New Hyde Park Mayor Christopher Devane passionately defended the village and its employees during the Thursday night Board of Trustees meeting in light of the recent controversy regarding the original date of the village’s street fair.
The 26th annual village street fair was slated for Saturday, Sept. 16, the first day of the Rosh Hashanah Jewish holiday. Devane said the previous 25 fairs had always been on the third Saturday in September except for 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Devane said he was aware of the Jewish observance when the date was set last year and it was his personal understanding that the fair, which ends at 4 p.m., would not conflict with Rosh Hashanah observance that begins on sundown Friday.
“If you’re going to come after somebody, come after me,” Devane said. “It was my decision, you don’t go after our secretary.”
Devane said the decision to change the date to Oct. 21 stemmed from conversations he held with community members, and not due to “inflammatory” letters, emails or phone calls the village received from people opposed to the original date.
A letter to the editor was sent to both Blank Slate Media and Newsday from Donald Panetta, a trustee on the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees since 2022, expressing his frustration with the date.
Panetta said the village is the culprit of “blatant antisemitism.”
“Holding the street fair on one of the holiest days of the Jewish year is an insult and a slap in the face,” Panetta wrote.
Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, holds significant historical and cultural importance in the Jewish faith. With origins dating back thousands of years, the solemn holiday marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Since Devane was elected in 2021, New Hyde Park has held its first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade, Columbus Day parade, All Around the World Multicultural Night and Diwali Festival of Lights celebration.
The mayor has also during multiple meetings in the past said when the new community center, which was demolished last winter, is completed the village is going to celebrate a different culture throughout each month.
“These are the things we do,” Devane said. “We don’t talk the talk, we walk the walk.”
Aside from New Hyde Park’s original date, the Chamber of the Willistons is holding its annual street fair on Sunday, Sept. 17. The chamber said the fair is always held on the third Sunday of September and the date will not be changed when asked by Blank Slate Media.
Devane emphasized the conversation on the street fair should have been handled like adults and said anyone that has an issue can call the village themselves and speak with him.
Panetta excluded from his letter the first sentence of secretary Pat Santomauro’s response who responded to his initial inquiry by saying “a great amount of consideration went into this decision as our wish is not to offend anyone.”
Santomauro went on to say in full, “We were advised that the holiest of the holiday is during sundown hours. Also, unfortunately, there are no alternate dates available as the vendors would be attending other street fairs the weekends after the 16th. We do hope those that can join us will.”
“Unfortunately, people like him can write a letter and get a platform and try to ruin someone’s reputation,” Devane said of Panetta, who he called “despicable” and “a loser.”
Devane apologized to Santoamauro, who responded to Panetta’s inquiry with his full approval, for her involvement in the matter and adding she is “an outstanding individual, an outstanding employee and an even better person.”
The mayor ended by saying he hopes this can be a learning experience and told residents in attendance the board is meticulous about planning events not to infringe on anybody.
“We are going to have a fantastic time,” Devane said of the fair. “And all of us are going to come together and have that fantastic time.”
A previous version of this story was published, it has since been updated.