When Havering Council said they would not display Hanukkah candles outside its town hall, Jews, Muslims and people from across the political spectrum were united in their outrage. Now, that backlash has prompted a U-turn, ITV London's Sam Holder reports
Havering Council has reversed its decision not to display Hanukkah candles this year in a bid to avoid "inflaming community tensions".
The east London borough announced the move yesterday due to concerns the menorah - a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day Jewish holiday - would be vandalised.
It came amid a surge in antisemitic hate crimes in the capital following Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.
However, Havering Council faced widespread backlash over the decision, which caused great anger and upset within the Jewish community, and among others.
Today, following an urgent meeting with Jewish leaders, the council has made a U-turn, meaning the lighting event, outside Havering Town Hall in Romford, will go ahead as planned on December 12.
Yesterday, Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, who was supposed to lead the celebrations, told ITV London: "This has nothing to do with Israel. This is a date in our calendar, the festival of Hanukkah, which is celebrated on an annual basis.
"We do have a diverse community and we should celebrate that diversity and those differences. So, by drawing the Jewish community out of this equation, what does that really say? How is that really interpreted."
Havering Council, which had already paid for the menorah, said claims of antisemitism on its part was “categorically untrue”.
But critics warned that the decision could have set a dangerous precedent, conflating British Jews in London with what's happening in the Middle East.
In a statement this afternoon, Havering Council leader 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 Sufrin MBE, executive director of Chabad North London and 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.” London Jewish Forum director Daniella Myers, said her group was "able to provide the wider picture" in talks with the council 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," she added. Daniel Rosenberg, Chair of the Essex Jewish Community Council, said: “Our community is delighted that this has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and that our Menorah will be proudly displayed at Havering Town Hall for the duration of this important festival.”
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