Happy Thanksgivukah! I admit that earlier this fall I resisted using this greeting, because I didn’t want to risk compromising the integrity of either holiday. Nevertheless, the confluence of these two beloved celebrations will not come around again for about 79,000 years, so I figured, why not?! If I’m still here for the next one, I’ll worry about it then. . .
As I said in my Bulletin message for this month, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are both celebrations of freedom – freedom from hunger and want, and freedom from religious coercion. The Pilgrims came here in 1620 to escape the religious tyranny of the Anglican Church, whose tenets they did not agree with. When they arrived, they faced the harshness of the New England winter and struggled to survive. Then, with the help of the Native Americans who were here, they eventually were able to plant appropriate crops and harvest them successfully. They joined with their newfound friends for a feast of Thanksgiving.
In 167 BCE, the Syrian King Antiochus IV (Antiochus “Epiphanes”) imposed a series of tyrannical decrees that banned the practice of Judaism in Judea, and coerce Jews into worshiping Zeus, and adopting pagan practices. The Syrians plundered and defiled the Temple in Jerusalem. This was effectively the first religiously-motivated persecution in history. But in 165 BCE, Judah the Maccabee and his army scored a huge military victory when they defeated the Syrian Army and expelled Antiochus’ army from the Temple. Then in celebration, and in rededication of the Temple to the God of Israel, the Maccabees were finally able to celebrate the 8-day harvest festival of Sukkot, which they could not celebrate two months earlier, with the Syrians still occupying the Temple. (The oil, of course, was needed to light the menorah in the Temple for all eight of these days of this festival.) So Hanukkah, within its own context, is also a celebration of Thanksgiving – both for the harvest, and for the assertion of Jewish integrity.
As I see it, this “Thanksgivukah” is a gift to us this year. We will have the opportunity to celebrate Chanukah with many of our family members and friends that perhaps we wouldn’t normally be able to see during Hanukkah. I hope that we will take advantage of that opportunity. Turkey and latkes? Why not! Pumpkin pie and jelly doughnuts? Oh, go ahead! But most important is that we take some time this Thursday to remember how fortunate we are, both as Americans, and as Jews. May we never take either of them for granted. Celebrate with blessings and song.