Much has been made, and with some justification, of the tensions that have historically existed between Christians and Jews. But this morning I read the following article by Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald. It is as moving a story as you will ever read. I need comment no further; the significance of this story speaks for itself. Here is the column in its entirety.
It was a time of bloody conflict, not unlike the times we live in now, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was especially heavy-hearted because of the crippling wounds sustained by the oldest of his five children, Charles, as Americans battled one another in a Civil War.
So on Christmas morning, 1864, four months before Lee surrendered to Grant on the steps of the Appomattox Court House, this Massachusetts poet began to pen the lines of what would become a transcendent song of Christmas, the favorite of them all at this address.
“I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY, THEIR OLD FAMILIAR CAROLS PLAY;
“AND WILD AND SWEET THE WORDS REPEAT OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”
For generations to come it would capture the sentiments of those whose hearts were aching in what was assumed to be a season of joy.
Of all the stories recorded here in the many years this column has existed, none captured Longfellow’s musings more than what happened to the Markovitz family and what a neighbor named Keeling did about it.
The Keelings lived on a quiet suburban street where all the homes were illuminated with Christmas decorations, except for the Markovitz home, which displayed an illuminated menorah.
Around 3 in the morning Judy Markovitz was awakened by a shattering sound.
“My husband and I ran downstairs and saw that our window had been broken and the menorah was on the floor. The frame was shattered, too; they must have used a bat. Whoever did it had to squeeze behind bushes to reach it.”
More than blind hatred, it was a cruelly personal assault.
“Both of my parents were in the camps at Auschwitz,” Judy explained. “My husband’s mother was there also. My mother now lives with us. All of her family died there. There are things we don’t talk about, but I know older people like her have a need to feel safe.”
“AND IN DESPAIR I BOWED MY HEAD: `THERE IS NO PEACE ON EARTH,’ I SAID.
“FOR HATE IS STRONG AND MOCKS THE SONG OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”
Lisa Keeling awoke to see Martin Markovitz nailing plywood over his broken window frame before packing his family into its car and driving off.Heartsick, she began calling neighbors with an idea.
“We’re Catholics,” she later explained, “but I know that menorah represents a miracle by our God before our faith was known as Christianity. I know of the king who told the Jews they couldn’t practice their religion.
“When they reclaimed Jerusalem and saw the temple had been desecrated, they wanted to reconsecrate it, but found only a tiny bit of oil, enough for a night.
“They decided to use it anyway and it burned for eight nights. That was a miracle from the same God we worship, and why anyone would take a symbol of His love and use it for hatred, I just don’t understand.”
It took many calls, many hours, but Keeling and her neighbors, scurrying from store to store, were successful.
When the Markovitz family returned that night, there wasn’t a Christmas decoration to be seen; instead, every home was graced by an illuminated menorah.
“At first, I was confused,” Judy said. “Then I had tears in my eyes. They even bought one for us.”
In personifying the Judeo-Christian foundation upon which this republic was founded, those neighbors reminded the haters and everyone else that the God who made the oil last is the God of the manger, too.
“THEN PEALED THE BELLS MORE LOUD AND DEEP: `GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP.’
“THE WRONG SHALL FAIL, THE RIGHT PREVAIL, WITH PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”
Indeed. Merry Christmas.