Following a brief presentation at Moncton’s City Council Monday night, three community members stood before councillors asking that an earlier decision, that wouldn’t allow the menorah or nativity scene to be displayed, be reversed.
“We need to allow the light of the Jewish people in our city to shine bright in their most difficult time,” stated the first member.
“Let us realize our error today and reverse this decision promptly,” she said.
Following her two minute slot, another member stood up to share his support.
“This is the first time I’ve ever come to city hall or ever advocated or lobbied for anything, so I feel this is of real value,” he said.
Shortly after, Councillor Dave Steeves brought forward a motion that would see both the nativity scene and menorah be immediately installed at city hall, in the same place they’ve been years before.
A Menorah, which is usually put up by Moncton City Hall. (Courtesy: Francis Weil)
“I was hoping that we’d get back to where we were,” said Councillor, Bryan Butler.
“I think that anytime people have something and you take it away, they get upset and rightfully so. There was no really explanation given why it was done and I think that’s another thing, you know, that cloak of secretsy, we have to be more transparent and this private sessions they have to come out to the public and people have a right to know. That’s why we’re here. People elect us, they don’t elect us going behind closed doors.”
He said that since the first vote was done in private, he can’t talk about how he voted, but added that he and Councillor Steeves made it pretty clear on Facebook where they went with this.
“Obviously I’m extremely pleased with the decision. I think the councillors realize they made an incorrect decision. They made it in haste,” said Irwin Lampert, past president for the Tiferes Israel Synagogue.
“Quite often you make a decision with unintended consequences and I think that’s what happened here.”
Irwin Lampert, past president for the Tiferes Israel Synagogue, addresses reporters on December 4, 2023. (CTV/Alana Pickrell)
New Brunswick Premier, Blaine Higgs posted publically online Monday night to show his support for Moncton’s decision.
In part he wrote, “I believe religious freedom is something that the vast majority of New Brunswickers support. I want to commend the Mayor and council for reversing their decision.”
Butler says while he is obviously happy with the decision made by council, he is also moved by the way it was handled by the Jewish community locally.
“I was so impressed with the Jewish community when they came forward,” he said.
“They weren’t mad, they just wanted also still to be friends, friendship eh? So now we have that and all the symbols that were there before they’re back and that’s a big thing to a lot of people.”
Despite a positive outcome on Monday, over the past few days, backlash grew both locally in the Maritimes and across the country online.
“There are probably a lot of regrets on this one,” said Mayor Dawn Arnold.
“I think we will do much better next time.”
As for what that might look like, Arnold points to more engagement, much more inclusion and taking more time when it comes to making decisions.
“It was a direction from staff and it was based on a wide variety of items,” she said.
“It had been part of our diversty, equity and inclusion for our staff here at the city. It was partially informed by our social inclusion plan and it was partially informed by conversation we had had with the commissioner on systemic racism.”
Mayor Dawn Arnold addresses reporters at Moncton City Hall on December 4, 2023. (CTV/Alana Pickrell)She went on to say that city hall is a place of the people and the idea behind it was to make sure that even felt included and represented, however, in a written statement on Monday afternoon she admits that “despite our best intentions to do the right thing, we acted too quickly.”
A petition, in support of reversing the decision and allowing the menorah to be installed, saw over 6,000 signatures.
Hampstead Mayor, Jeremy Levi even decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I thought it would be a good idea to show our support and solidarity with the Jewish community in Moncton to put out a second Menorah specifically in their honour,” said Levi.
“It is a symbol of what Jews have contributed to Canada for the past 200 years and in an instance, just to make a decision like that, to take it down, was really gut wrenching and hit hard for a lot of people across the country.”
He said regardless of Moncton’s decision to install the menorah, his municipality would be moving forward with two menorahs this year.
“Just to give you context to Hampstead, we are the highest concentration of Jews per capita of a municipality, not just in Canada but outside of Israel, and we’re somewhere around 85 to 90 percent Jewish,” he said.
He adds that outside, the menorah currently stands beside a Christmas tree in order to be inclusive of the entire community.
The Menorah in Hampstead, Quebec, next to a Christmas Tree. (Courtesy: Ville De Hampstead)
A second motion was also put forward during the regular council meeting asking the city‘s social inclusion committee to work directly with religious communities on how to display all religious symbols moving forward.
Findings and recommendations from this motion are expected to be brought to council no later than August 31, 2024.
As for what the Mayor regrets when it comes to this decision, Arnold says that council probably could have looked at ways to bring all religious symbols in from the start.
“I think that probably was a bit of a misstep,” she said.
“We kind of took the one direction of removing them, sort of, and then maybe what we should have done is at that time been more inclusive of everybody, but that too it was a challenge to get there at that time.”
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