Center for Jewish Life

UPDATED Dec. 21: Residents saw an 8-foot-tall menorah lit at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, in Whittemore Park, Mass. Ave. and Mystic Street, as sundown approached for the sixth night of Hanukkah. According to Rabbi Avi Bukiet, 75 people gathered to watch the event.

The menorah stayed lit for two hours, and crafts and holiday treats were available for purchase, officials said. Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, runs from sundown Dec. 7 through sundown Dec. 14 this year. 

"This year more than ever we must show our light to the world by spreading truth versus falsehood, light versus darkness," Bukiet said at the lighting. image0.jpegRabbi Bukiet speaks to the crowd. Photo credit: Center for Jewish Life Arlington

The Arlington Select Board at its Dec. 4 meeting did not grant an oral request for the menorah to remain in the park for eight days, citing a balance of concerns involving the First Amendment and government support.

A hanukkah menorah (more technically known as a hanukkiah) is a nine-branched candelabrum that symbolizes lightness in darkness -- and the holiday’s eight nights. On each successive night, one more candle is lit, until the final night when all eight branches shine. (The ninth branch holds the shamash, the helper candle used to light the other eight.) This year’s Whittemore Park menorah uses light bulbs, not candles. 

The Select Board unanimously approved the one-day written request from Luna Bukiet, executive director of the Center For Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont.

Rabbi Avi Bukiet told the board that having a menorah on public property is “a nice symbol of hope to the community in light of current events across the world and the impact it’s had on members of the Jewish community, and those it’s affected personally.”

He continued, “We’ve experienced hate crimes multiple times from white-supremacy groups. Many teenagers in our community have heard anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks and comments in school.”

The center of which she is executive director was twice the target of arson in 2019.

Menorah to be lit just one day

At the meeting it was requested that the menorah be on public display for all eight days of Hanukkah. However, the board agreed to just one night, as put forth in the written event permit application previously submitted.

“This oral request goes beyond the written request that mentions one day, Dec. 12. Our First Amendment is clearly an issue here. The public has the right to meet there and express views, but the government can place restrictions on those activities,” said Town Counsel Michael Cunningham. “Any unattended structure in an eight-day period has some legitimate concerns because it might give some people the idea that it’s government speech. It’s also a potential violation because these regulations must be content-neutral -- and would have to apply to other groups that come before the board.” 

Town Manager Jim Feeney also expressed concern of locking into a future precedent if the eight-day request were to be granted.

“The board’s responsibility is to think about the big picture, think about the precedent and what could happen next, and not make this decision because of any lack of support or empathy for what the rabbi’s community is going through now," said Board Chair Eric Helmuth. “We have the responsibility to protect the entire community and think ahead about the context of these decisions. A one-time event would be a better practice this year.” 

Rabbi Avi Bukiet is the director and cofounder of the center -- the only organized religious Jewish community based in Arlington -- and Luna's husband.

Select Board Vice Chair John Hurd said, “We have very active citizens with a host of causes important to the people in town. I support the menorah; it would be a beautiful sight to see, especially in these times. However, if we approved an eight-day menorah, at our next meeting we’d have 10 to 12 more requests for such events in Whittemore Park. The best practice, in the interest of the town, is to stick to limited engagements attended by public individuals.”

Select Board member Diane Mahon said that approximately 15 years ago, the board made a policy to allow one-day events only. 

In other town news: winter banners 

Although as of Dec. 18,2023, Mother Nature had not yet blessed Arligton with measurable snowfall this season, snowflake-themed banners will adorn Arlington Center along Mass. Ave. throughout the rest of December and January. 

These festive decorations – in green, pink, blue and purple – are sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and were unanimously approved by the board Dec. 4.

The 11 sets of banners alternate colors in this order -- starting across from the Bank of America, at 655 Mass. Ave., and the Central Fire Station, Mass. Ave. and Adams Street, east of the center, according to the Chamber of Commerce. 

Feb. 16, 2022: Indictment announced in probe of 2019 arson at Jewish center in Arlington


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. It was updated most recently Dec. 21, 2023, to add after-the-fact information about the lighting, and a photograph.

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