PORTSMOUTH — Leaders at the UNH & Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center are requesting that a 9-foot menorah be placed in Portsmouth’s Market Square during the eight days of Hanukkah this December.
The request was made by Rabbi Berel Slavaticki in a letter dated Nov. 4. It is part of the Portsmouth City Council’s package for Tuesday night’s meeting.
Slavaticki wrote that the group would like to see the menorah in Market Square “wherever space allows.”
“Along with the Menorah, we will supply you with a professionally made sign acknowledging the ‘Universal Message of the Chanukah Lights,’” the letter states.
Slavaticki wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1989 that a Hanukkah menorah display is permissible on public property and that to disallow it while celebrating Christmas as a cultural tradition is discrimination against Jewish people.
Portsmouth has a large holiday tree in Market Square each year and wreaths are hung on lampposts downtown.
The Jewish Center is located in Durham. Last year, Slavaticki’s request to display the 9-foot menorah next to the holiday tree in that town’s Memorial Park made national news when Durham officials denied it.
Earlier this fall, leaders at the Jewish Center made another request for the menorah in Durham. Town Administrator Todd Selig said that was not pursued after the public works department said it could accommodate a one-time lighting ceremony similar to last year’s but that the menorah could not go up for the eight days of Hanukkah.
“We don’t allow long-term displays of religious symbols on town property,” Selig said on Friday.
Selig said a Winter Celebration Committee was formed earlier this year and that it decided to change the town’s holiday tree lighting ceremony to a FrostFest that will include Santa Claus, but not highlight him as in years past, to make it more friendly to people of all faiths and people who do not practice religion.
The Portsmouth City Council will be considering the Jewish Center’s request during the council meeting on Tuesday. It is expected the matter will be referred to the city attorney’s office for a report back by the Dec. 2 meeting.
Hanukkah will begin this year on Dec. 22 and it runs until Dec. 30.