The bright glow of a Hanukka menora is going a long way toward warming intergroup relations in New Providence.
Two years after a local politician angered many by calling the Union County borough a “Christian town,” the menora lighting has become a tradition. This year, it brought Jewish and Christian clergy and over 100 area residents to a Hanukka ceremony on the lawn at Faith Lutheran Church.
On Dec. 15, the fifth night of Hanukka, Pastor Murdoch MacPherson of Faith Lutheran welcomed rabbis from all three synagogues in nearby Summit — Rabbi Avi Friedman from the Summit Jewish Community Center, Rabbi Amy Small from Congregation Beth Hatikvah, and Rabbi Stuart Gershon from Temple Sinai.
“While there is no synagogue in New Providence, clearly Jewish people are part of that town,” said Friedman. “Since we didn’t have a synagogue, the fact that the church invited us to place a menora on their property was really fantastic. We’re fortunate to have such a good friend to the Jewish community in Pastor MacPherson.”
MacPherson initiated the menora lighting in 2006 after town councilman Steven Vengrow, at a town council meeting, called New Providence “a Christian town” that is part of a “Christian nation.” His remark came in response to a discussion over whether to include a Hanukka banner along with Christmas decorations for the town that year. He subsequently apologized.
“We offered to erect a menora because there are no synagogues in our town. I felt it was important to have it here in New Providence,” said MacPherson. “We need to stamp out hatred, anti-Semitism, and bigotry.”
The pastor said he thinks the menora lighting at the church will continue. “It will go automatically onto our calendar for as long as our friends want to do it.”
MacPherson has made other efforts to speak out for diversity. Over a decade ago he began an annual dialogue with the Summit Jewish Community Center, organized with Rabbi William Horn, now religious leader emeritus, that continues today. He has also participated in Holocaust education at both Drew University and the College of Saint Elizabeth.
MacPherson said he hasn’t received any negative feedback from neighbors about the menora lighting; by contrast, when articles about his interest in Holocaust education appeared in newspapers, he did get a “fair amount” of hate mail.
Friedman said he thinks the lighting sends an important message.
“I think it’s hard to drive by a church that has a menora on its front lawn with a sign indicating that it is in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and have that not affect you in some way,” he said.