Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Twice as Thankful This Chanukah

Twice as Thankful This Chanukah
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 20, 2013

For the first time in our lifetimes Chanukah commences on erev Thanksgiving, to note it as we in the Jewish community would say. While this intersection is indeed rare, it is worth noting the similarities between these two holidays that have become so over-commercialized as to have virtually lost all original meaning – giving thanks to G-d.

Giving thanks to G-d, albeit for different reasons, is what grateful colonists in a new land did and what the People of Israel did as well. Colonists who traversed an ocean to seek new freedoms, among them, religious, and Israelites who fought a war to retain their religious freedom gave thanks for the gifts bestowed upon them by G-d.

In Judaism, we actually celebrate a thanksgiving in late summer-early fall, with the observance of Sukkot – giving thanks for the gathering of crops as well as the thankfulness for G-d’s protection during the 40 years in the desert/wilderness.

Our American Thanksgiving celebrates the long journey escaping religious persecution in search of religious freedom; thanking G-d for the miracles of surviving the harsh winter of 1620-21 and the eventual prosperity. The premier celebratory feast, organized by Governor William Bradford, lasted three days, included 53 colonists and 90 Wampanoag Indians. They enjoyed swan, duck, goose, venison, turkey, shellfish, lobster, stuffing, corn, and pumpkin.

Chanukah, meaning dedication, observes the victory in war by the Israelites led by Mattathias, father of the Maccabees, in the second century BCE, around 139 BCE. The Maccabees defeated the Antiochus-led Syrian-Greeks who also failed to Hellenize the Israelites. The Maccabees-led Israelites fought for, and won their religious freedom.

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is a minor festival on the scale of Jewish observances, lasting eight nights and eight days due to the other miracle – that of the oil lasting eight nights when it was expected to barely survive one. The two miracles of the victory over a people with presumed greater military might and the longevity of the oil are praised in prayers of thanksgiving to G-d.

The menorah (candelabra) is lit each of the eight nights by adding a new candle, thus brightening, not dimming the light, as the lives of the Israelites became brighter with the rededication of the Temple.

Today, Jewish people around the world light the menorah in celebration and thanksgiving for the “great miracles that happened there,” to quote the letters and their representations on the dreidl enjoyed by children and even adults alike.

And while gift giving is a modern Americanized addition to the celebration of Chanukah, (an unfortunate secularization of Chanukah) it is important to tell the story every year so that it is never forgotten, as well as enjoying the traditional treats of potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) – fried in today’s representation of the miraculous oil.

This year, on the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln declaring the Thanksgiving holiday during the height of the Civil War in 1863, incorporate American Thanksgiving with Chanukah and enjoy pumpkin-cream sufganiyot along with potato latkes adorned with cranberry applesauce, or even butternut squash-sweet potato latkes.

I am thankful to be an American and just as thankful to be Jewish. Let us give thanks to G-d for the gifts He has given us, and let us say, Amen.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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