Dec. 23, 1996
For television, it's the "if it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead" philosophy of news. But newspapers aren't much better. They seem to have capitulated to the same approach to news coverage. Murders, robberies and wars make front-page headlines. And anything that's controversial or sleazy also seems to have great appeal. After you finish reading the local newspaper or watching TV, you almost wonder why people aren't rioting in the streets with all the hate and intolerance that's allegedly out there. But maybe what we're led to believe by a few sound bites and headlines isn't the reality of the average American community.
With that in mind, allow me to share a story that was buried on page 12 of the front section of a recent Chicago Tribune. It's a story I believe represents how most Americans feel about one another.
The story came from the New York Times News Service and was headlined "Christians show menorahs after neighbor's is ruined." The incident occurred in Newtown Township, Pa. On a recent Sunday, Judith and Martin Markovitz were abruptly awakened at about 5 a.m. by the sound of breaking glass. Vandals had broken their front living room window where there was an electric menorah on display in celebration of Hanukkah. The menorah was destroyed, leaving the Markovitz family devastated.
It didn't take long for word to spread throughout the neighborhood built only five years ago in a Bucks County development 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Sunday night, all 18 homes on the street and adjoining cul-de-sacs were lighted with menorahs. And by Thursday evening, seven more homes on nearby streets were displaying menorahs. Even more neighbors would have displayed lighted menorahs in their windows if the local stores hadn't run out of them. What a wonderful show of support.
Margie Alexander, 36, is a Roman Catholic and lives around the block from the Markovitz family. Here's how she reacted to the news of the destroyed menorah: "We wanted to make sure the family knew they had our support. That morning I went to them to tell them that something had to be done." As the Times tells the story: "Because just about everyone in the neighborhood is a newcomer, people have worked hard to create a strong sense of community. There are bicycle decorating contests for children on Memorial Day and monthly teas for mothers with small children at home. Residents gather for parties each year." Even so, when Alexander first heard of what had happened to the Markovitz family, she didn't think she knew them. But when Martin Markovitz opened the front door, she recognized him as a dance partner from last summer's neighborhood Fourth of July party. She said she would never forget the pain she saw in his face.
Based on the Times story, just about everybody in the neighborhood began displaying a menorah. According to Lisa Keeling, 35, a Catholic who lives a few doors from the Markovitz family, "It just grew. Now they are everywhere."
No, this probably wasn't big news. But it's such a good story about such good people, and I believe these kinds of stories rate better than page 12 in a newspaper. These episodes epitomize the basic decency of the American people. We do care about each other. We don't support intolerance. Yes, there are some jerks, misfits or whatever you want to call them in our midst who do horrible things. But in no way do they represent what the overwhelming majority of us stand for. With this in mind, I'm proud as a Presbyterian to display in my office the menorah that was presented to me a few years ago by B'nai B'rith International. It's what America is all about.
Charles S. Lauer