foot, outdoor Chanukah menorah in
Birmingham's Shain Park during the
recent holiday. Rabbi Yochanan Polter
and the Birmingham Bloomfield Chai
Center sponsored a "Light Up the
Night" city holiday celebration in the
park with the participation of Mayor
Cheyfitz and the commissioners.
Outdoor menorah, new mayor are signs of
a growing- Jewish presence in Birmingham.
Chafetz's "day job" as a skating coach is
his livelihood, but says his "night job" as
a Birmingham city official is slowly start-
ing to dominate his life. His salary is $5
per meeting, usually on two or three
Monday nights each month, "so this is
real community service," he said.
The future mayor had paid little
attention to politics before he and some
neighbors got involved in "fighting city
hall" when trash and debris that had
piled up in the neighborhood wasn't
"I started at the real grassroots level of
city action and politics, then I joined the
neighborhood association," Chafetz said.
"I ran for commission to be a represen-
tative of the neighborhoods and the peo-
ple." Neighbors, friends and family
members helped support his campaign
"I established myself as a well-rounded
commission candidate and, since being
elected, I've increased my knowledge of
all issues affecting the city;" he explained.
"I pride myself on doing my home-
Now that he's mayor, he'll be attend-
ing Michigan Municipal League semi-
nars and training sessions.
Chafetz says he is concerned about
several issues facing Birmingham resi-
dents, such as vehicles speeding through
neighborhoods ("more traffic signals and
speeding-ticket enforcement are need-
ed") and the residential and commercial
•developers trying to exert their will over
the city ("tighter standards and controls
"We must ensure the livability of the
neighborhoods," he said.
Among his big projects as mayor will
be to implement a $15 million master
parks plan to restore various city parks;
turn the old Barnum School, most
recently owned by Beaumont Hospital,
into a community center; and possibly
add a park for in-line skating and skate-
boarding outside the city ice arena on
"By the time my term as mayor is up
[next year], I want people to be able to
say I made a difference," Chafetz said.
"Getting things done in a great city
like this provides me with a true sense of
Some of the controversy stemmed from an incident almost
20 years ago when the city of Birmingham was required to
remove a nativity scene from the same park location.
is a season of "firsts" for the city of Birmingham:
According to Melvyn Goldstein, a Birmingham attorney
the first Jewish mayor, Seth Chafetz, took office
who assisted the BBCC with its petition for the menorah,
last month, and the first outdoor Chanukah
that nativity scene was declared unconstitutional because it
I menorah stood in downtown Shain Park through-
was sponsored by the city, unlike the menorah, which was
out the eight-day holiday.
sponsored by a private organization.
Birmingham Bloomfield Chai Center spOnsored the 6-
"There are two constitutional issues here that need to be
foot electric menorah. Rabbi Yochanan Polter of BBCC
balanced," Goldstein said. "First, the government is prohibit-
made a formal request to the Birmingham city commis-
ed from establishing a religion, and secondly, there can be no
sioners several months earlier to place the menorah in the
unreasonable restraints on freedom of speech or assembly.
park during the Chanukah season.
"The decision to grant a permit is not based on which reli-
A public lighting ceremony, entitled "Light Up the
gious group is making the request, but on several other fac-
Night," was held on the evening of Dec. 4, which was the
tors, including safety issues as well as the appropriateness of
sixth night of Chanukah.
the display," Goldstein added.
E: "It's our job to uphold the laws
of our state and our constitu-
tion," Chafetz said. "If we get
1 :another such application, we'll
definitely give it the same consid-
eration. It's an honor and a privi-
lege that we were able to do this."
Oakland County Commissioner
Chuck Moss said, "I'm glad to see
that we're coming back to sanity.
This is a wonderful thing, and I'm
glad someone had the guts to do
it. The Jewish religion was here
first, and I'm glad to see the
menorah here first, too."
Linda Zalla of Bloomfield Hills,
who attended the lighting ceremo-
ny with her husband, Harvey, said:
"I am delighted to see a menorah
in downtown Birmingham repre-
senting the Jewish people."
_ The 6-foot menorah was placed in Birmingham's Shoran Park at the request of the Birmingham
Following the ceremony, par-
Bloomfield Chai Center.
ticipants were invited to adjourn
to nearby Baldwin Public Library
"The United States is one of the most diverse countries
for a traditional Chanukah repast of homemade latkes and
in the world, and we are here tonight to perpetuate unity,
education and brotherhood," said U.S. Rep. Joe
"We're hoping that through this display we continue to
Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills, who joined Mayor
foster religious diversity and tolerance, not only in our city
Chafetz in officiating the lighting ceremony.
and state, but throughout the United States," said Rabbi
There were some complaints from Birmingham residents
Polter. "The message of Chanukah is a message for all
once word got out that the menorah would be in the park.
mankind about freedom, liberty and acceptance — the
"Most of the opposing opinions came from people who
foundation on which this great country of ours stands."
didn't have the correct facts," Rabbi Polter said.
"People keep asking me why there isn't a nativity scene
on display alongside the menorah," said Chafetz. "My
Related editorial: page 31
answer is that the rabbi didn't ask for one." ❑
Special to the Jewish News