Page 18 THE VILLADOM TIMES I • December 24, 2008
Christmas lights and
the light of Christmas
Considering the gloom and doom all around us, it is
comforting to see the Christmas lights all over and real-
ize that most people have decided to make the best of
things. My wife returned from a brief shopping trip on foot
– trading one kind of energy for another, as it were, and
reported about what you would expect from some of the
friendly local merchants we have patronized for the past
30 years. In one store, she saw something heartening:
three men she identiﬁed as young fathers were eagerly
learning how to be cashiers. She assumed they had been
down-sized and were taking up the sort of honest work
they would not have considered when the economy was
booming so they could go on supporting their families.
She saw this as strong and honorable on their part. I
agree. On lawns all over Northwest Bergen County, in front
of the churches, and even in front of some municipal
buildings we see the Nativity represented by a mother, a
father, and a child.
Some years ago, some people wanted to put a stop to
that. A number of towns knuckled under and removed
their Nativity scenes under the pressure of the American
Civil Liberties Union – an organization, be it noted, that
once dumped Ridgewood Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry
from a much-needed seat on the ACLU Board of Direc-
tors because Fry was anti-communist. Fry is remembered
for having risked his neck for being anti-Nazi.
Wyckoff also took a risk. The members of the Wyckoff
Township Committee sat down, weighed their chances,
weighed their consciences, and let the ACLU take them
to court. The judge ruled that as long as the township was
willing to display a menorah and some secular Christmas
symbols, the Nativity scene could stay.
Wyckoff and America won twice. People who are too
wrapped up in sports or politics may not realize it, but
the menorah is an important part of the Christmas story
twice. In 146 BC, a tyrant descended from one of Alexander
the Great’s generals attempted to stamp out Judaism by
brutal and blasphemous methods. Jews who refused to
pollute themselves and deny their own beliefs were tor-
tured and killed as the tyrant attempted to turn the ofﬁcial
religion into a cult with himself as the center of worship.
The blasphemy and the insanity involved were unac-
ceptable to religious Jews. They fought back against great
odds, and when they defeated the tyrant they found that
his troops had polluted the Temple at Jerusalem. The
menorah is said to have miraculously burned while the
temple was ritually cleansed and through the ceremo-
nies of dedication. This event was not just a great victory
for the Jews. It was a great victory for the entire human
race. A blasphemous cult founded by a maniac had been
defeated by people who believed in one God whose laws
applied equally to everyone, beggar and king alike.
Had the revolt that led to Chanukah failed, the New
Testament would not be as we know it today, because
the Holy Family and the Apostles and Disciples were all
observant Jews who followed the laws that were restored.
The menorah and the Nativity scene are not contradic-
tory, but complementary.
David Bolger and his son JT were recently kind enough
to send me a computer image of the restored painting of
Jesus and the elders, which was once displayed at the
Pease Library. I had my ﬁrst look at the painting in per-
haps 20 years, and my memories of it were conﬁrmed.
What I saw when I looked was what one should always
see: mutual respect. We should preserve that respect.
Another importance of the menorah has to do with
what has now become a primary secular symbol: the
Christmas tree. This was not always so. Research traced
the original of the display of a lighted tree inside a church
to the German Rhineland, an area that had been Roman
in ancient times, and where Jews and other settlers had
lived in the fortiﬁed cities and the market towns of what
was a sort of permanent frontier. The ﬁrst example of a
lighted pyramid, shaped like a tree, looks almost like a
menorah. This may not be a coincidence.
The menorah is complementary to the Christmas story,
and so is another monotheistic religion, the belief of the
Persians in one God and a strict dichotomy between good
and evil. The Persians take a beating in European his-
tory because they fought the Greeks, seen as the exclusive
progenitors of Western culture by professors and other
people who like things in neat little boxes and ignore the
religious and legalistic inﬂuence of Judaism, the day-to-
day importance of Germanic tribal custom, and Celtic
and Chinese technology. All these groups contributed
to European civilization while the Persians, stalled at
Thermopylae and defeated at Salamis, remained outside
Europe, though they are an Indo-European people. They
were also the only people in history other than the Ger-
manic tribes who shared a border with the Roman Empire
and were not destroyed or assimilated.
Nativity scenes often feature “the three kings” – one
blond, one black, one possibly Arab – offering gifts to
the Holy Family. The gift-bearers mentioned in the New
Testament, however, were not kings but magi – wise men,
possibly astrologers – who followed the Star of Bethle-
hem because they were told the star would lead them to
the King of the Jews.
