By LINDA M. LINONIS
The term Thanksgivukkah was coined to describe what’s called a “once-in-a-lifetime” event.
Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, the eve of Thanksgiving. It’s a rare convergence of two celebrations, but they both involve celebrating religious freedom and food.
For the secular world, Hanukkah may seem early because it usually takes place in December. For the Jewish world, it’s right on time; it always starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev.
Jews in America are having fun with the calendar coincidence. An artist in Cleveland created a turkey menorah, a “menurkey,” in copper and bronze. T-shirts have been printed with a turkey perched on the neck of a guitar for “eight days of light, liberty and latkes.”
At Temple El Emeth, the Sisterhood sponsored a turkey and dreidel cookie sale. Sisterhood members met earlier this month to bake in the temple kitchen to fill cookie orders.
Rabbi Joseph Schonberger explained the rarity of the occurrence.
He said the Jewish calendar is lunar-based. “We visually see the beginning of the month when the sliver of the moon is on the right, full in the middle and sliver on the left at the end,” he said.
Rabbi Schonberger said the solar calendar is based on 365 days a year while the lunar calendar is as short as 354 days. If no adjustment were made, the Jewish holidays would continue to move 11 days earlier every year. This would cause a problem with the seasonal nature of observances. Passover is observed in the spring; Sukkot, the harvest, in the fall; and Hanukkah, the festival of lights, in the winter.
To keep the holidays aligned seasonally, Rabbi Schonberger said, an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar every few years. “Because the Jewish people were spread out directionally in the world, they had to create a fixed calendar,” he said.
For those who want a detailed reason why, he suggested visiting www.jewschool.com. The site posts a “Thanksgivukkah manifesto” by Rabbi Mishael Zion, co-director of the Bronfman Fellowships, a diverse community of young Jewish leaders in North America and Israel.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 and was the last Thursday in November but, depending on the calendar, that could be the fourth or fifth Thursday. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday.
Zion notes that the original range for Thanksgiving was Nov. 24-30 while the current range is Nov. 22-28. There were two Thanksgivukkahs in the late 19th century and both on fifth Thursdays — Nov. 29, 1888, the first day of Hanukkah that year, and Nov. 30, 1899, the fourth day of Hanukkah.
The rabbi pointed out Hanukkah and Thanksgiving share a focus of religious freedom. Hanukkah recalls the story of the Maccabees who won religious freedom by defeating the Syrian Greeks in 164 B.C.E. (before common era). Judah Maccabee led the small band to victory over a bigger force. When the Jews returned to the temple to light the lamps, there was only enough oil for one day. A miracle occurred when the oil lasted for eight days. “The light represents God and the spirit of freedom,” the rabbi said. “The light overcame the forces of darkness.”
The Pilgrims came to America to escape religious oppression in England.
Lenore Ackerman and Laura Silverman served as co-chairwomen of the baking project. Temple members and friends ordered almost 60 dozen cookies. The bakers made turkey-shaped sugar cookies with yellow icing and sprinkles in autumn colors and dreidel-shaped sugar cookies with blue icing and sprinkles.
The women said the convergence of the two celebrations would allow for clever combinations. Fried foods recall the oil and a fried turkey, sweet potato latkes and pumpkin and cranberry doughnuts were suggestions.
Ackerman said the “once-in-a-lifetime” Thanksgivukkah provided an enjoyable project for the Sisterhood.
Silverman said because she likes to bake, the cookie project was a natural.
At home, she’s found fun projects for Thanksgivukkah for her 6-year-old twin daughters, Cameron and Addison. “They’ve made turkey menorahs and colored Thanksgiving placemats,” she said.