NORTH ANDOVER — A rabbi said the town is violating his civil rights by denying his request to erect an 8-foot menorah on the town common for the eight days of Hanukkah.
Selectmen told Asher Bronstein, a rabbi at Andover’s Chabad Lubavitch, he could put the menorah up for one day only. The board said a new town common use policy that went into effect this summer allows organizations to put up displays for just one day no matter what they are.
Bronstein said he doesn’t understand why the selectmen cannot bend the rules and he’s hired an attorney, Robert Meltzer of Framingham, to fight the ruling.
North Andover selectmen did allow Bronstein to put up his menorah for eight days last year, but for the eight years before that it was always a one-day thing.
Selectmen said they did not have rules in place last year.
Bronstein called the selectmen’s decision “moving backward,” adding that placing the menorah on the common is not hurting anyone.
“I truly feel if we only put it up this year for one day and then take it away, it’s desecrating the festival,” Bronstein said. “It would be an injustice.”
Hanukkah, or the Jewish “festival of lights,” runs from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18. Bronstein also requested to have a candle-lighting ceremony on Dec. 13 on the town common.
Selectmen’s Chairwoman Tracy Watson said if they change the rules for Bronstein, they will have to do it for everyone. She said the board established the policy to be fair to all groups, religious or not, giving them equal time.
“This has nothing to do with religion,” Watson said. “It’s policy-making.”
Selectmen are frustrated by the hot water they find themselves in as the holiday season kicks off. Over the last couple of days, members have faced pressure from some in the community to dump the one-day policy and accept the request. They’ve been bombarded with phone calls and there’s the threat of a lawsuit.
Watson questions where all the controversy was when they established the policy.
The board spent months coming up with a town common use policy. It held public hearings, met with residents who live around the common, and talked to town groups.
No one came out to protest this one-day rule, Watson said.
“We were trying, honest to God, to be equitable to all people of all faiths throughout the year,” Watson said. “We’re not putting one religion over another. Everybody gets one day.”
Selectman Rosemary Smedile said it gets hard without rules.
“Some holidays last a day, some eight days, others a month,” she said. “We wanted to be fair and inclusive of everyone, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim.”
The display rules also are there to protect people who live around the common, the selectmen said.
Watson said the same rule will hold for any symbol, whether it’s a cross, crescent, Christmas tree, snowman or Nativity scene.
“They get one day, too. I do feel bad, but it’s our obligation to enforce the rules. I mean, they’re brand-new and we’re already going to break them?” Watson said.
The town does decorate trees in the common with white lights, which is OK under the policy because it is town-sanctioned and is not tied to any one holiday.
Selectmen said they will review the use policy to see if they should make changes in the future, but for now, they plan on upholding their stance.
Bronstein said he will likely not put up the menorah, and hold a lighting ceremony, if he cannot do it for all eight days.
He may have to look for private property to use.
While Bronstein has requested to place a menorah on North Andover’s town common, he has not asked the same thing of his own town, Andover. He said they place a large menorah outside their temple on the corner of routes 28 and 133, which he finds sufficient.