durham’s annual holiday tree lighting tradition. The event is now going to be a Frost Fest where Santa Claus is present but not a highlight of the event.

The Durham tree, which grows in Memorial Park, will be lit in advance of the event to avoid any appearance that Durham promotes Christianity.

Bohenko said officials in Durham are providing them with information about what they learned going through the process.

According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., the most frequent complaints they get in November and December concern religious displays on public property. They maintain that in America, federal, state and local governments are prohibited from advancing, promoting or endorsing religion as part of a fundamental principle of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the establishment of religion by Congress.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in last year when Claremont’s traditional Nativity scene and menorah display in Broad Street Park attracted their attention. An attorney for the nonprofit organization said at the time that they hope moving forward these types of displays don’t go back up.

On Tuesday, Portsmouth city attorney Robert Sullivan said that they have never received a similar request in the 37 years he has represented Portsmouth.

Sullivan said there is no local ordinance that prohibits religious displays on public land in the city, but he will consider all applicable law, including the U.S. Constitution and state laws, when making his recommendation.

Hanukkah will begin this year on Dec. 22 and run until Dec. 30.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019