Wrapping up Hanukkah…

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This confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah proved to be a holiday that was a once-in-a-lifetime event! With that in mind, it merits a bit more reflection!

For the last word on the subject of Thanksgivukkah, take a look at “Two Words for the Price of One: on Thanskgivukkah and the History of Portmanteaus” featured in the On Language Column by Philogogos in the Forward newspaper on December 6, 2013. Philologos expresses surprise that given all the hoopla surrounding the confluence of the two holidays that only one reader to the column had written in. The reader complained that the more appropriate combination should have been ”Thanksgivnukkah”….and Philologos agrees!!! He, in fact, proffers “Hanukkiving” but declines the argument due to the timing of the next coincidence of the two holidays (in 79,811 years)! Philologos does use the write-in letter as a springboard for a discussion of portmanteau words, the splicing of “truncated parts of two separate words.” Citing its origin with two French words (one, porter, to carry, and the other, manteaux, a coat) a leather suitcase that opened into two separate compartments. Also interesting is Philologos’s citation of “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, where Humpty Dumpty instructs Alice that certain of the words contained therein are “portmanteau—two meanings packed into one word.”  For more about historical usage of the portmanteau, refer to Philologos!!! http://forward.com/tags/Thanksgivukkah/

And, Jenna Weissman Joselit in “’Tis the Season For Holiday Synthesis: Why Thanksgivukkah Should Happen More Often,” (http://forward.com/articles/188729/tis-the-season-for-holiday-synthesis), considers the cultural impact of what she terms a “calendrical convergence.” Joselit attributes the popularity of the blended holiday to three “pillars”:  family, food and ritual.  And to give it an additional stamp of authenticity, Joselit links the convergent holiday to what preeminent Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna termed the “cult of synthesis” in a 1998 Jewish Social Studies article addressing the nineteenth century yearned for conjoining of Americanism and Judaism based upon shared value systems. Joselit turns the “cult of synthesis” on its head by ignoring its solemn roots and applying it to a light-hearted, “playful, fun and even irreverent” convergence, a “reflection of a moment in time when American Jews, and the nation as a whole, are engaged in the project of reimaging themselves.”

A Few Last Words (I Promise) About Thanksgivukkah

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In my book, A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish, I devote a chapter to what, in modern parlance, might be termed “blended holidays.” Immediately what comes to mind is Chrismukkah, which was created by American businesses and organizations to cater to interfaith families. I will be discussing this hybrid holiday later in the season but the term can also be applied, although certainly with less surrounding controversy, to the once-in-a-lifetime media blitz that is Thanksgivukkah. The array of articles to read, items to be purchased, and events to attend is dizzying. With a hat (tri-cornered or buckle-festooned) tipped to next Thursday, here are the last mentions that I will make of this unique event!

Major League Dreidel is hosting its annual spinning contest, retitled this year, Thanks-Spinning, on Monday, November 25th at Full Circle Bar, 318 Grand Street (between Havemeyer Street and Marcy Avenue) in Williamsburg at 8:00 pm. (For more information, call: 347 725 4588)

In “How About Latkes With Cranberry Sauce?” Rabbi Gerald L. Zelizer engages in an erudite discussion of the linkage between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Sukkot. [see “Forward Forum,” The Forward, November 15, 2013, page 13]

Rumor has it that Macy’s has added a giant dreidel to its Thanksgiving Parade line-up!

An alternative t-shirt can be purchased bearing the image of Judah Maccabee. For more information, contact batyama@gmail.com.

thanksgivukkah t-shirt_

And, our dear friend and cooking impresario Jennifer Abadi, speculates, in her blog “What if in another century or more Passover somehow crossed over with Thanksgiving AND Chanukah? How would we cope with this holy trinity, and more importantly, what would we serve?  She then offers “the perfect recipe that embodies a little bit for each holiday: A sweet & spicy sweet potato latke with cumin, curry, and cayenne, that is served with cranberry sauce and/or apple butter! Yes, here is how it works for all you skeptics out there: sweet potato cumin-curry-cayenne latkes with cranberry relish.” [see: http://toogoodtopassover.com/2013/11/25/what-about-passgivukkuh/]

Much speculation has been given to why Thanksgivukkah has been so widely embraced. Allison Kaplan Sommer offers that Chrismukkah carries a “whiff of stigma and guilt of assimilation.” Thanksgiving is a cherished American holiday lacking in religious undertone and is food-centric.  The blending of the two holidays is therefore without controversy. [See: Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Hanukkah occupies Thanksgiving: Colbert hates it, Jews love it: Why is this artifact of dates so hyped? Because unlike Christmukkah, there is no whiff of assimilation guilt.”Haaretz, October 13, 2013]

Lastly, the moniker “Givukkah” has been bandied about. This could certainly apply any day of the year when gifts are proffered and would not be restricted to the confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!

That said, it is with gratitude that the confluence of the two holidays will soon be behind us!

Historically speaking…

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So, we’ve all heard that the last time Hanukkah and Thanksgiving occurred on the same date, it was in 1888. Not much else has been contributed to the discussion about this. My research of historical records indicates that from 1850, German Jews, who had emigrated to the United States, celebrated Thanksgiving. Combining Jewish and American rituals, in 1873, Congregation Berith Kodesh of Rochester, New York participated in the first Jewish Thanksgiving interfaith congregational service in the United States.  And, in 1888, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were coincident. Comparisons were drawn between their respective themes of freedom that undergirded both holidays. Newspaper reports at the time in the American Israelite recorded conjoint celebrations of the two holidays.

