An Open Letter to the Mayor and Council of Tenafly NJ

December 27, 2013

Dear Mayor Rustin and Council,

I don’t usually write letters like this.  But when I discovered this story from WPIX today, I felt compelled to write.

I am a former resident of Tenafly.  I lived about five blocks away from this Joyce Road home.  I walked by this street every day on the way to or from the Middle and High Schools.  My father was the principal of TMS for a number of years, and I am a 1986 graduate of THS.

The Tenafly shown by Mayor Rustin’s actions is not the Tenafly that I remember.

When I lived there, the town was made up of a mix of Christian and Jewish residents, with some other religions represented.  For the most part we coexisted peacefully.  We went to each others’ Confirmation and Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.  We shared each others’ Hanukkah and Christmas toys.  While I was there, the high school performed both Brigadoon (loosely based on Christianity) and The Diary of Anne Frank.  I remember seeing Christmas decorations and a large menorah at Huyler Park.
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I fail to see what is so offensive about candles in paper bags.  They are not overtly religious.  They do not directly pertain to any holiday.  They are simply pretty.  They were clearly not intended to offend, or even to send a religious message.

The “War on Christmas” idea is very much overblown in the media.  There is no war on Christmas in this country, where any religious holiday may be freely celebrated without fear of persecution or imprisonment.  But your actions fuel those who believe that there is such a war.  Your actions increase the divisions between religions in this country.

I urge you to apologize to the Alvator family, and to modify the relevant ordinance to allow for holiday displays.  I hope that you will work together to help create tolerance in a town divided.

Mark Smith



18 Comments on An Open Letter to the Mayor and Council of Tenafly NJ

  1. john bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 11:48 am
  2. Candles are a major cause of fires. The mayor said the fire dept was not consulted. Making religion a divisive issue is exactly what did not happen in Tenafly in the past. Why are we starting now? I would not want candles lining the streets of my city unless the fire dept signed off on it. Religious freedom does not include creating a public fire hazard. The fire dept is qualified and authorized to make that judgement. Kudos to the mayor for putting safety first and personally making sure the issue was resolved immediately.

  3. Mark on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 12:46 pm
  4. The news story indicates that the police and fire were contacted in advance and approved.

  5. john bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 2:43 pm
  6. Mark, I already provided you with evidence that the WPIX story is wrong. You did not care to get the mayor’s side of the story prior to publishing an open letter against him. The mayor says that the fire dept was not consulted. Having this knowledge, the correct response to a fire hazard is to alert the person causing the fire hazard to remove the hazard and provide the reason or rule. The mayor put public safety ahead of politics. One is not required to have the fire dept blow out candles. There is nothing wrong with anyone alerting homeowners to a fire hazard. You and WPIX have Tenafly under the impression that the mayor is involved in a religious conflict. If we were slower to jump to judgement, the Tenafly we grew up with would still be alive and well. But in the inet age and with local news budgets strained, the facts just don’t matter. You should update your story to include both sides of the story.

  7. Mark on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 2:59 pm
  8. Your. “Proof” is a two sentence note supposedly from the mayor quoted by a 3rd party on the NJ 101.5 website.

    I don’t believe it. And I’m not updating this post for a second reason – this is the letter I actually sent to the Mayor and Council. I have not received a response at this time.

    I don’t know why you chose to bring a Facebook argument here. But know that I will not put up with repeating the same thing over and over here.

  9. john on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 3:02 pm
  10. So, how bout people use battery operated candle substitutes. I have even seen them on menorahs…I can drop a few offif needed…they are inexpensive. Also a previous resident and grad of THS. Maybe if everyone dropped off a few on Joyce it would make the kids realize many people just like the look.

  11. john bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 3:44 pm
  12. The 3rd party is hostile to the mayor, so it does not seem likely that he would fabricate facts in favor of the mayor. But your readers can judge for themselves:

  13. john bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 4:02 pm
  14. When evaluating which side is fabricating a religious issue out of this, note that Alvator’s given reason for leaving the candles in front of a Jewish family’s house was “Maybe… spite” per WPIX.

  15. Mark on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 4:38 pm
  16. Or perhaps the spite has to do with that home bringing the town’s highest elected official to their door during Christmas Eve dinner.

