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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 Dear Editor: 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 their parents. 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.