The City of Pittsburgh opened a new chapter in its sometimes stormy relationship with public menorah displays by sponsoring the first-ever menorah lighting in more than 20 years in front of the building that set off a First Amendment legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

When officials with Chabad-Lubavitch of Pittsburgh joined Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to light the menorah in front of the City-County Building – which houses Allegheny County government – the sense of amazement among the event's participants was palpable, said Rabbi Sruli Altein.

Altein, Chabad-Lubavitch of Pittsburgh's outreach director, set the celebration in motion just three days earlier after receiving an invitation from Ravenstahl to light the menorah that for 18 years just sat unlit in front of the building during Chanukah.

"They told me that the mayor wanted to property acknowledge Chanukah this year," related Altein.

In 1986, Chabad-Lubavitch of Pittsburgh, led by Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, erected, as it did every year, a menorah display in front of the City-County Building. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the city, claiming that the display violated Constitutional protections found in the First Amendment's Establishment Clause against state-sponsorship of religion.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in 1989, ruled that the display did not amount to government endorsement of a religious belief. But days later, the City of Pittsburgh filed an emergency request with the Court to remove the Chabad menorah, claiming that the space it occupied was not public property. In another 6-3 decision, the Court once again affirmed Chabad's right to display the menorah.

But until this week, the menorah went unlit during Chanukah.

Full Circle

More than 200 people – including a delegation of school principles from Pittsburgh's sister city of Karmiel, Israel – showed up for the lighting and a joyous ceremony featuring music, dancing and latkes.

Ravenstahl opened his speech by thanking Chabad for erecting the menorah year after year.

"I value the relationship I've been able to build with Jewish community," he told the crowd. "I wanted to show and express that tonight by participating in the lighting of the menorah. Let that be a symbol to us, an illumination, to spread peace, kindness and joy."

Charles Saul, the attorney who represented Chabad through the legal wrangling two decades ago, was honored with lighting the shamesh candle. Rosenfeld lit the menorah's first candle.

Saul saw the lighting as a dramatic reversal of fortune.

"The new mayor actually called us and asked us," he said in wonder.

"The emissaries that were there during the trial were very emotional during the lighting," said Altein. "Standing there, they were remembering all they went through during the case, waiting for the ruling, and now they got to experience the excitement of lighting it in that very place."

He added: "To have the same city that once fought our menorah now choose to recognize it really brings the story full circle."