Chanukah has become a festival of frights for residents of Windsor Terrace and Kensington.
A menorah placed on the Caton Avenue footbridge — which is rigged in such a haphazard way that an extension cord connecting to a nearby street light is left dangling above pedestrians’ heads — is an electrical accident waiting to happen, residents claim.
“There are literally hundreds of kids that walk by there every day,” said Scott Teplin, a Windsor Terrace resident who is afraid to walk under the electrical wire as he takes his 7-year-old son to school. “Logic tells me that doesn’t look safe, particularly when it’s wet out.”
Concerned residents say the rain over the last few days could have compromised the extension cord — which coils through a chain-link fence before connecting to the menorah — and could lead to someone getting electrocuted.
“I would be concerned about any problem with that extension cord and the possibility of it electrifying the fence which could shock and injure the children who run their hands on it,” said resident Jack Wallace. “This should be inspected and if necessary, rendered safe, but I don’t think it needs to be taken down.”
The Department of Transportation and the FDNY said they would inspect the display when this paper contacted the two agencies on Monday.
Yet the congregation responsible for the menorah says it’s been celebrating the festival of lights with the help of extension cords and street lamps for years — and claims to have a permit allowing members to tap into the city’s electrical grid during Chanukah. Attempts to confirm the existence of Kensington Chabad’s permit with the city were unsuccessful by our midnight deadline.
“We’ve been doing it for ten years, it’s an annual permit,” said Rabbi Zalman Levin, program director at the Kensington Chabad, who sent someone out to re-inspect the menorah after hearing about residents’ concerns. “It’s out of bringing the spirit of the festival of warmth and light to the people. Our electrician says it’s very safe and secure.”
“I don’t care if its religious or municipal or city signage, it’s dangerous,” said Teplin, who set off an incendiary debate on a local listserv when he posted his concerns about the menorah on Monday morning.
Some listserv scribes said Teplin’s concerns are completely misplaced — and believe he’s being insensitive.
“I am not sure what is so ‘very dangerous’ or ‘outrageous’ about this,” wrote one listserv commenter. “Would you feel the same way if it was a Christmas tree?”
But Teplin says his concerns have nothing to do with religion.
“It’s not about baiting religious groups or putting anyone down,” said Teplin, who is Jewish. “It’s purely a safety issue.”
The neighborhood was the setting of another holiday flare-up in 2009, when the now defunct Key Food let a local Chabad rabbi set up a menorah in front of the store, only to add a Christmas tree after neighborhood outcry about the menorah, eventually taking them both down to quell the minor flurry that ensued about religious icons and the use of public space.