A rare oc­ca­sion when tur­key meets latke

The Amer­i­can melt­ing pot warms two fa­vorite hol­i­days

The Washington Times Daily - - From Page One - By Suzanne Fields

Thanks­giv­ing is a won­der­ful hol­i­day be­cause it brings fam­i­lies and friends to­gether for the sim­ple pur­pose of giv­ing thanks and be­ing to­gether. The hol­i­day com­mem­o­rates the tales of our fore­fa­thers as we re­joice with loved ones and catch up with the fam­ily gos­sip. The kids learn how we called the first Amer­i­cans “In­di­ans” be­cause the first Euro­peans on th­ese shores thought they had landed in In­dia, and ex­pected to trade for jewels, silks and spices. In­stead, they found na­tives who didn’t have the wheel or a writ­ten lan­guage. The ear­li­est fore­fa­thers who landed at Ply­mouth seek­ing re­li­gious free­dom were con­sid­er­ably less ma­te­ri­al­is­tic than the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors to the south, and not nearly as dour in dark clothes as de­picted in text­books. Their clothes came in many col­ors as bright as the di­verse threads, beads and feath­ers worn by the In­di­ans who greeted them. Gov. Wil­liam Brad­ford even had a red suit and pur­ple cape (for spe­cial oc­ca­sions, no doubt). The early Ply­mouth set­tlers lived by the Book and en­dured a life of hard­ship to work and wor­ship as they pleased. But they brewed beer, and hunted and fished for plea­sure as well as food.

Be­tween their first feast of wild tur­keys shot with guns they brought with them from Europe and to­day’s mass-pro­duced, store-bought birds served with sweet pota­toes topped with marsh­mal­lows, there’s a long his­tory of im­mi­grants seek­ing free­dom from prej­u­dice and op­por­tu­ni­ties for a bet­ter fu­ture. The hol­i­day cel­e­brates the new life in the New World and its abun­dance, as well as the con­flicts that drive his­tory. Abraham Lin­coln pro­claimed the first day to give thanks in the midst of the Civil War, which de­fines us as a na­tion.

This year Hanukkah, an eight-day hol­i­day for Jews, bumps into Thanks­giv­ing and ex­pands a mul­ti­cul­tural celebration. The high­light of Hanukkah is the light­ing of a meno­rah, with can­dles for eight days as a re­minder of a mir­a­cle in the sec­ond cen­tury B.C., when a lamp in the re­stored tem­ple in Jerusalem with just enough oil to burn for the night burned for eight days.

By some es­ti­mates, Hanukkah, based on the lu­nar cal­en­dar, and Thanks­giv­ing will not fall to­gether again for 75,000 years. There are all kinds of sug­ges­tions for fus­ing the sym­bols for once in a lot of life­times. Some sug­gest shap­ing the meno­rah into a tur­key, sur­rounded by pump­kin latkes, not of pota­toes, and even call­ing the hol­i­day


Some of the sec­u­lar among us want to em­pha­size Amer­ica’s flaws, the treat­ment of the In­di­ans, scold­ing the Found­ing Fa­thers, who, af­ter all, owned slaves, and mak­ing it a day not of celebration, but a day of col­lec­tive shame. They’re obliv­i­ous to the gifts of those Found­ing Fa­thers, who wrote a Con­sti­tu­tion that en­ables us to right wrongs and to rise above past faults and in­jus­tice to wel­come the new waves of new­com­ers in search of a bet­ter life. Nearly ev­ery­one has a story to tell. When my par­ents bought a house in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal in 1946, they were told there was an old and no longer valid covenant in the deed pro­hibit­ing the sale of the house to Jews. When my par­ents moved in, their neigh­bors, with not a Jew among them, brought over home­made pies and cakes to wel­come them.

If my grand­fa­ther had stayed in Lithua­nia, his en­tire fam­ily would likely have been killed by the Nazis. He never for­got that Amer­ica had taken in his fam­ily, six chil­dren and a sev­enth was born here, and how they pros­pered.

When I was a lit­tle girl, my grand­fa­ther gave me a sil­ver dol­lar each night of Hanukkah. One year, he gave me a meno­rah shaped like the six-pointed Jewish star with small tiny elec­tric bulbs. He told me to turn it on when I re­cited my prayer over the lights.

I was hor­ri­fied that it would re­place my grand­mother’s grace­ful an­tique brass meno­rah with its tiny del­i­cate can­dles, but I never let on. He was so proud of his gift, and par­tic­u­larly be­cause it was “made in Amer­ica.” I knew noth­ing of the old world he had left be­hind and how a meno­rah with elec­tric lights meant free­dom and pros­per­ity to him. He knew his adopted coun­try wasn’t per­fect and that it hadn’t taken in all the Jews who were try­ing to es­cape the Holo­caust. He knew that an­ti­Semitism might once have kept his daugh­ter out of the neigh­bor­hood where she wanted to live. But he also un­der­stood how his adopted coun­try worked to right its wrongs.

Ev­ery night of Hanukkah dur­ing this Thanks­giv­ing sea­son, I will turn on an elec­tric bulb, rather than light a can­dle, and give thanks for be­ing here. So Amer­ica isn’t per­fect, but it’s per­fect enough for me. Happy Thanks­givukkah.


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