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Woodcliff Lake Christmas tree event renamed following complaints

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CVP: Responding to complaints, Woodcliff Lake Mayor Jeffrey Goldsmith told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon that what was originally billed variously as a borough “Holiday” or “Community” tree lighting has been renamed a “Christmas tree” event.

The mayor spoke on speaker phone from Borough Hall, joined by Councilwoman Donna Abene and Borough Administrator Wolfgang Albrecht, following a story earlier today on CLIFFVIEW PILOT about the town’s first holiday tree-lighting in recent memory.

In the story, Councilman Michael Struk said he was prepared to go to court to fight using “Community” or “Holiday” to refer to the borough tree for a pair of December events. CLIFFVIEW PILOT also reported that the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU had been contacted.

“There’s no controversy. There’s no story,” Goldsmith said in response. “It is a Christmas tree and a Menorah lighting.”

The mayor, councilwoman and borough administrator spoke at nearly the same time that parents of borough schoolchildren were viewing a flier publicizing the “Holiday Tree” lighting.

Goldsmith and Abene said the change would be made on the borough web site.

The original “Community Tree” notice was published on CLIFFVIEW PILOT earlier this afternoon. The change subsequently was made:

However, a post also appears in Pascack Valley Community Life and on northjersey.com referring to the lighting of the “Community Tree.”

There’s also the flier that parents have been seeing the past several hours. It was distributed electronically today through the school district’s “Thursday Folder.”

( Go to bottom of this story. Or download pdf: Community Tree Lighting )

Goldsmith said Recreation Director Jay Esposito, in publicizing the event, “did what he’s always done…. It’s been called a ‘Holiday Tree’ in the past.”

He couldn’t explain why “Holiday” had been changed to “Community,” however.

Screen capture of original post from wclnj.com

“You’re asking something of a mayor who has no idea,” Goldsmith added. “It was handled out of Parks and Recreation following what they’ve done all these years.

“The guy to speak to is Jay Esposito, not us.”

Esposito later told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he came up with the idea for a tree-lighting event because there hadn’t been one in town in his 14 years as director — and beyond.

“There was nothing meant to offend Catholics, Jewish people or anybody. It’s supposed to be a night to have everyone come up, sit on Santa’s lap and get some hot chocolate and cookies,” he said.

“One thing turned into another, and it got carried away,” Esposito added. “Now it’s called the Christmas tree.”

Goldsmith said he and the council members are “very sensitive to our residents.

“But this is more than a sensitivity issue,” he added. “This is common good sense….Everybody’s in agreement on the council that a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree.”

In the CLIFFVIEW PILOT story from earlier today, Councilman Michael Struk said that as a Christian he was “insulted that my heritage and beliefs are shrouded by someone’s fear of political correctness and what I perceive to be the furtherance of an anti-Christan movement in general ( SEE: Christmas ‘holiday tree’ controversy in Woodcliff Lake ).

“If the Menorah is celebrated by name and a ‘Christmas Tree’ is renamed … I will seek a legal remedy,” Struk said.

The New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union was contacted and was reviewing the matter, CLIFFVIEW PILOT learned.

The two events originally were announced as the Dec. 7 lighting of the “Holiday Tree,” and the Dec. 12 Menorah lighting, both at the borough pool entrance at Woodcliff Avenue and Werimus Road ( see CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo, above ).

Struk said the name was then changed to “Community Tree,” which he called equally objectionable.

The special guest at the Menorah lighting is Rabbi Dov Drizin of Valley Chabad.

The special guest at the “Community Tree” lighting, the promos said, is Santa Claus.

This could be “very problematic,” said Carlos Rendo, a Woodcliff Lake attorney. “It can be viewed as a town that is … promoting one religious symbol over another.”

Courts have ruled that any municipality that either erects, or allows someone to erect, a religious display on public property must allow all religious displays, “so as to not unconstitutionally endorse on religion over another,” according to William G. Dressel, Jr., executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. READ MORE….

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