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Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: The world mourns the passing of Mandela



The world experienced a great loss Dec. 5 with the death, at age 95, of Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in his native South Africa.

Despite being imprisoned by his white oppressors for 27 years, when he was freed in Feb. 1990, at 71, Mandela worked to establish a new government based on “reconciliation,” rather than retaliation.

Initially, he was met with resistance from his fellow South Africans, both whites and blacks, but in the end he got what he wanted: a coalition government that would respect all colors.

Mandela’s struggles – in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds – should remind us of at least two other statesmen whose clamoring for justice resounded on the global stage: Ghandi, who fought to end British rule in India through a policy of non-violence; and Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” who waged a civil war to preserve the Union in which all citizens were free.

As in Mandela’s case, the goal was achieved but a flawed creation followed. Years of infighting took its toll on South Africans; as a byproduct of independence from Britain, Ghandi had to accept a divided India; Lincoln’s assassination sparked a revenge-minded Radical Republicanism bent on punishing the South for its rebellion.

All three were truly pivotal figures in their lifetime but all were quite mortal, and, therefore, no matter how many statues may be consecrated in their honor, none should be elevated to deity.

To that end, let’s recall the words of University of Cape Town political professor Anthony Butler who wrote in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper (as quoted in the Dec. 7 New York Times), “To idealize a great political leader – to try and take that person out of politics and the humanity out of that person – is in the end a futile or even contradictory endeavor.”

Still, we can say that Mandela, Ghandi and Lincoln each left a great legacy for which we have much to thank them.

Shifting gears: Has a version of the Prince of Denmark crept into North Korea?

News accounts report that before he came to power, Kim Jong-un, that country’s leader, was propped up by his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and his aunt, Kim Kyong-hee.

But, of late, if these accounts are accurate, following the death of the Kim Jong-il, the current 30-year-old leader’s father, Kim Jong-un (read: Hamlet) has arranged for Uncle Jang to be removed from his government posts and for two of his uncle’s deputies (read: shades of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern) to be killed. Alas, these same accounts say that Uncle Jang (read: Claudius) is estranged from his sickly spouse (read: Gertrude).

Now, Kim Jong-un has been talking about unleashing some of North Korea’s nuclear capability on the country’s traditional eastern and western rivals. (Read: “To take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them ….”).

Draw your own conclusions.

Finally, some thoughts on Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, asking the Detroit Art Museum to consider auctioning off some of its collection, including the famous Diego Rivera murals celebrating the workers of the world, to help the bankrupt Motor City pay its creditors.

What a great irony that would be, if art work that exalts the contributions by the American laborer – the same type of work that came very close to being displayed in the iconic capitalist building, Rockefeller Center – were to be sold to prop up the very city that made America Roar in the Twenties.

Rivera and his staff undertook the Detroit museum job in the wake of Ford Motor Co. goons having killed four auto workers and harming 22 during a 1932 demonstration at Ford’s Dearborn plant. The city’s plutocrats warned Edsel Ford – who had given Rivera the commission – he was being undermined by the artist.

But Rivera was allowed to proceed and, despite the Depression, the museum – which was on the ropes – survived and prospered, thanks in large part, to the Rivera murals’ popularity.

Maybe history will repeat itself.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Remembering the eulogy to JFK

Our Nov. 20 issue of The Observer noted the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the rest of that week was filled with television documentaries, panel discussions and replays of actual news coverage from 1963.

I found myself as transfixed as I had been all those years ago — even though things learned in those ensuing decades have diminished my opinion of JFK as a person, if not as a President.

But back then, Jack and Jackie were still the romanticized golden couple, and who am I to judge?

On Nov. 25, as I was watching a replay of the funeral, words I had heard spoken 50 years ago — and never since — suddenly came drifting up, unbidden, from the deepest caverns of memory:

“And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.”

I realized immediately it referred to Jacqueline, but who had said it? And in what context?

I found the answers. It was from the eulogy delivered by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) while JFK’s coffin lay in state under the Capitol Dome, where an estimated 250,000 people came to pay their respects.

I do not know if Mansfield actually witnessed the incident of which he speaks. I have heard different versions of the story. I have also heard that it is apocryphal. But that really doesn’t matter. I like to think it’s true.

