A majority of senior management for a Brooklyn neighborhood’s Co-op building agree with an additional holiday display. The larger of two houses in the Sheepshead Bay Height Corp., located just two blocks from synagogue, bought a menorah this year, causing tension with residents, who worried they’d be forced to lose the Christmas tree. This opposition is just one of many objections cities are starting to face this year, despite longstanding co-op policies. A rabbi has also requested lights for a Menorah display from two East Jerusalem buildings. And for a brief moment, it seemed New York City residents were going to have to face a hard question about Muslim-American Jew relations.
Outgoing Ed Koch urged a Muslim woman to remove her hijab after she had shouted at a co-op board about having a menorah in her hallway. She claims she’s sorry, and she was the one who encouraged the menorah. Maybe. (The trust clearly needs a new landlord.)
In response to the demand that residents remove or remove the menorah, the Sheepshead Bay Heights residents joined a national campaign asking the campaign’s 5,000 signatories to form human pyramids and sit in on meetings to protect the building from the polarizing discussion. (Oh, and set the alarm to “overtake” at 2:45 a.m. on Feb. 4, the day of the heated vote.)
The signs shared concerns from residents who did not want the building to display either holiday on its festive façade. They said that Christmas trees were a public property and the holiday should be respected—even those also hoped for a more informative tree display about Chanukah.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage, which celebrates the community’s Jewish history, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the exhibits that will hang in the popular tree-lighting ceremony on the same day.
In 1989, New York City’s elected officials pushed a Co-op Law through that forbids building boards from forcing residents to keep a particular holiday display up, but some argue that many board members still intervene to control the holiday, using an “and so on” clause to keep decorations or refrain from fostering Christmas or Chanukah. Some members with Jewish backgrounds go so far as to refuse to decorate their houses with Nativity scenes on the secular side of the discussion.
It appears a few thoughtful veterans would like to see co-op buildings take a stand.
“It’s a tricky balance between what’s appropriate and socially acceptable,” said Roger Vinson, a member of the Jewish Community Center Board. “The more organizations take a stand, the more cognizant of the differing opinions they are.”
More stringent regulations took effect this year for installing Christmas tree displays in the four-story bell tower of the Goldman Building, which was the subject of uproar in 1999. Designed as an 18-room apartment house, the building allows residents to obtain a a permit from the City Planning Commission to replace a declining painting with a tree. But once it’s down, the tree is replaced with a less effusive ornaments and light fixtures. Last year, the Goldman Building implemented light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, instead of electric lightbulbs, which might have helped a renter’s right to bid may have come under threat.
Passions are still running high in January.
“The only group that had something original to say was the Rabbi,” quipped Megan Wang, campaign manager for an Israeli Independence Day celebration set to take place in the building on Feb. 25. “Not to the Jewish people, not for the New Year, but for the Jewish holidays. We’ve gotten a lot of excitement over our LED lights and decorations.”
Correction, Feb. 18, noon: An earlier version of this article misstated that New York City’s elected officials pushed a Co-op Law through that forbids the building from forcing residents to keep a particular holiday display up.