In a TriBeCa Park, a Question of Law and a Religious Symbol
Ralph Musolino unreeled his Stanley tape measure across the walkway of a small park in TriBeCa, marking off space for the construction of a Jewish ritual hut known as a sukkah, while Rabbi Zalman Paris, in auburn beard and tzitzit fringes, crouched nearby holding the tape’s other end.
“If the sukkah goes out onto the sidewalk, that’s a whole other issue,” Mr. Musolino cautioned the rabbi, as he chalked off where on the walkway he could squeeze the hut’s roughly 12-by-14-foot footprint. “But I want to make sure you don’t have a telephone-booth-sized sukkah.”
Though not Jewish, Mr. Musolino, the Lower Manhattan district manager for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, has learned quite a bit about the often obscure structure known as a sukkah because the agency has allowed the huts to be erected in several parks, including two in Mr. Musolino’s jurisdiction, Battery Park and Bowling Green.
When Rabbi Paris’s organization, Chabad of TriBeCa, asked for a permit to put up the sukkah, three members of the board’s 11-member TriBeCa committee either voted against it or abstained, leaving the permit in limbo.
“I don’t want to encourage having all sorts of religious things in our public parks,” one committee member, Paul Cantor, told a community newspaper after voting against the application. Mr. Cantor did not respond to messages left on his voice mail.
The entire board, Community Board 1, is scheduled to vote on the permit on Tuesday. Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, has urged the board to support the sukkah. Julie Menin, the board’s chairwoman, would not say how she would vote but said, “our community has been known as a very tolerant community.”
The board played a role in the controversy over the creation of an Islamic center near ground zero when it approved a request to drop the landmark status of the building envisioned for the center.
“It’s very important that no religion get preference, but every single religion needs to get fair and equal treatment,” Ms. Menin said.
Hmm . . . do they allow Christmas trees or Nativity scenes?