  17. john bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 4:54 pm
  18. Yes, that is the cause of the spite, but note that statements were made by the Alvators while in a state of “spite.” That can color the spin when someone is acting spitefully. The context of a reported conflict is often twisted when one side is feeling spiteful. Somebody may be lying about whether the fire dept was contacted. Let’s find out who before we attack the mayor. I suspect that the fire dept did not approve lining the street with candles, especially because it is not legal per the mayor.

  19. Mark A. Snyder on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 4:54 pm
  20. Just because *you* weren’t offended doesn’t mean everyone else wasn’t.

  21. Chris on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 5:20 pm
  22. And just because you were doesn’t mean that ANYONE else was. The issue here is clear and beyond debate: the top elected official in any municipality has no business inserting him- or herself into a little neiborhood spat. Everything else here, including the so-called “fire hazard excuse”, is just lame post hoc justification. My guess is that the Mayor never visited anyone else’s house in his official capacity for any reason. His doing it here smacks of an attempt to intimidate. Don’t NJ politicians have a bad enough rep lately?

  23. Randi on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 5:32 pm
  24. First of all I would like to say that was a well written letter.
    I have a few comments to add……
    If the mayor had legit ute reasons for this them why is he afraid to show his face and comment?
    If it wasn’t about religion then why was that his only reason to take them down? He said ‘being Hewish he can understand how it can be offensive’ – well I AM also Jewish and the only thing I find offensive is the mayors actions!
    I am a life long resident of Tenafly, a THS graduate as were my children and I am glad I moved out 3 months ago.

    PS – I am also offended that Peter is so hypocritical by bringing his 2 huge dogs to parks that clearly say no dogs allowed! Now that’s offensive because I follow the rules – why shouldn’t he?

  25. Mark on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 5:36 pm
  26. Don Holmes on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 5:54 pm
  27. It was wrong for the mayor to handle this in any way. Enforcement is not his job. If this had to be “handled, it was up to the Police or the Fire Official.

  28. marc rosenbaum on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 8:13 pm
  29. Like Randi I AM also Jewish and the only thing I find offensive is the mayors actions!

    How sad for Tenafly to have a mayor who so easily succumbed to the demands of one disgruntled resident and intruded upon another family’s Christmas eve celebration. To harass and intimidate a family who so generously wished to share the holiday celebration with their neighbors while advocating on behalf another who opposed this act of goodwill is truly offensive. And please don’t introduce your Judaism into this Mr. Mayor.

    Tenafly survived the polarizing effects of the Eruv and will survive Peter Rustin’s divisive behavior too.There are too many good people living in Tenafly who will not tolerate discriminatory and prejudicial behavior.

  30. John Bingham on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 9:35 pm
  31. WPIX reversed itself on the key point: the homeowner did not clear the candles with the fire dept and that is the mayor’s justification for acting. Read the story. This family left candles in front of a Jew’s house out of “spite” by their own admission. But don’t let the facts get in the way of scapegoating a Jew in power for your perceived harm against Jesus. Such narratives have a proud history in the beginning of violent anti-semetic movements throughout history. When your religion makes you act against your neighbor out of spite, you are doing it wrong.

  32. Mark on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 9:45 pm
  33. John,
    If you believe that I either am personally or am advocating scapegoating a Jew, then I don’t think you read my letter. At least not with an open mind.

    Personally, I have never blamed Jews as a group for harm against Jesus. The situation in Jerusalem in 33AD (ish) was much more complicated than that. Honestly, the Pharisees were simply trying to keep their people together in the face of Roman occupation. Or, if you believe as some Christians, they were simply playing their part in God’s plan.

    As I said on Facebook when you first spouted this “spite” narrative, I believe that the “spite” mentioned by Mr. Alvator was not due to his neighbor’s religion but rather due to his neighbor’s action in bringing the Mayor down on him during Christmas Eve dinner – something that the Mayor has apologized for.

    In other words, I do not believe that anyone in this situation was acting against the religion of any other. Instead, the neighbor and perhaps the Mayor were protecting their religion against a perceived (but apparently unintended) attack.

    Last (and it is last here on this blog), WPIX is simply repeating the Mayor’s assertion that the police and fire were not contacted. I don’t believe him – I choose to believe the Alvator family in that.

    I do not know what is causing your anger, but I would suggest that you let this go. Most others have.


  34. John W. Moraites on Fri, 27th Dec 2013 11:06 pm
  35. You can leave your candles lit period! Sound a bit familiar? Political spin at it’s best!

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