Villadom Times Weekly Newspaper Online - December 24, 2008 Issue
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Page 18 THE VILLADOM TIMES II • 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 realize 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 contradictory, 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 perhaps 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 history 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 Bethlehem 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 constel- lation, 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 chim- ney may be stopped up this year. A lot of people, particu- larly 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 explosion 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 reflection 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 pres- ent 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. Rotarians hear presentation (continued from page 8) Cioffi fielded Rotarians’ questions about environmental trends for snow removal. Borst’s new snow management division provides commercial services, and the company has a strong commitment to use environmentally safe prac- tices for snow removal. This includes the use of products like Magic Salt, which are less corrosive to the hardscape, and less harmful to lawn, plants and shrubs. This led to a lively conversation about all aspects of landscaping and the impact on the environment. Borst Landscape & Design has been involved in organic lawn care for more than a decade and is a member of the Pes- ticide Environmental Stewardship Program, a voluntary group run by the EPA. In 2007, Borst introduced Borst Organic®, the company’s private label for organic prod- ucts that treat lawn, trees and shrubs ‘’with the science of nature…naturally.” “The problem is that the chemical used to enhance a lawn’s color, nitrogen, actually stresses the grass. It’s almost like putting your lawn on steroids. In an organic lawn care program, we focus on improving the soil. Healthy soil pro- duces healthy, vibrant grass plants,” said Cioffi. Using a holistic approach, known in the field as integrated pest management, Borst has made a name for itself as the pre- mier landscaping firm in northern New Jersey focused on “green” practices. Through site assessment, periodic moni- toring, and preventative applications, Borst is able to lower incidents of pest and pathogen problems and significantly reduce its use of pesticide products. Cioffi also reviewed the importance of using porous hardscape surfaces that allow rainwater to filter down through the soil – a natural means of purification – rather than becoming runoff that brings harmful chemicals into the water system. “Just like everything else in life, environmentally-safe landscaping is all about stress management,” said Cioffi. “Healthy soil is the key, and the organic approach relieves the stress on the soil and allows it to return to its natural state.” At the end of the presentation, Cioffi received a certifi- cate of appreciation from Rotary Club President/Paramus Borough Administrator Anthony Iacono. Borst Landscape & Design is located at 260 West Cres- cent Avenue, Suite 1, in Allendale. Phone (201) 785-9400 for details.