HOPATCONG, NJ – Cold temperatures and intermittent rain did not dampen the holiday spirits in Hopatcong Sunday evening, as Mayor Sylvia Petillo, and council members Mike Francis and John Young, joined members of the community in celebrating the festivities.
The evening began at sunset, with the traditional lighting of the Menorah. Steven Stein, one of the members of the synagogue, filled in for the Rabbi in leading the group in singing the traditional Chanukah blessing in Hebrew as Petillo turned on the two lights.
“There are eight days of Chanukah. Each night, we add one light. They are lit from right to left, as this is how we read in Hebrew,” said Stein. "The ninth light in the center is used to light the others.”
“The Menorah was conceived many years ago by Lenny Frankel,” said Frank Steinberg, the President of the Hopatcong Fire Company. "Two of his daughters were firefighters here. Although he lived in Pennsylvania, he helped finance it, and build it. Every succeeding administration has erected it ever since.”
This is accomplished each year by the DPW workers.
“Each year, the Hopatcong Fire Department has come out with the trucks to shine light on the area on the side of Town Hall where people gather,” said Steinberg, “because it is the custom to wait until after sunset to light the Menorah..”
Afterward, everyone was invited back to the Jewish Community Center on Durbin Road for Latkes.
About an hour later, Joe Gorgolione, better known as “Joe Tree,” arrived.
"He has been taking care of Hopatcong’s Christmas tree for a long time,” said Petillo. "Every year, he prunes and takes care of the tree,” she said. "This past summer, he removed the old lights, and put over 1,000 brand new LED lights on it.”
All that work resulted in a wondrous sight when the lights went on.
Tree maintenance is Joe’s profession, but his hobby is singing. Due to the rain, the first part of the celebration was moved inside Borough Hall. There, the “Joe Tree Group” led the singing of Christmas carols, with over 100 Hopatcong residents, and Sylvia Petillo, Young, and Francis.
Beginning with the Nativity Story, the group recalled the birth of Christ in a stable in Bethlehem. Kevin Cottrell, host of “Coffee with Kevin” on WMCN AM radio station narrated the story between traditional sacred carols such as “Hark the Herald Angels,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World,” which everyone could join in as the lyrics were posted on the screen. Next, the band led the group in singing “Sleigh Bells,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Jingle Bells.” Children jingled their bell instruments, which were made and distributed by the band.
After the caroling, everyone filed back outdoors, bracing themselves for the cold with a cup of hot cocoa and a cookie on the way out. The fire department arrived, with sirens blaring, and a special guest disembarked from the truck: Santa, who distributed candy canes to the children.
At this time, the beautiful tree could be appreciated.
"The star is four feet tall!” exclaimed Petillo.
Sadly, the beautiful "Winter Wonderland" that has graced the Borough Hall for three years was missing. The artist and builder, Vito Castoro passed away this past September.
"He will be missed," said Petillo.
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