You may be fit as a fiddle and looking younger every day. You may follow every doctor’s health advice religiously, but whatever you do, you’ll never live long enough to see Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap again as they will next week. It’s a once-in-many-lifetimes event. So how do sages celebrate this confluence?
“Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have a very significant connection, that of giving thanks,” said Rabbi R. Todd Doctor of Galveston’s Congregation Beth Jacob. “The Temple existed for many reasons, one of which was to allow the Israelites to give thanks to God.”
This year, Hanukkah begins at sundown before Thanksgiving Day. It celebrates an ancient flame that burned long past its limited supply of sacred oil and the larger wonder that glowing lamp symbolized — the reclaiming of the Temple by Jewish irregulars from invaders who had previously defiled it back in the Second Century, B.C.E.
“The first thing the Jews did once it was reclaimed was to cleanse it and make it suitable to make offerings to God once again,” Doctor said. “Once this was accomplished, they rededicated themselves and the Temple, to God and gave thanks. This year’s holidays overlapping — it gives us the opportunity to really focus and center ourselves on the idea of giving thanks not only to God, but to all those around us who also enable us to be here today.”
The intersection of these annual festivals and the lunar and solar calendars used to fix them have drawn wide attention. News sources disagreed widely on when the next “Thanksgivukkah” will occur, but The Washington Post and a few other media outlets settled on the year 77,798, which is far enough away for the constellations to all precess around the heavens about three times or just short of the length of the average terrestrial ice age.
However long it may be before the next time, Rabbi Yitzi Schmukler, director of Chabad of the Bay Area, agreed that the two holidays should go well together.
“Thanksgiving and Hanukkah actually share a very meaningful connection,” he said. “The pilgrims were escaping religious persecution and took big risks with the hope for a brighter future on American shores. Hanukkah, too, celebrates the victory of right over might, of the few against the many, and they too were primarily fighting for the ability to practice their faith freely. Both gave thanks because they saw the miraculous hand of Providence in their success — despite all odds.”
Rabbi Deborah Schloss of Clear Lake’s Temple Beth Tikvah said that the Jewish holiday of Sukkot was the probably best fit for Thanksgiving, but that Hanukkah made a good second choice.
“We thank God and celebrate life while at the same time acknowledging its fragility,” she said. “The first colonists profoundly experienced the instability of life — only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew survived to experience their first spring in New England. Each day I enter the hospital where I work as a part-time chaplain. I am blessed to be reminded of the impermanence of life. It helps me appreciate life to its fullest, and not to get upset about small annoyances. We all know how easy it is to lose perspective, so having such Jewish and American holidays is helpful to re-balance our viewpoint.”
Rick Cousins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One local man will stride some 50 miles across Houston and down to Texas City in hopes of gaining more than just media attention. Find out why in next week’s Our Faith.