Thanksgiving and Chanukah—
An Unusual Marriage Made in Heaven
Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, Beth Chaim Congregation
This year Chanukah begins on the evening of Wednesday, November 27, the evening before Thanksgiving. This unusual occurrence is the result of an extremely rare convergence of the Jewish lunar calendar and the solar Gregorian calendar. It is so rare that it won’t happen again for another 77,000 years! Aside from the strange juxtaposition of cuisines—imagine a turkey with potato latke stuffing and please don’t mix the sour cream and cranberry sauce— there are some lovely opportunities presented to us.
Our friends in the Interfaith of the San Ramon Valley (I-SRV) are delighted to say, “Happy Thanksgivukkah!” For more than 15 years, we have celebrated interfaith cooperation, understanding, and caring connections on both these holidays.
Our Thanksgiving Interfaith Service is one of the highlights of the year. Representatives from each faith community partner shares a song, a prayer, often an interactive expression of gratitude in a lovely one hour service on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. We bring non-perishable food items for the Contra Costa Food Bank and collect donations for Shelter Inc., our local shelter for homeless families. It is always a celebration that reminds us that Thanksgiving is more than just a festive meal and creates a spiritual context that deepens our appreciation of this special American holiday.
For a similar number of years clergy and faith community leaders have joined us on Chanukah to help us light our beautiful nine-branched, “tree of life” Menorah and offer blessings from their own faith communities. It has been a wonderful way to celebrate a holiday that is about the struggle for religious freedom.
So, when we realized that Chanukah came on the eve before Thanksgiving, it was an easy decision to combine these two traditions. We will hold our Thanksgiving Interfaith Service at Beth Chaim and light the Menorah for the first night of Chanukah.
It has been pointed out that the stories of the Maccabees and Pilgrims are natural compliments. Both were religiously persecuted and both holidays celebrate overcoming a struggle and being profoundly thankful to God. In fact, spiritual courage is at the heart of both holidays. There were many among the American Pilgrims that believed that the deprivations they had to suffer were too much to bear and some went back to their countries of origin. However, many chose to stay and their belief in God and in one another sustained them through the most challenging times.
In the story of Chanukah, the Jewish people fought a guerrilla war for three years (167-165 BCE) against a professional army of their Syrian Greek oppressors. Their courage and perseverance led them to victory and they reclaimed and rededicated (Chanukah is the Hebrew word for rededication) the Temple in Jerusalem. The sacred story goes that when they went to rekindle the Menorah (the constantly lit candelabrum that was a symbol of God’s eternal presence) there was only enough pressed pure olive oil to last one night. The sensible thing would have been to take the time to press enough new olive oil to ensure that the Menorah, once lit would not go out. They took a risk and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days (the length of time we celebrate) until new oil could be pressed and utilized.
At the heart of both Thanksgiving and Chanukah is spiritual courage, perseverance, and an abiding gratitude to the Source of all Blessing.
The celebration on Wednesday, November 27th at 7 pm at Beth Chaim Congregation (1800 Holbrook Dr., Danville, 94506) is open to everyone. It will be a once in a lifetime celebration for the ages.