Here is the Mansfield eulogy, in its entirety:

“There was a sound of laughter; in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a wit in a man neither young nor old, but a wit full of an old man’s wisdom and of a child’s wisdom, and then, in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a man marked with the scars of his love of country, a body active with the surge of a life far, far from spent and, in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a father with a little boy, a little girl and a joy of each in the other. In a moment it was no more, and so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a husband who asked much and gave much, and out of the giving and the asking wove with a woman what could not be broken in life, and in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands, and kissed him and closed the lid of a coffin. “

A piece of each of us died at that moment. Yet, in death he gave of himself to us. He gave us of a good heart from which the laughter came. He gave us of a profound wit, from which a great leadership emerged. He gave us of a kindness and a strength fused into a human courage to seek peace without fear.

“He gave us of his love that we, too, in turn, might give. He gave that we might give of ourselves, that we might give to one another until there would be no room, no room at all, for the bigotry, the hatred, prejudice, and the arrogance which converged in that moment of horror to strike him down.

“In leaving us — these gifts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, leaves with us. Will we take them, Mr. President? Will we have, now, the sense and the responsibility and the courage to take them?

“I pray to God that we shall and under God we will.”

That is more than a eulogy. It is poetry.

– Karen Zautyk

Addendum: One more quote to remember in relation to Nov. 22, 1963. “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” Now that would be a perfect final eulogy.


A Nov. 27 story on the Red Bull Arena in Harrison incorrectly reported that skybox patrons pay extra for alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are included in the skybox fee but club box customers are charged for alcohol, according to Red Bull spokesman Robert Pastor. For more information, call Pastor at 973-268-7128. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Let’s talk turkey, shall we?

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 (and its aftermath of frenzied Friday foraging by the manic masses maneuvering through mammoth malls), let us lift up our weary eyes a moment from our artificially fattened turkeys and ponder this:

We live in the United States of America, a deeply flawed republic, indeed, but also a country where, for the most part, we can reasonably expect to go about our business without being blown up by a suicide bomber, being thrown into jail by agents of a police state, being forced to flee our borders because of civil strife, or being compelled to work in unsafe buildings that could collapse at any time.

But wait:

Aren’t there people wandering around still looking for work, or at least, enough work to pay the basic bills? Absolutely, and I know several on a personal basis and I’m sure you do, as well.

Aren’t there folks being thrown out of homes for lack of money to pay the mortgage or the rent? Yes: just scan the daily papers and read the numerous foreclosure notices.

Aren’t there unfortunates spending every day on the street, panhandling for food? Yes, I see several camped out under the elevated highway near Jersey City’s Charlotte Circle, just to cite one of many examples.

Obviously, the USA isn’t a utopian society and there are those who would argue we are a dystopian, hopelessly fragmented, bigoted, us vs. them lot. Some political scientists, economists and columnists argue the gulf between the classes continues to widen and, as our government continues to print money and defer paying our debt, we will spiral down into the abyss.

I prefer not to join that chorus of doomsayers – at least not yet.

Instead, I’d rather focus on those among us who take the time to care about others less fortunate, without resources to make it through tough times. Organizations like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and Goodwill Industries; a host of service groups like the Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary, Woman’s Club, Lions, Masons, our veterans’ posts, among others too numerous to mention.

And all the individual acts of kindness, like the recent blood drive sponsored by the Belleville firefighters’ union, held on behalf of a stricken comrade. Or those contributing to a bone marrow drive to aid a Kearny woman’s young grandson in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, for those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy the virtues of home and hearth for the holiday with friends and family, we should take time out to give thanks.

I was reminded recently by a Kearny lawyer acquaintance of the importance of family values and I know he’ll forgive me if I quote an excerpt of an e-mail he circulated among his many pals and associates as he marked his birthday:

“Everyone has their problems. People are struggling with issues [and] our family is no exception. Bills come due. Medical complications must be faced. Relationships fall on rocky times. That’s why we should try to be kind all day, every day, to whomever we meet.”

Referencing a family photo with his spouse and daughters, the lawyer observes: “When I look at pictures like this, however, I can put everything [in] perspective. I am among the luckiest guys in the world. …. “

Problems and issues will come, and go, and come back again, and go away again. But, I am surrounded by these ladies. We love each other. This is what is important. And it doesn’t have to be familial. Surround yourself with loving, caring people. Live among friends and neighbors. Help and allow yourself to be helped. That is the essence of being human. ….”

Yes. Those are words to remember on this and future Thanksgivings.

Have a pleasant holiday.

– Ron Leir


A Nov. 6 story reporting on Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign stop in Harrison underestimated the number of townspeople who turned out for the occasion. Several observers noted there were probably between 400 and 500 attending, spilling out from the Elks lodge hall into the bar area and outside in the parking lot. The Observer regrets the error.



