It hadn’t happened since 1918 and it won’t occur again until 2070.
This year, American Jewry enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner adorned with the lights of their Hanukkah menorah marking a historic convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.
While the Jewish calendar is slightly shorter than its Gregorian counterpart, rarely does it linger so far behind as to offer us a November-flavored Hanukkah. People called it Thanksgivukkah.
There were of course interesting dinner combinations. The traditional Hanukkah fried dishes of potato latkes (pancakes) and jelly doughnuts got a slight makeover this year and turned into sweet potato latkes and cranberry-sauce-filled deep-fried pastries. Yet more than cute culinary opportunities, there is in fact a deep and profound common thread that weaves these two holidays together.
In 167 BCE the Seleucid Greeks defiled the holy Temple in Jerusalem and brutally sought to crush the Jewish spirit and eradicate religious observance. In their effort to smother the flame of Judaism, the Greeks tampered the seals on all the flasks of olive oil used to kindle the Temple’s candelabra (the Menorah) rendering them spiritually unfit for use.
A small group of Jews called the Maccabees would not allow the Jewish spirit to be extinguished and, against all odds, they triumphantly overcame this oppression. Upon rededicating the Temple, the Maccabees unearthed one lone flask of undefiled oil – enough to burn only one day. Miraculously this one flask burned brightly for eight days until new, pure olive oil was produced.
As taught in the Talmud, the ancient compendium of Jewish wisdom, the following year an eight-day holiday was enacted. Culled from the Hebrew word “to dedicate,” Hanukkah was established as a time for every Jewish home to kindle a menorah and uniquely designated as an occasion to recite prayers of “praise and thanksgiving” to God Almighty.
Almost 1,800 years later another group of individuals seeking to escape religious persecution, and in search of religious freedom, journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1789 President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God” and devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks.”
This year, two arduous journeys to overcome religious persecution, two stories wherein spiritual strength and light defied brute force and darkness, two holidays established to thank the Almighty for the bounty He bestows upon us – coincided. How fitting.
In this spirit, let us appreciate and take full advantage of the freedoms this great country affords us; the freedom to live with the deepest sense of purpose and commitment to God; and the freedom to act morally with goodness and kindness and create a Godlier universe.
Rabbi Chaim Zaklos is the director of Chabad of Solano County, a Vacaville-based Jewish center for life, community outreach, prayer, and education (founded 2009). He can be reached at rabbi@JewishSolano.com .