PISCATAWAY, NJ – A group of Piscataway residents have expressed concern over the township’s annual holiday display setup on the municipal building’s front lawn, saying it doesn’t fairly represent the true diversity of the community.
“In light of the recent atrocities in Jersey City and the rise of hate crime throughout the United States we feel it is particularly short-sighted of the town council and the mayor not to stand in full support of its Jewish residents and proudly display a Menorah in their holiday display alongside Santa Claus and the Christmas tree,” said Mindy Goldstein at Thursday’s rally on the front lawn of the municipal building.
Currently, the display includes an approximately 20-foot-high Christmas tree decorated with long-strands of multicolored lights and topped with a lighted snowflake. Colorfully lit gift packages lie beneath. Centered in front of the fountain and council chamber room are the words ‘Seasons Greetings’ that glow in a bright white light. And waving to commuters as they travel along Hoes Lane is a glittery, back-lit Santa Claus statue, a snowman and a few deer.
“We feel that as elected officials put into office by all of its residents, they should represent, stand by, support and celebrate all of the people throughout town,” said Goldstein, a member of the Piscataway Progressive Democrat Organization which organized the rally. “Just like we can co-exist wonderfully and peacefully in town, our representation of holidays can also co-exist and peacefully exist together on the lawn in front of town hall.”
Raj Goomer, an attorney for the township said officials first heard requests to add a Menorah at the December 5 council meeting and again at the December 10 meeting. He said adding cultural and religious based symbols to the display is not that simple.
Goomer said it takes time to first review the case law to interpret what a township government can display during the December holiday season without facing a lawsuit, and then designing the display appropriately.
“The Supreme Court says that a Menorah is a religious item but can be considered a non-religious item in certain contexts,” explained Goomer.
“The township is always inclusive,” he said. “We have to make sure that if we’re going to place it in such a governmental location that it applies case law appropriately. Next year this might be considered.”
Supporters of adding cultural and religious symbols to the township’s holiday display spoke out for a redesign.
“You go to other towns and can see an array of holiday displays,” said Quiyana Butler. “Not just Christmas, but Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, and others. I think it’s a great tool to educate children especially when you come from a diverse community such as Piscataway. My concern is why the council wouldn’t display such a great representation of diversity.”
However, Gene Wilk, Piscataway Township's Public Information Officer gave examples of Middlesex County towns that are considered to be “highly religious” but do not have a Menorah displayed in front of their town halls.
“Edison has it at the Jewish Community Center. Metuchen has it in an open plaza and Monroe has it at a Chabad house,” Wilk listed of where to find a Menorah currently displayed.
“Given the rise of anti-Semitism, I just don’t see why we couldn’t have displays for other religions,” said Tony Weill, a long-time resident who is Jewish by heritage. “I’m for all people being heard and allowed to celebrate their holidays.”
“We should include everybody to spread love, inclusiveness, to get rid of hate and divisiveness,” agreed Dr. Atif Nazir. “We want to love each religion and make sure that not only one religion is celebrated, but celebrate all religions in Piscataway.”
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