Objections raised over Olivette vote during Passover

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Carol Kaplan-Lyss appreciates the mayor’s apology. But she says it doesn’t negate the fact that the Olivette City Council passed a controversial measure at its meeting Tuesday, March 26, the second night of Passover, even though many Jews in the community couldn’t attend.

“The apology is a little too late,” said Kaplan-Lyss, referring to a statement issued Friday by Olivette Mayor Arthur Merdinian acknowledging it was “poor judgment” to hold the meeting that night especially since “many of the residents who live in Olivette are of the Jewish faith.”

According to its website, the Olivette City Council regularly meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month, but that date can be changed if the meeting falls on a holiday. However, the council decided to proceed with the meeting even though it had been pointed out that it was the second night of Passover.  

At the meeting, the council voted 4-0 to allow gas stations in the city to sell alcoholic beverages. Passage of this divisive measure upset some business owners and residents who were celebrating Passover with a second seder and couldn’t weigh in on the matter. Some feel there are already too many places that sell alcohol in Olivette.

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“The council should rescind its vote and allow all members of the community to be heard on this contentious measure,” Kaplan-Lyss said. “The council did not communicate very well beforehand that (this issue) was coming up for a second reading and vote. Where was the sensitivity given that Olivette has such a large Jewish population?”

Both Olivette Chairman Pro-tem (and a voting mem ber of the council) Missy Waldman, who is Jewish, and Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, had asked that the meeting be changed. 

“There is past precedent for canceling and postponing council meetings for other holidays,” said Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.  “So many of the council’s constituents, including one of its own members, were observing Passover.  It would have been both appropriately sensitive and not a burden on council business to reasonably accommodate their religious needs.”

Waldman said she was “shocked” that the council went ahead with the meeting. “I had talked to the mayor about this at least a week before the meeting about moving the date,” said Waldman, who did not attend the Tuesday meeting because she was at a seder.

“My heart is pained by the fact that religious beliefs are misunderstood or rejected as insignificant,” she added.

Waldman said she understood that there were some matters that needed immediate attention, including the police chief’s request for grants, which were time sensitive. “I told (the mayor and council) I was fine if they had a brief meeting to deal with that,” she said. “But I truly thought we had decided to wait until April to deal with the alcohol and gas station measure and was shocked that they went ahead on this without me.”

Waldman said she accepted the mayor’s apology, adding, “We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow. Hopefully, the disrespect of any religious practice will not happen again.”

University City, which also holds its  council meetings the same nights as Olivette, cancelled its Tuesday meeting because of Passover. The Ladue School District moved its board meeting to Wednesday from Monday night, the first night of Passover.