The Holidays in North Andover, Massachusetts



December, 2009

One of the reasons the entire Valley Patriot editorial board loves living in North Andover is because the town has never bowed down to political correctness.

We’d drive by the common during the holidays and enjoy seeing a Jewish menorah and Christmas tree.

We also enjoyed passing the “Merry Christmas” sign on the fire station. The kids play dradle in the schools, sing Christmas Carols, and we’ve always felt as though the town was a great place to teach children about religious diversity, instead of the religious intolerance other communities embrace.

But, last month all that changed.

The Town of North Andover’s Board of Selectmen was accused of “hijacking the Town Common” after a vote that sent shock waves through the town. Because of a new policy restricting displays on the common to one day, the board denied Rabbi Bronstein’s request to display a menorah on the Town Common for eight days of Chanukah. The Board did approve one day for the display of the Menorah, but the Rabbi was not happy with the one-day restriction. Neither were several members of the board. Neither were we.

Rabbi Bronstein hired Attorney Meltzer, who contacted town counsel, agreeing to have the Rabbi apply for eight, one-day permits to have eight individual nights for the menorah until the policy could be fixed. They were also planning a joint press conference to give the public the good news.

But, all that changed when Attorney Meltzer sent town counsel a draft copy of a lawsuit that he would file if the situation could not be resolved.

Upon the receipt of the lawsuit, Town Manager Mark Rees told the fire chief not to put up the “Merry Christmas” sign on the Central fire station because it was mentioned in the proposed lawsuit.

The Rabbi says that Christmas signs and decorations were mentioned in the proposed lawsuit to show that Christmas decorations are up for 30 days but the Jewish menorah was denied for eight. He says that he never asked that those decorations be taken down, rather that his be allowed up.

The Selectmen met a week later (for which the Rabbi could not attend as it was Shabbat), and changed the policy so that a Christmas tree and a Menorah could again be displayed on the common.

We believe much of the controversy and bad press was the result of miscommunication and poor decision making. We believe that the Board of Selectmen made a major mistake with the one-day policy and not allowing an exception for the menorah. We also believe it was an over reaction for Town Manager Mark Rees to order the “Merry Christmas” sign to come down from the Central Fire Station.

At the end of all this, the “Merry Christmas” sign went back up and the menorah was approved for eight days on the common.

We applaud Chairman Tracy Watson for admitting that the board was wrong (something rare in politics anywhere) and working to rectify the situation before it became unsolvable.

In the spirit of this holiday season, we hope that the selectmen in North Andover and Rabbi Bronstein can come together with Jews, Christians and non-religious people to put aside this controversy, step back from some of the negative comments made, and learn from this mistake.

The people of North Andover deserve nothing less.

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