And now….the Menorah Tree!

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We recently received a comment from Alex about a tradition in his family’s unique Hanukkah celebration and the commercial offshoot of that tradition. Alex and his brother, Mike, have developed “Menorah Tree,” the result of a family project conceived in his very own New York apartment. According to Alex: “The Menorah Tree is a 6 foot tall metal and garland menorah that provides the first true alternative for Jewish and interfaith families who want to celebrate Hanukkah with something as big and festive as a Christmas tree but would prefer to do it with an iconic Jewish design.”  The tree awaits adornment and personalization by anyone who purchases it!

A Bissel Gelt Perhaps?

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So everyone does it! And even with chocolate!

What are we talking about? It’s the giving of Hanukkah gelt!!! So, one might ask: where does this custom originate?

The origin of giving Hanukkah gelt dates back to seventeenth century Poland. It originally pertained to charitable giving of money for the purchase and maintenance of holy objects in the synagogue. The custom then expanded to giving to the poor. Beggars would stop by the homes of Jewish kinfolk to collect Hanukkah gelt. Even though begging door-to-door was generally prohibited by Jewish communities, Hanukkah time was considered an exception to the rule. Gelt-giving to teachers was also customary and became an expected monetary bonus contributing to the teachers’ primary means of support. Gelt-giving was also considered a way to emphasize and model the dignity of giving as required by the Torah. The tradition later broadened to include gifts to Jewish communal workers and eventually to children for their own account and to students as a means to sweeten the process of Jewish learning and as a reward for Torah study.

So, where are we today vis-à-vis the giving of gelt? Certainly, gelt is often given to children during Hanukkah. However, chocolate gelt has certainly permeated the Jewish cultural mindset. Even Trader Joe’s carries chocolate gelt. (It’s available now but is wildly popular, so don’t wait!)

Thanksgivukkah tidbit: Judging from what we have observed in the media (both print form and internet-based), the countdown to Thanksgivukkah continues! (Perhaps a kosher version of the advent calendar is in order!) In case you didn’t know, you really need to purchase Thankgivukkah gelt, made from Pure Belgian Callebaut chocolate by Foiled Again Chocolates (foiledagainchocolate.com).

So…should I make Latkes for Thanksgiving?

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What? You haven’t heard? It’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon! For the second time in our recent collective Jewish memory (which, by the way, runs very deep), Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving! The last time the two holidays coincided was in 1888! The coinage of Thanksgivukkah is credited to a Boston-area resident and interest has now risen to a level of what the Boston Globe has called a  “frenzy!”

And apparently, everyone has something to say! Stephen Colbert recently brilliantly ranted about “Thanksgiving under attack,” and drew a double hand-shaped menorah while holding the pen with his mouth.  Dana Holmes in the Huffington Post chimed in with a suggestion to brine your turkey in Manischewitz wine and stuff it with challah. She also recommends making a menorah from tiny pumpkins and tea lights. Buzzfeed contributed a recipe for the Manischewitz-brined turkey, coupled with the idea of embellishing a kippah with a Pilgrim-style belt buckle. A New York City 9-year-old designed a turkey-shaped menorah called a Menurkey, funding his idea through Kickstarter. Los Angeles is hosting a Thanksgivukkah celebration, complete with Food Trucks that are gearing up with specially-tailored food items. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, at the suggestion of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, intends to officially proclaim this November 28th “Thanksgivukkah.” And Moderntribe.com is offering a variety of Thansgivukkah items: including, a turkey themed Menorah (the Menurkey, of course), an Amerikkah Gothic Thanksgivukkah poster, and t-shirts with the slogan “8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes.” And so as not to let any stone remain unturned, there is a wikipedia page devoted to the topic (describing it as “pop-culture portmanteau neologism”), assertions that it is the greatest American Jewish “mash-up ever,” and an opportunity to wax poetic by purchasing a poem by Tucker Lieberman available as a Kindle edition on Amazon.com.

Here in Manhattan, Kutcher’s, a modern Jewish-style bistro in Tribeca, will be preparing a 3- course Thanksgivukkah feast featuring sweet potato latkes topped with melted marshmallows, sufganiyot (a traditional Hanukkah donut) filled with Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, and, a Latin-inspired chocolate mole sauce made from Hanukkah gelt for the turkey!!

So, what’s my take on all of this? Thanksgiving historically has marked the beginning of the Christmas season, when American Jews felt marginalized from the national celebration of an inherently Christian-derived holiday. Today, American Jews have found their way to celebrating the season in uniquely Jewish ways. The coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving provides a unique springboard for the season! The fact that there are metropolitan celebrations and widespread media-coverage demonstrates that the American population, as whole, has been sensitized to, and is aware of, the religious celebrations of its minority members!

So place those latkes side-by-side with the turkey, raise a toast in thanksgiving with a glass of Manischewitz, and sing “Rock of Ages” while thinking of the Pilgrams landing on Plymouth Rock!!!

L’Chaim and Gobble Tov!!!