Hanukkah menorah may not light up Santa Cruz

(Courtesy the Santa Cruz Sentinel)
December 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
This is supposed to be the season of good will, but there is holiday tension brewing in Santa Cruz. The city is stopping a holiday tradition and it is leaving some residents feeling left out.

Tradition is a pillar of the Jewish faith and so on December 11th, when Hanukkah begins, the tradition of lighting the menorah will be carried out in homes, but maybe not at a downtown Santa Cruz corner.

"The city officials have decided that it doesn't conform to city ordinances," said Rabbi Yochannan Friedman from Chabad By The Sea.

The tradition at Pacific Avenue and Water started in 2006. Now Santa Cruz city staffers say there is a permitting problem.

Last month the city told the rabbi that in the past, the permit they had used had been issued under the special events category, but all these years, they were wrong and that the permit should have never been granted.

"The city and staff has to follow the rules and regulations that are in place. I'd like to figure out a way in the future to have the rules and regulations be more clear and make it more available for people of all faiths to put up their displays," said City Councilmember Ryan Coonerty.

Thursday, the rabbi was told the menorah could go up, but only if he hires a private security guard. That will cost thousands.

"It's troublesome in that it's an extra burden on the organization, which equals a burden on the community because the community has to come up with the money. It's not necessary and it's unfair," said Rabbi Yochannan Friedman.

"They have the freedom to do it because it's a public place," said Angie Garcia from Santa Cruz.

But some atheist groups disagree. They even set up this an online petition to block the menorah display.

"I'm not against symbols, I'm not against religious displays, I'm just against having them on government property because I feel it endorses one religion over another and I believe in the separation of church and state," said Mai Dao-Horton from the Ethical Culture Society.

The city already set up its traditional holiday tree. Since it has no ornaments and is here year-round, they say no permit is needed.


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