Efforts to find her have once again been unsuccessful, but here’s hoping, wherever she is, this somehow reaches her because she’s become a fond remembrance here every year about this time when the Christmas season — or holiday season, as secularists clamor for it to be called — kicks into high gear on the heels of Thanksgiving.

Her name was Irina; she was a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania when she arrived in America in December 1989.

She was 44 and totally agog.

“It was like stepping into a fairy tale,” she recalled. “There were ornaments, lights, trees everywhere we looked. It was so festive and such a joy to see everyone free to celebrate what was important to them.”

Those were the days when a corporate giant like John Hancock had no qualms about distributing thousands of Christmas carol booklets to Boston schoolkids. No one found that inappropriate; no one saw it as proselytizing.

It was simply getting into the spirit of the season.

But by 2005 the cultural war on Christmas was raging: Postal clerks were forbidden to wish anyone a “Merry Christmas!” and while Santa, Frosty and Rudolph could still be seen, angels, shepherds and a baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes” had been declared personas non grata in the public square.

That’s what prompted Irina to call, more out of heartbreak than anger.

Where she came from — Vilnius, the capital city — she explained, religious freedom was virtually nonexistent.

“I am afraid,” she said. “For people like us who have already been down this road, it scares us to see what is happening because we do not want to go down that road again.

“We see America turning into the kind of society we came from where everyone was worried about offending someone else and where it was dangerous to draw attention to your beliefs.”

She would find kindred spirits among Russian-speaking congregants in the synagogue she attended in Brighton; together they started a group called Chaveirim, meaning friends.

“This conspiracy against Christmas frightens me,” she said. “We are living the lives we all dreamed of before we came to America. We’ve met Mormons and plan to visit the Christian Science Church; I want to take (group members) to a Catholic service, too. I want them to comprehend how you can have all these different beliefs and still be together as one country.”

Was she a zealot? A Hebrew holy-roller?

Please. If you had to categorize her, Irina was a visionary.

“I am not worried about a country where there are too many religions,” she said. “What I am worried about is America becoming a country where there is no religion at all.”


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