Wavering Havering: London council U-turn means Chanukah celebration CAN now go ahead

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Wavering Havering: London council U-turn means Chanukah celebration CAN now go ahead

EXCLUSIVE: Havering Council leaders have reversed their deeply controversial decision to cancel town hall Chanukah celebration.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

A menorah lights up Trafalgar Square (Credit Michael Lee Photography)
A menorah lights up Trafalgar Square (Credit Michael Lee Photography)

Havering Council chiefs have backtracked over a widely criticised decision not to allow a chanukiah to be erected outside its town hall to commemorate the full eight days of Chanukah.

Following a meeting on Friday morning between the council and communal leaders including the London Jewish Forum (LJF) and Chabad Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, Jewish News understands it was decided to now go ahead with commemoration as originally planned.

The decision was made after Jewish communal leaders were joined by leaders of other faiths in condemning the decision made by the leadership of the East London council to scrap the plan over fears it could inflame tensions between local communities.

Havering Council later confirmed the U-turn in a statement on Friday afternoon.

It read:”Havering Council, the London Jewish Forum, the Essex Jewish Community Council and local Rabbis Sufrin and Sunderland met early today to discuss the Council’s decision to pause the installation of the permanent Chanukah Menorah outside the Town Hall.

“In the meeting, the parties discussed the reasons behind the pause in a constructive
manner and the representatives from the Jewish community were able to reassure the Council on all of the concerns it had previously expressed.

“Following this, the parties are delighted to announce that the Council has confirmed
its intention to proceed with the permanent installation of the Menorah as originally
planned. In addition to the permanent Menorah, the candle lighting ceremony is
going ahead as arranged on 12 December.”

Leader of Havering Council, Councillor Ray Morgon said:”“We had a very constructive meeting to discuss our concerns and I fully appreciate why this is such an important instillation for our Jewish community. We look forward to the completion of the permanent installation and our first Chanukah ceremony.
“We also look forward to continuing to work closely with our Jewish community and
other faiths on our commitment to a cohesive and inclusive borough.”

Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin MBE, Executive Director of Chabad North London & Essex, said:“Following a positive meeting at Havering Council we are absolutely delighted that Council Leader Ray Morgon carefully listened to us and has come to the conclusion that we will all continue with our original plans for Havering Town Hall to host our Menorah for the duration of Chanukah.

“The Essex Jewish community has proudly been displaying Menorahs for 35 years and this is our tenth and newest. We look forward to celebrating together with the entire Jewish community of Havering and beyond at our very special celebration on Tuesday 12 December.”

Daniella Myers, the Director of the London Jewish Forum, said: “The London Jewish Forum thanks the Council for meeting us at short notice, and for their careful consideration of our views. The London Jewish Forum was able to provide the wider picture, which had important implications beyond Havering.

“Our community has been listened to and as a result we are very pleased to say the planned installation of the Havering Menorah will be going ahead. We encourage all those who want to celebrate with the Havering Jewish community to join us on Tuesday 12 December.”

Earlier this week Jewish News exclusively revealed how Havering Council, which which has no single party in overall control but is led by Havering Residents Association, said it had taken “the difficult decision to pause the planned installation of the Chanukah menorah outside Havering Town Hall this year”.

Havering Town Hall.

It was claimed: “This is a hugely sensitive issue but in light of escalating tensions from the conflict in the Middle East installing the candelabra now will not be without risk to the council, our partners, our staff and local residents.”

Council leader Ray Morgon instead argued for a temporary installation to mark the start of Chanukah, which would be removed straight after a brief ceremony.

The Jewish Leadership Council and the LJF were among those to criticise the decision to scrap the Chanukah commemoration over eight days from December 7th.

The LJF wrote to Havering Council leader Morgon expressing “deep dismay” at the decision to halt the Chanukah commemoration.

The organisation, co-chaired by Andrew Gilbert and Adrian Cohen, demanded a meeting with council chiefs to “avoid a historic error” being made which “undermined” Havering’s relationship with the Jewish community.

Romford Rabbi Lee Sunderland also said: “We have absolutely not the slightest hint that there maybe any unrest here in Havering.“Indeed to write in public that there is fear for the safety of staff and councillors is a reckless statement in itself that could give rise to the fact that the very presence of certain minorities in the borough poses a potential danger to the leaders of local government and their employees. That is a reckless comment that in itself causes totally unfounded fear in people.”

Muslim and Christian leaders also issued statements questioning why it was deemed correct to cancel a Jewish religious celebration.

On Friday morning Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I’d encourage Havering Council to work with Jewish communities so that can celebrate Chanukah…the Menorah is very important to the community. ”

Local Romford MP Andrew Rosindell also wrote to Havering Council expressing “grave concern” over any move to halt the Chanukah celebration.

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