On the evening of Nov. 28, Jews celebrating Hanukkah will gather around and light the second candle in the Jewish Festival of Lights. Jews living in the United States may also be stuffed from a meal of turkey and all the trimmings.
Thanksgiving Day and Hanukkah fall on the same date this year, an extremely rare occurrence due to the Hebrew calendar, which determines the timing of Hanukkah. It has happened only once before, in 1888, and experts say it won’t happen again for another 70,000 years.
For many local Jews, this year presents an opportunity to combine and celebrate the holidays at the same time.
Rabbi Joshua Ratner of Congregation Kol Ami, a conservative synagogue in Cheshire, said the buzzword in Jewish circles is “Thanksgivukkah” (Spell it however you like, he said). Ratner said the symbols of Thanksgiving are being incorporated into the Hanukkah celebration.
This year, Thanksgiving-themed menorahs are being used by some practicing Jews, for example. There are recipes for Challah bread stuffing, sweet potato latkes with cranberry pecan applesauce and cinnamon yogurt, not to mention Manizchewitz-brined turkey.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity to think about the message of both,” Ratner said, “and how we can combine the two to highlight the meaning behind the holidays as we head into the new calender year.”
Hanukkah in Hebrew means “re-dedication,” Ratner said. The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Jews revolted from the Greeks around 165 B.C.
The holiday celebrates the miracle of one small flask of oil fueling the menorah in the temple for eight days while more oil was prepared. Jews commemorate this, in part, by eating foods cooked in oil, like latkes.
When this celebration is combined with the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving, Ratner said the celebration turns to “dedicating our lives in light of opportunity.”
But “Thanskgivukkah” has a different dimension for Rabbi Shelley Becker, who leads the Reformed Southington congregation Gishrei Shalom. Hanukkah is also a celebration of religious freedom, and Thanksgiving commemorates a band of Pilgrims who traveled to the New World to worship God outside the state-mandated Church of England.
Hanukkah has more in common with Thanksgiving than Christmas, she said.
“Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas,” Becker said, adding that because Hanukkah is so early this year, there’s an opportunity for Jews to stress that it’s a very different holiday than Christmas.
Hanukkah coinciding with Thanksgiving “doesn’t change the nature of the celebration,” or what story is recounted, Becker said, but it adds another layer of meaning to the holiday.
“Thanksgivukkah” comes with its own unique commercial opportunities.
“If there’s going to be an opportunity to make a product and sell it, that’s going to happen,” Becker said.
Take, for example, the story of Asher Weintraub, a 9-year-old who lives in New York City. When he heard how the dates of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincided, he sketched out a menorah in the shape of a turkey with 3D modeling software, according to menurky.com. A few tweaks later, and the “Menurkey” was born.
“We’ve all seen it,” Becker said.
But while the convergence is novel and fun, Becker said Nov. 28 is a time to look back and look forward, a time to “give thanks to God that we live in a country where religious freedom is guaranteed.”