Jewish ex­press un­ease, ex­cite­ment for ‘Thanks­givukkah’

Rare con­flu­ence of dates is chance to en­hance be­liefs

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY ALEX HOP­KINS

It’s been largely played for laughs, but the co­in­ci­dence of Thanks­giv­ing and the first day of Hanukkah is no laugh­ing mat­ter for many Jews, who are strug­gling to pre­serve the re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance of the day while com­pet­ing with hol­i­day de­mands, foot­ball games and the start­ing gun for the year-end shop­ping rush.

Many ob­ser­vant Jews say they are split as to whether or not they should in­te­grate Thanks­giv­ing into their Hanukkah fes­tiv­i­ties. Some worry that the sec­u­lar spirit of Thanks­giv­ing will di­lute the re­li­gious im­por­tance of Hanukkah.

“For me, Hanukkah falls into the same cat­e­gory as Christ­mas and Di­wali; it’s a sol­stice hol­i­day, bring­ing light in the midst of dark­ness,” said Joe Ap­pel, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Rose­mont Mar­ket, in an in­ter­view with the Port­land (Maine) Press Her­ald. “That’s dif­fer­ent from Thanks­giv­ing, which is a har­vest celebration, a recog­ni­tion of two cul­tures com­ing to­gether. Both of th­ese themes are wor­thy of celebration and to mash them up you lose some of the sig­nif­i­cance,” he said.

Lori Rashty, a teacher at Hil­lel Day School in Farm­ing­ton Hills, Mich., agrees, not­ing the ex­tra time needed to pre­pare the meals tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the two hol­i­days. “For me it’s a lit­tle over­whelm­ing ’cause I don’t have time to get ready for Hanukkah,” she lamented in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “I feel like per­son­ally it takes away a lit­tle bit from Hanukkah.”

Thanks­giv­ing was es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Lin­coln in 1863, but the cal­en­dar con­ver­gence with Hanukkah has hap­pened only once, in 1888. And thanks to the quirks of un­aligned cal­en­dars, it’s not sup­posed to hap­pen again for lit­er­ally tens of thou­sands of years.

Be­cause the lu­nar-based Jewish cal­en­dar is in­creas­ingly out of sync with the so­lar cal­en­dar, Hanukkah and Thanks­giv­ing won’t line up again un­til the year 79811.

“The Jewish cal­en­dar is lu­nar-based, which means that, iron­i­cally enough, we, as Jews, live with our feet in two worlds. There’s the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar, which much of the world uses, and at the same time, we’re func­tion­ing on the He­brew lu­nar cal­en­dar,” says Rabbi El­yse Win­nick of the Bran­deis Univer­sity In­ter­faith Chap­laincy.

“As a re­sult of be­ing on this lu­nar sched­ule, our year shifts in­cre­men­tally on the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar, and as the hol­i­day moves fur­ther and fur­ther away from the sea­son we ex­pect it in, we have a leap month — not un­like Fe­bru­ary on the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar — it just comes a lit­tle less of­ten. Leap month is this par­tic­u­lar year.”

Other groups have been ea­gerly await­ing the Nov. 28 “Thanks­givukkah,” the term trade­marked in late 2012 by Mas­sachusetts res­i­dent Dana Gitell to note the con­ver­gence.

Manis­che­witz, the lead­ing man­u­fac­turer of kosher food prod­ucts, has launched a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar me­dia cam­paign to pro­mote its Cran­berry Latkes and Tur­key Pas­trami Matzo Ball Soup for what its call­ing “Thanks­givukah” — only one “k,” thank you.

A tur­key-shaped meno­rah, nick­named a “menurkey,” be­came a run­away suc­cess on the Kick­starter crowd-fund­ing web­site thanks to the cre­ative insight of a fourth­grader from New York City.

Bos­ton Mayor Thomas Menino even de­clared Thurs­day “Thanks­givukkah.”

Amid the ex­cite­ment, some re­li­gious lead­ers be­lieve that both Thanks­giv­ing and Hanukkah can be seam­lessly com­bined by ex­am­in­ing their com­mon themes.

“Af­ter a bit of re­flec­tion, we can con­clude that there is noth­ing un­sa­vory in cel­e­brat­ing Hanukkah and Thanks­giv­ing to­gether,” said Rabbi David Ku­dan of Con­gre­ga­tion Agu­daas Achim-Ezrath Is­rael in Malden, Mass.

“In a fas­ci­nat­ing way, the idea of Thanks­givukkah is not such a stretch, as both are thanks­giv­ing fes­ti­vals based on the Bib­li­cal fes­ti­val. Both are re­lated to the de­sire to heal from a dev­as­tat­ing war and to ex­press grat­i­tude for hav­ing sur­vived, to pro­mote a vi­sion of a fu­ture time when peace will reign once more. Both tell us that we should take the long view that good will tri­umph over evil. Both fes­ti­vals ex­press our faith that even a tiny flame can il­lu­mi­nate a place of dark­ness.”

Mr. Win­nick agrees, adding that the hol­i­day hy­brid is all about care­fully bal­anc­ing com­mon themes with unique cel­e­bra­tions.

“We walk a very fine line be­tween sell­ing out our hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions by go­ing to crazy ex­tremes to high­light the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two, and, on the other side, re­ally us­ing it as a mo­ment to cel­e­brate and re­flect on how for­tu­nate we are to have this meal and this con­ver­sa­tion,” Mr. Win­nick said.

Jewish schol­ars gen­er­ally con­tend that the hol­i­day mash-up won’t di­lute the im­por­tance of Hanukkah.

“This is more of a cu­rios­ity than a chal­lenge,” said Marc Ca­plan, a pro­fes­sor of Yid­dish cul­ture at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, adding that Thanks­giv­ing has more in com­mon with Hanukkah than does the usual hol­i­day mash-up with Christ­mas.

Eliyahu Stern, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of re­li­gious stud­ies at Yale Univer­sity, be­lieves Thanks­giv­ing adds richer mean­ing to Hanukkah. “Cel­e­brat­ing Hanukkah along­side Thanks­giv­ing of­fers Jews the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect upon Amer­ica’s deep com­mit­ment to re­li­gious free­dom.”

“Hanukkah is eight glo­ri­ous nights, it’s not as [if] Thanks­giv­ing eclipses Hanukkah,” said Miriam Udel, a pro­fes­sor at Emory Univer­sity’s Tam In­sti­tute for Jewish Stud­ies. “The next day will [still] be Hanukkah, not Thanks­giv­ing.’”

Oth­ers agree that the culi­nary chal­lenges will prove worth­while.

“I’m go­ing to make a tur­key, cran­berry sauce and latkes. That sounds quite de­light­ful, ac­tu­ally,” said Ross Di­a­mond, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s Hil­lel.

“Po­tato latkes will go very well with tur­key,” pre­dicted Mr. Ca­plan.


Talia Be­gres, 7, works on a menurkey, a pa­per-and-paint mash-up of a meno­rah and a tur­key at Hil­lel Day School in Farm­ing­ton Hills, Mich., one way for Jews in the U.S. to deal with a quirk of the cal­en­dar that over­laps Thanks­giv­ing with the start of Hanukkah.

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