Latkes, Cranberries, AND Turkey, Oh My!
By Amy Winn-Dworkin, Development Director, Rutgers Hillel
This upcoming week, Jews all over America are taking part in a historical event, the convergence of Hanukah and Thanksgiving known as Thanksgivukah. This event which will not happen again for another 79,000 years leads us to consider the connection between Hanukah and Thanksgiving and as Jewish Americans, how do we observe both?
Thanksgiving is one of the most traditional American holidays. In its original form, it was a harvest feast meant to thank God for the plentiful harvest especially after such an arduous journey across the Atlantic and the death of 46 of the original 102 passengers on the Mayflower. Thanksgiving is a celebration of their arduous journey and their difficult year in a new world.
Hanukah is known as the first holiday to celebrate religious freedom and celebrates two miracles that occurred. Jews in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BCE were ruled by the Greeks who would not let them practice their religion. They even went so far as to defile sacred spaces and make them unfit for worship. A small group of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee revolted against the Greeks and miraculously defeated the large Greek army allowing the Second Temple to be returned to the Jews and rededicated. Hanukah commemorates the triumph over the Greeks and the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem. When it was time to light the menorah in the Temple, there was only enough oil to last for one day, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.
As a descendant of one of the passengers on the Mayflower and also as a Jew-by-choice, the confluence of these very important holidays allows me to see even more similarities between my heritage and my chosen religion. Both holidays are about religious freedom, one literally escaping across an ocean in order to practice their faith while the other involved a revolution in their homeland and witnessing the miracle that allowed them to continue to worship God in the face of strife and danger. Thanksgiving and Hanukah are both holidays that revolve around family. Families get together to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast, and they also gather each of the eight nights to light the Hanukiah.
This year, on Thursday evening, I will gather with my family not only to give thanks, but also to recognize the importance of religious freedom both for my ancestors and also those who observe my religion. The convergence of these holidays gives us the chance to think about each in different yet similar ways. It is a chance for me to share the origins of Thanksgiving with my Jewish family, while also sharing the joy of the Hanukah miracle and the adversity the Maccabees overcame with my American family.
Many people observe the custom of opening their homes to someone who does not have a place to go on Thanksgiving as a way to give back. This year, I challenge all of you to honor the religious freedom our ancestors fought for by giving back to the Jewish community. On Tuesday, December 3rd, Rutgers Hillel will be joining Hillel International as well as several other local Hillels in a worldwide giving effort known as Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday was established as an organized effort following Black Friday and Cyber Monday to establish a day dedicated to helping others during the Holiday season.
For Rutgers Hillel, Giving Tuesday is an opportunity for supporters to celebrate our religious freedom by investing in an organization that celebrates the diversity of the Jewish community. Hillel encourages young Jews to find a meaningful connection to Judaism, practice tikkun olam (repairing the world), and learn Jewish values.
Please consider a generous gift today.