Astrology was widely practiced in the Kingdom Baby-
lon, where the Jews had once been sequestered and where
some possibly remained, and in the succeeding Persian
Empire. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler, also
an astrologer, discovered at the time of the Nativity – the
autumn of 4 BC, probably in September rather than
December – a constellation of three planets, rather than
stars, would have converged and been visible from Persia
and appearing over Judea. Jupiter was the planet of the
king, Venus the planet of birth, and Saturn the planet of
the Jews in Persian astrology. The message of this con-
stellation, brighter than any individual star, was that the
King of the Jews would be born.
The idea that the Christmas story is comprised of many
elements is not a new one. People in ancient times would
have understood clearly that the members of the Holy
Family were observant Jews – this is absolutely explicit
in the New Testament – and that people outside Judaism
also knew of the prophecies concerning a change in the
world order, mentioned in Roman writers of the next cen-
tury long before Christianity had become an accepted
and later an ofﬁcial religion.
This was not a made-up story like the Right Jolly Old
Elf who comes down the chimney to bring good little
girls and boys whatever they want. Keep in mind that the
chimney may be stopped up this year. A lot of people,
particularly the younger people who moved here for the
schools, may ﬁnd themselves stuck in houses they cannot
afford and cannot sell, except at a loss.
Our sympathies should go out to these people – par-
ticularly to those who did not vent against older people or
childless people who questioned why they should have to
keep paying school taxes for a standard of education they
never expected for themselves and do not need now. The
idea that many people stay here for decades after their
kids have grown up, or if they did not have kids to begin
with, simply because the towns and most of the people are
so great, is a tough sell to people whose focus is getting
ahead and getting out.
A lot of people used to turn every holiday into an explo-
sion of spending to show how well they had done. I think
we will see less of that than in any year in the recent past,
not only because people cannot afford it, but because a
look at the neighbors may convince them that it is not in
the world’s best taste. I add that I hope people will spend
whatever they can with local merchants who make the
towns of Northwest Bergen County as convenient as they
are – and at holiday time, as beautiful as they are.
What I hope we will see more of this year is a reﬂec-
tion that the values of Christmas and Chanukah teach
people what they need to remember when the anesthetic
of a bullish stock market and big salaries for do-nothing
jobs wears off. There are some things you do not do to
others, and there are some things that you do not accept:
attacks on religious and family values from people with
their own agendas being a prime example. But if you learn
to respect and tolerate, and even appreciate, other people
who present no threat instead of smirking and waiting
to settle up at the ﬁrst opportunity, the economic slump,
while not enjoyable, will probably prove survivable. One
thing is certain – it will deﬁnitely prove educational.
Letters to the Editor
Appreciates caring community
It is the time of year when I always reﬂect on how for-
tunate our family is to have the support and care of our
community. We receive wonderful homemade meals for
which I am so grateful. I have a great group of women from
our town and surrounding ones who share stories, laughs,
and sometimes tears with me on the way to physical and
speech therapies. We are blessed to have people of all faiths
praying for us. Our schools are still involved in our lives,
whether it is dinners from staff members, a chair to sit on at
games, a loan of a bullhorn for the Washington demonstra-
tion, or a bouquet of ﬂowers.
Once again, I have to say that our children in Wyckoff,
Franklin Lakes, and Oakland are special. Boys and girls
alike make a point of always coming over to say hi with a
hug or a smile. I am lucky because I even receive text mes-
sages from the freshmen in college. We should all be proud
of our children. They have indeed learned by example from
I want to extend a special thank you for the support you
have all given this year for our ALS petition and Washing-
ton, DC demonstration. Thank you from the bottom of our
hearts for being here for us. We wish you a very happy and
blessed holiday season.
Debbie Gattoni and family
Wyckoff Students address board
(continued from page 9)
evaluation. Softball players want different coach
In another matter, a high school softball player, accom-
panied by a group of teammates from the school’s softball
team, questioned the board as to its appointment of a new
coach for the varsity program next season.
High school junior Carolyn Bryan asked why Mike
Kilgallen, a sixth grade teacher at Highland School who
previously coached the team, had not been appointed
instead of John Follo, a retired educator.
Calling Kilgallen “dedicated and passionate,” Bryan
said that he was familiar with the team’s players and they
with him, whereas Follo was not.
“We’ve had four coaches in four years, and we had
high hopes for this upcoming season with four returning
seniors,” Bryan said. “We want to know the real problem
why Mr. Kilgallen is not getting the job,” she asked.
Venditti said that the matter was a personnel item and
could not be discussed in public.
Athletic Director Edward Salvi said that ﬁve people
with ”lots of experience,” had been interviewed for the
position before Follo was chosen. His stipend for the
season will be $5,104.