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I grew up in Passaic, a city that was a true melting pot. Among my fondest memories are those that don’t exist anymore in our schools. In the elementary grades, we began each day with the pledge of allegiance, followed by a reading from the book of Psalms and then the Lord’s Prayer. I remember being in the 9th grade when "under "God" was added to the pledge of allegiance. We stumbled in the recitation for a few days until the new words were assimilated.

I looked forward every day to the psalms, and was particularly happy when the teacher would allow one of the students to read in place of her. My favorites then are my favorites today. I thought of psalms as poetry -- beautiful and spiritual words and thoughts. I was interested in the slight differences in wording from what we read in school and what I read when I attended religious school and services. I thought reciting the Lord’s Prayer was a good way to begin the day. Its message was undeniable and seemed universal. I was aware that my Catholic classmates omitted the last sentence but never questioned why.

I loved the Holiday Season because I understood both the religious and secular meanings of Christmas. I learned Christmas carols because we sang them in school. I know more of them than many of my Christian friends. The music is haunting, and I respect the words as poetry and their meaning to Christians. My parents told me it was ok to sing the words even though they did not have a religious meaning to me. Years later, when I worked in Trenton in the office of the Attorney General, every December, I would walk a mile from the State House to the train station on my way home so that I could take in the lights strung across West State Street and listen to the music coming from the stores. How festive it was! When there was snow, White Christmas made it even better.

From the first to the sixth grades there were never more than six or seven Jewish students in my class. It did not bother me not to study Chanukah or sing Chanukah songs in school. I had my family, my religious school and my synagogue for that. To this day, I love to sing the Chanukah songs.

Fast forward to 2016. In mid-December, my wife and I attended a pre-Chanukah service at Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne. Our new Rabbi, Meeka Simerly, had the children in the palm of her hand as she played the guitar, led us in song and was her usual inspirational self. I thought I knew all of the songs, but I have a few more in my repertoire. Chanukah and Christmas have no similarities other than that they come close to each other - - depending on what year it is. I learned that when I understood he difference between a Christmas tree and a menorah and realized that we received gifs from our parents for eight consecutive nights instead of multiple gifts from Santa Claus.

Last week, Christmas Eve and Chanukah coincided for the first time in almost 40 years. My wife and I attended services at Jacksonville Chapel with our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Being in an interfaith marriage has introduced me to many customs and traditions of Christianity, not just Christmas carols. I had seen Pastor Dave Gustavsen conduct non-Christmas services before, and I have been to Christmas mass a number of times, but this one was special. I was struck how organized they were with the entrance and exiting of the largest crowd I have ever seen in a church; the musical introduction to the service; the way the children were captivated and made part of the service by the youth director; and especially by Pastor Dave’s inspirational message. He narrated a video of a Sudanese family caught up in the turmoil in that country. The wife, two children and one child on the way were embraced by a community in Texas. They were after a four year separation the husband/father. Watching their embrace at the airport and seeing how he knelt and kissed the ground brought tears to my eyes and underscored how much good still remains in the world. My favorite part, of course was the singing of enough Christmas carols to satisfy me for the entire year. Helping each other light of what seemed like 1000 candles was a fitting end to the most memorable church service I have ever seen. When we returned home, we ate Christmas dinner. After that, but before exchanging gifts, I sang the blessings over the candle for the first night of Chanukah, and my granddaughter Angelina helped me light it. All in all, it was a very fulfilling evening and a memorable month.

As we come to the end of 2016, I know we are in for some surprises, but I feel a sense of hope. I am proud and happy to live in a country where, when we don’t like what our government does, we are free and safe in expressing our opinions.




Last month, I wrote about the controversial new gasoline tax and the rider that increases the New Jersey estate tax exemption.

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