CITY HALL — While the war over space for nativity scenes in Palisades Park rages on, Santa Monica’s Jewish community is having no problem finding spots to put up its menorahs.

The collection, another Santa Monica tradition right up there with the now-famous tune “Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” is set up each year for the eight-day Festival of Lights celebration, and, unlike the nativity scenes, has sparked no controversy despite the fact that over 60 of the nine-pronged candleholders pop up throughout the city.

“Every year, we get at least one new one,” said Rabbi Isaac Levitansky of Chabad in Santa Monica, the orthodox Jewish group that puts up the menorahs. “We’ve been doing it for over 30 years.”

The new menorahs represent the lesson of Chanukah, which is to add light to the world every day in honor of a miracle that allowed a small quantity of oil in an ancient Jewish temple to burn for eight days instead of just one.

Volunteers put up all of the menorahs and ensure that each stay lit. None of the menorahs are electric.

“The miracle of Chanukah happened through oil, and with a wick,” Levitansky said. “We use candles or oil or gas with a wick, just as with the miracle.”

Hundreds of thousands of people will pass by the blatant spiritual messages every day, but unlike the nativity displays in Palisades Park, which became the source of controversy this year when a group of atheists displaced them for secular signage, no one has targeted the menorahs.

That may be because, aside from one in Palisades Park, another on the Santa Monica Pier and a third on the Third Street Promenade, all of the menorahs are on private property.

Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, whose brother is in the Chabad movement, noted that unlike the Christian groups that have set up in the public Palisades Park for nearly 60 years, the Chabad group chose to follow a different, more secure, path.

“They’re pretty good at finding spots that are very easy to see and on private property,” Bloom said. “I think they look at it as a challenge.”

Even the ones that are on public land seem to get a pass from activists.

Both the Chabad and Downtown Santa Monica Inc., a public-private organization that manages Downtown for City Hall, have menorah displays on the promenade.

The Chabad has submitted an application to put up the display for at least the past 15 years with no quarrel, said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc.

There aren’t that many spaces available on the promenade because of the “limited amount of real estate” in a place packed with people at all hours of the day. It wouldn’t be hard to apply for the spots and force the menorah out.

Still, it doesn’t happen.

Damon Vix, the public face of the atheist groups that took over Palisades Park, said his group hadn’t looked outside of the park because the other displays were secularized.

In the Supreme Court decision Allegheny County vs. ACLU, a menorah display was considered appropriate because it was dwarfed by a 45-foot Christmas tree, whereas a creche with the depiction of the infant Jesus was considered inappropriate because it had no ameliorating secular symbols.

Rawson also believes that the nature of the promenade as a place for self-expression every day gives it a certain amount of protection.

“People can exercise free speech here every single day,” Rawson said. “The unique thing about the park is that it’s not normally available to put things in.”

And so, the menorahs continue.

Levitansky believes it is the largest menorah display per capita in the world, but it’s difficult to confirm.

The nature of the non-electric displays makes them expensive to maintain, a cost which only grows as the menorahs multiply across Santa Monica, requiring more oil, candles and permits from the Santa Monica Fire Department.

It’s worth it, although donations are always appreciated, Levitansky said.

“What’s unique about Chanukah is that it’s the holiday we spread the light specifically to the outside,” Levitansky said. “Everybody should have a part of it in some way.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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