Hanugiving and Thanksgivukkah: A meaningful message

If you are a product of the Jewish and American cultures, then certainly by now you have been inundated by factoids regarding the intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

November 20, 2013 23:10
3 minute read.
A turkey float at the Thanksgiving parade in New York

A turkey float at the Thanksgiving parade in New York 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

For over a year, American Jews as well as Jewish American expats around the globe have been gearing up for the 2013 convergence of two of the most festive days on the secular and Jewish calendars. If you are a product of the Jewish and American cultures, then certainly by now you have been inundated by factoids regarding the intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

Surely you know that such a convivial collision has occurred only once before, in1888, and will not happen again for more than 70,000 years.

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Perhaps you have already downloaded a recipe for sweet potato latkes or purchased online a “menorkey,” the bird-shaped menorah hawked (pun intended) by a nine-year-old entrepreneur who, according to The Wall Street Journal, has already netted more than $50,000.

Overwhelmed, some sense that this exceedingly improbable event has ironically become trite.

Western civilization characterizes itself, in part, through participation in winter ritual. It’s only a matter of time, suggests playwright David Mamet, before a human responds to the cold and the blahs of the season with, depending on orientation, religious ceremony, Valentine’s chocolate or a sun-drenched trip to the Tropics.

IN THE United States, interfaith-marriage partners aren’t the only ones who deal with “The December Dilemma.” Most ethnically grounded Jews in America become aware of the implicit competition between the more usual holiday duo of Christmas and Hanukkah.

Writing in The Jewish Book of Why, Rabbi Alfred Kolatch points out that gift giving did not become part of the Hanukkah tradition until Jews and gentiles had begun to mingle freely. Then, in order to prevent an impression of neglect, Kolatch explains, Jewish parents – influenced by Christian tradition – adopted the practice of providing presents for their own children.

Between Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, however, there does seem to be a philosophical overlap of two fundamental themes, gratitude in the case of Thanksgiving, and miracles for Hanukkah.

As its name implies, Thanksgiving beckons us to gratitude for what we have, making an “attitude of gratitude” heartfelt rather than cliché. In my work as an oncologist, I notice that cancer patients gravitate toward Thanksgiving. Many look forward to joining friends and loved ones in “seudot hodayah,” feasts of thanksgiving, during which they can appreciate the milestones of cure, a normal imaging scan, or simply another birthday.

Hanukkah preoccupies our consciousness because it revolves around a miracle. We understand that a miracle transpired but are uncertain as to which miracle.

Was it the military victory of a small Hasmonean army over the powerful Syrian-Greeks, delivering ancient Jews from religious repression? Was it the subsequent rededication of the Temple, where the menorah flame burned for eight days despite survivors having found oil sufficient only for one? Or was it, perhaps, a metaphysical triumph of Judaism over Hellenism? IN HIS book Ner Mitsvah (The Candle of the Commandment), Rabbi Judah Loew, known also as The Maharal of Prague, argues that the miracle of Hanukkah was deliberately shrouded in ambiguity. Loew suggests that miracles and especially their recognition are open to interpretation.

In life, an event that I, for example, regard as mundane might be construed by another as miraculous.

Conversely, I might find a miracle among circumstances another would deem routine. Maharal encourages each of us to view life in a way that presumes, even seeks out, miracles. Liturgy provides us with a hint which suggests that our Sages may have thought along similar lines. The “Amidah” prayer is the focal point of the three daily prayers said during Hanukkah as well as at other times. Among the 19 blessings comprising the Amidah, our Sages inserted a supplemental passage describing Hanukkah.

Located in the benediction “Modim,” which deals explicitly with giving thanks, the passage is called “al hanissim” or “regarding the miracles.” On this special intersection of holidays and at least until 79,043 CE, the next year in which the hybrid of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah rolls around, we might also benefit from infusing our lives with miraculous thanksgiving. Only a turkey would fail to see the significance of frequently celebrating gratitude.

The author is the co-founder of the NGO, Life’s Door.org and the chairman of the Institute of Radiotherapy at Tel Aviv Medical Center. His blog (Dr. Hope) is hosted on jpost.com.

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