More conflict over expressions of faith in the (literal) public square, this time from a less-expected angle: a Jewish group’s recent plans to erect a sukkah in a public park in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan has generated opposition from the local community board.
The traditional structure, constructed every year after Yom Kippur and maintained through the Sukkoth holiday, commemorates the makeshift dwellings Jews lived in while fleeing from Egypt to Israel. Many sukkot are constructed on private property (in people’s backyards, or outside a temple, for instance), but Rabbi Zalman Paris, in daring to ask for a public display, drew the ire of the community. Especially amusing is the way Julie Menin, head of the local community board, attempted to justify her opposition:
. . . some in the community were opposed to it because of the fact that Duane Park is an extremely small park and because Friends of Duane Park had an event to come and some were concerned about the religious use of a public park.
In short: it’s really about keeping an expression of faith away from the general public, but let me deflect this issue by citing a few other trivial concerns. (Funny, it might also be noted, that in her drive to downplay the stand she’s taking against religious symbols, the usually sacred “separation of church and state” gets reduced to one other item in a laundry list of concerns).
Happily, the local Chabad found another site for the sukkah on an empty lot a few blocks away, although even this settlement comes with a raft of restrictions:
The owner agreed to remove cars and other materials stored on the lot, but insisted that Chabad have insurance, a place for bathrooms, weekend staffing and restrict visiting hours to 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
. . . good thing they’ve taken precautions against the late-night rowdiness religious pilgrims are known to engender. Sounds like a completely fair solution.