To the editor:

I wish to thank and applaud The Observer for publishing the remembrances of Msgr. John J. Gilchrist of November 22, 1963 when he recalled ministering the last rites to an elderly man likely forgotten to history at the same time an assassin’s bullet brought to an untimely end the life of President John F. Kennedy. More importantly, the story told by Msgr. Gilchrist teaches us that everyone’s life has value, from the President of the United States to the least among us.

As a former parishoner of Holy Cross Church during the years that Msgr. Gilchrist was its pastor, I can attest that he was the living embodiment of this lesson. Monsignor treated every person as if they were president and would have treated the president no better or worse than any other person.

I believe that since that terrible day in November 50 years ago, Msgr Gilchrist has been more important to the spiritual health and welfare of the West Hudson and South Bergen community than any elected official, and I thank God for the opportunity to have known this good man.

Tom Zammatore

North Arlington


To the editor:

Your Nov. 20, 2013 edition remembering John F. Kennedy was wonderful. Any American will remember with shock and sorrow those days that followed for the rest of their lives. Thank you so much for the fantastic report of other Americans and how they felt and Mgrs Gilchrist ’s wonderful and very human memories.

Regina Smith

Thoughts & Views: Infamous days that will live in memory



There are certain times or dates that resonate in each of us because they affect us viscerally, even to the center of our soul.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, I was listening to the radio. It was a broadcast of a football game. It was a game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Yes, in those days, there was a Brooklyn football team called the Dodgers.)

Suddenly, a voice broke in. The voice was telling us that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I, at 11 years of age, was filled with excitement. I ran into the kitchen where my mother was washing dishes.

“Mom,” I cried, “The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor. We are at war.”

My mother’s response was instant. Her eyes filled with tears. I was surprised. “Just think of all those boys who are going to die,” she said. She was heartbroken. I found my excitement turning into more somber thoughts of war and death.

Another date that is stamped into my consciousness is Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. I was stationed at St. Cecilia’s in Kearny. In those days, we priests had the responsibility of servicing West Hudson Hospital. I was on duty when the phone rang. As usual, the female voice at the other end uttered just two words, “Emergency, Father.” I jumped into the car and was at the hospital within five minutes.

The situation that greeted me was not unusual. An elderly gentleman had suffered a heart attack. He had gone to God.

As I entered the hospital, the receptionist at the desk said, “Room 305, Father.”

When I entered the room and took out the Holy Oils to anoint the man, the television was still playing. I heard the words, “President John F. Kennedy has died.” Then came the details of his assassination.

It was like a knife in my heart. I found myself praying over the deceased gentleman, and at the same time weeping for our first Catholic President, our beautiful John Kennedy.

Then I stopped in the middle of my prayers. “What a contradiction! Here I pray, mechanically anointing a man who is meeting his Creator – yet crying for a man I had never known personally.”

“What a fool I am,” I thought. “I am performing a sacred function for the soul of a person. My fingers are touching his body. Yet my mind is in Dallas.”

I meditated on that dichotomy for many days. From that day on, I never ever just “gave the last rites.” I have looked at each human being who was dead or in danger of death as a unique and special being – a child of God – at the most important time of his or her existence, that moment when the soul meets God.

If the priesthood should become just a function, then it is no longer the ministry of Jesus. Every soul is precious to the living God. We must love and pray for them all, the way that Jesus did.

– Msgr. John J. Gilchrist

(Msgr. Gilchrist is in residence at the Catholic Youth Center in Kearny. He is a former columnist for the Catholic Advocate newspaper.)

Thoughts & Views: Don’t ‘space out’ on finding new worlds



When I was a kid in grade school in the late ‘50s, I remember reading about the bright prospect of electric cars on the horizon.

Now, despite the best efforts of Detroit to kill them, we’re seeing some results, thanks to Tesla Motors. (If they find a way to stop car batteries from catching fire….) As for Detroit, well, GM is turning out the Chevy Volt to compete with Tesla. As Mel Allen might have said: How about that….

We also used to read about space exploration and how any day, we’d be catching up to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch. And we did.

More recently, though, we began going backwards by partially dismantling NASA. No more trips to the moon. Don’t even think about astronauts going to Mars, no matter if there are forms of life there.

But hold on a minute, you federal sorry-eyed staracrats! You can’t tell me to take that galaxy and shove it. Not after what the New York Times reported last week.

First, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Times reporter Dennis Overbye let us know that based on data collected by NASA’s Kepler-spacecraft, astronomers are learning that there could be “as many as 40 billion habitable Earthsize planets in the galaxy. And “the nearest such planet might be only 12 light-years away,” which, one scientist affirmed, “would be visible to the naked eye.”

Doesn’t that news make you want to climb into the nearest spacesuit and activate the launch code?

Then on Thursday, Nov. 7, Times reporter Kenneth Chang revealed two ominous developments happening in the “final frontier.”

First, the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite, which was launched in March 2009 to map Earth’s gravitational field while flying in an orbit between 160 and 140 miles above the planet, was expected to drop out of orbit within days for an uncontrolled re-entry and, ultimately, fragment in our atmosphere and crash somewhere. Scientists were hoping to track it in time to predict where it will come down.

Secondly, scientists are predicting that we could be in for an increasing number of asteroid strikes, like the one that exploded, shattering windows and injuring more than 1,000 people, in Chelyabinski in Russia in February. While the next incident may not happen for another 10 years or more, scientists are pressing for the development of an asteroid detection system as a precaution.

Thus are we presented with the image of space as a double-edged sword – like the constellation of Orion beckoning but also threatening would-be space voyagers. To ignore the possibility of new worlds awaiting our discovery is wrongheaded. Who knows how long our planet will last, given the rate at which we’re running out of natural resources by choking our air, polluting and drying up our waterways, felling our forests, despoiling the land, over-consuming.

One day, perhaps, as our Earth is threatened with extinction, we will be seeing droves of people fleeing – in privately manufactured spacecrafts – to those distant ecto-planets as a last refuge.

And, when they arrive, as a final irony, will they be locked up – or turned away – as illegal immigrants?

Let us hope that our distant “neighbors” will be more enlightened beings than our poor lot here on Planet Earth.

– Ron Leir

And in the morning, silence



Next Monday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, the day dedicated to honoring all American veterans, living and dead. There will be ceremonies in The Observer towns, sponsored by various organizations and with varying programs.

But they should all have one thing in common: a moment of silence at 11 a.m.

Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, and it marked the exact moment the guns of World War I fell silent: 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Perhaps it is for that reason that I, personally, although honoring all our living U.S. vets — as they should be honored — have always felt a closer bond that day to the fallen. Especially the fallen of the Great War.

Next year will bring the 100th anniversary of the start of that conflict, and I daresay today’s younger generations live in ignorance of the 1914-18 slaughter.

Is it even still taught in schools? Perhaps in the U.K. it is, but I have my doubts about U.S. education. Hell, in the U.K., they’re still writing songs about it. (Search YouTube for “The Road to Passchendaele.”) In the U.K., people will be wearing poppies this week. When was the last time you saw a poppy here? How many people even know what the flower signifies?

In any case, to me, Nov. 11 will always be inextricably bound to World War I, with which I have a, some might say “morbid,” fascination. It can’t be other than morbid, considering the sheer number of dead.

Some perspective: In the last 12 years, some 6,760 American troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to one source, on the first day — repeat, day — of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, the British overall casualty toll was about 60,000, “of whom 21,000 had been killed, most in the first hour of the attack, perhaps the first minutes.” (John Keegan, “The Face of Battle.”)

Can you comprehend that? Nearly 21,000 slain? In one hour? Or less?

Entire libraries have been written analyzing the reasons for the terrible butchery of World War I, so I am not about to try to do that here. I merely want to acknowledge the horrific loss of life. Of lives. Of individuals who had their whole lives ahead of them and who were doomed to became part of a lost generation.

The United States, which did not enter the war until April 1917, sent more than 4 million troops to the Western Front, of whom 110,000 died before cessation of hostilities in November 1918. Of that total, an estimated 43,000 were felled, not in battle, but by the Spanish Flu epidemic that was sweeping the globe. They still died as heroes in the service of their country.

So, on Monday, I shall attend a Veterans Day ceremony, and keep the moment of silence, and remember both the living and the dead.

For the living, I can shake their hands and say a sincere, “Thank you for your service.” As I hope you do, too.

For the dead, I can only pray. As I hope you do, too.

–Karen Zautyk


The Veteran

Let us never forget their sacrifices.

It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

It is the veteran, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag.

Oh Lord, grant eternal rest to them and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

Submitted by North Arlington Elks Lodge #1992