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“’Tis the Season” a much-used seasonal verse. But what does it mean? Time for the cold weather to filter in? Time to think about Thanksgiving invites and menus? Time to begin the holiday gift shopping? Time to decorate with festive lights, wreaths, menorahs, whatever celebratory decor you desire?
Here in our little suburban Town of’ Reading, we are very proud of the lighting display illuminating the Common in the center of Town brought to life every year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My family came to Reading 47 years ago, coming from the very festive City of Everett. Reading’s drab center and lack of holiday spirit was disheartening. In Everett, we had a beautiful manger in front of our award-winning library. How exciting in late fall to watch the city workers affixing lighted, tinseled oversized bells and candles to the phone/light polls. But when the huge Christmas tree in the center of the square as Iit it truly regaled the entire city.
For several years, Reading’s Town Meeting debated whether to stop funding the annual Christmas lights display on the Common. The lights were rented, and a private company was hired to string the lights through the trees each year.
Enter Marvin Rosenthal. Marvin was Jewish, a member of Town Meeting and the owner/operator of a local electrical supply business on Main Street. Each year as the fate of the lights display was debated, Marvin was asked his opinion. He would quip that he didn’t want to weigh in and risk the same fate of another Jew some 1970+ years earlier, but pledged that should the Town ever decide not to fund the lights, he would raise the funds to do so. That year finally came in 1976. Marvin set to work organizing a fundraising campaign on the condition that the Town would display a Menorah in Town Hall during Hanukkah, which he would donate. Marvin enlisted a virtual army of volunteers, hosted fundraising parties, letter-writing campaigns, and even got the Town Selectmen to take turns dressed as Santa Claus at locations in Town. Through his efforts, enough funds were raised to purchase and maintain the lights over time. True to his work, Marvin donated an electric menorah which was lit during the eight nights of Hanukkah and displayed in the window above the front door to Town HalI facing the Common and the lights.
That wasn’t Marvin’s last contribution to the civic life of the Town. He served as a Selectmen for six years and chaired the building committee to remake the old Highland Street school into the Town’s library.
The only problem is that the Menorah seems to have lost its place of honor in the window above Town Hall’s front door. In recent years, we have seen in the news that schools, cemeteries, and other public locations have been hit by antisemitic and other similar graffiti. Even in Reading, it would be a powerful statement of the Town’s values to return the Menorah to its place of prominence.
I remember a woman last year questioning the fact that Reading didn’t have one. Oh yes, we do, or at least we did, a quite lovely one donated by Marvin Rosenthal. Sadly, wonderful folks such as Marvin are forgotten. I dare say most never even knew of him. Marvin was a Selectman in Reading from 1978 to 1984. He was the brain behind the human chain that passed books from the original library beside the Town Hall to the new library on Middlesex Avenue. He was truly a Selectman for everyone. He went above and beyond. In 1981 there was a celebration for Marvin at The Elks in Wakefield. There was no facility in Reading that could accommodate the 250 attendees. Our political representatives all came to honor Marvin. Democrats and Republicans all joined in. I was in charge of
that event and was in awe of how receptive the citizenry was, selling out the tickets in days.
Marvin and I met at the polls in the late 1970s. That day was freezing, and in those early days, we voted in eight different locations by precinct. So a candidate needed to roam from location to location all day. Marvin was in his big Lincoln Town Car with Tony Cota of Cota Funeral Home and Al Lahoud the Coolidge Middle School Principal, passing out hot cocoa and coffee to those of us freezing holding signs.
We made an immediate connection that lasted 40 years. I thought of Marvin as my surrogate father. I’ve told you this background because Marvin and I were on different sides that day, but his willingness to listen and my willingness to learn formed an unbreakable lifelong bond.
So, when the lights are ablaze and the once missing Menorah in place, let’s say Thank You to Marvin Rosenthal. It would behoove you to go back into the catacombs of Reading’s history and learn about those men and women who have unselfishly given of themselves for the benefit of all.
The following photo was taken while Marvin threw the switch for the Christmas lights for the first time.
Blessings to all this Holiday Season.