Happy Thanksgivukkah, a day we'll never relivukkah

Rabbi Jennifer Frenkel visited M'Kor Shalom's kindergarten in Cherry Hill to talk about the rare occurrence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling on the same day this year. The two share themes of gratitude and liberty, a salute to generations past, and winning food traditions.
Rabbi Jennifer Frenkel visited M'Kor Shalom's kindergarten in Cherry Hill to talk about the rare occurrence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling on the same day this year. The two share themes of gratitude and liberty, a salute to generations past, and winning food traditions. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 07, 2013

What did the turkey say to the Maccabee?

You think YOU got problems?

 

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Nope, it's not yet another way to misspell Hanukkah. This holiday card greeting, written by Karen Coleman and sold at the National Museum of American Jewish History gift shop, was created for the once-in-a-lifetime (or, 700 lifetimes) phenomenon that has Thanksgiving and Hanukkah sharing the same table this month.

Not only has the collision of menorahs and turkeys given rise to many a marketing opportunity - menurkeys, liberty & latke T-shirts, salutations ( Gobble tov!) - it disassociates the Jewish holiday from its Christmas counterpart and pairs it with, at least for one year, a better-suited mate.

"This correspondence of American Thanksgiving and Jewish Hanukkah is almost poetic," said Ivy Barsky, chief executive officer of the museum. "Hanukkah is all about fighting against religious persecution and finding religious freedom, and Thanksgiving is about the pilgrims coming to America to escape religious and other forms of persecution. The fact that we get them together this year, the message is really lovely."

During events at the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill and the Pop Shop in Collingswood, Cantor Scott Borsky will lead families in Thanksgivukkah celebrations. In addition to the traditional menorah-lighting and dreidel-spinning, he will offer activities and blessings that highlight the two holidays.

Besides their shared themes of gratitude, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have lots in common: The word in the Bible meaning "give thanks (to God)" - hodu - is the common Hebrew word for turkey. Both holidays acknowledge the connection with generations past. And there's no denying that each has a pretty decent food tradition.

"Hanukkah falling so early on the American calendar this year allows many to see the festival in a new light," Borsky said, "aside from the gift-giving holiday usually falling closer to Christmas.

The convergence of the holidays - Hanukkah starts the night before Thanksgiving Day, which won't happen again for 70,000 years - occurs because the Jewish calendar is lunar, repeating on a 19-year cycle, and the Gregorian calendar is solar, said Jennifer Frenkel, rabbi at M'Kor Shalom in Cherry Hill.

Although Hanukkah is always on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, and Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November, the 12 lunar months are shorter than the solar year, so . . . well, many algorithms later, the Jewish calendar slowly gets out of sync with the Gregorian.

Still, the chances of a Thanksgivukkah are less than getting a royal flush in Texas hold 'em - 1 in 31,000 hands, according to Abraham Wyner, statistics professor at the Wharton School of Business. Or of bowling a 300 game - 1 in 11,500.

The term Thanksgivukkah was coined by Dana Gitell, a marketer for Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife, a provider of long-term care facilities. Two years ago, she happened to notice the confluence of the two holidays on a five-year calendar. "I thought it was significant and funny . . . there are so many funny cultural juxtapositions that come to mind - the Pilgrims, Jewish cuisine, the two holidays colliding," she said. Brainstorming, she came up with Thanksgivukkah - a perfect opportunity for a Facebook page.

Now a year old, the page has close to 6,000 "likes." A similar Twitter handle has drawn more than a thousand followers. Within the last month, the buzz has increased dramatically as every online media outlet produces Thanksgivukkah product roundups.

"There's been a lot of excitement from interfaith families who feel like this is their year," Gitell said.

With the help of an artist friend, Gitell created a souvenir and T-shirt line sold on moderntribe.com, and 10 percent of all sales will be donated to Mazon, a national Jewish organization working to end hunger.

Thanksgivukkah certainly has an upside for retail, said Kristen Kreider, director of retail operations for the National Museum of American Jewish History.

"An early Hanukkah is not usually a good thing because it catches everybody off guard and they're not prepared to shop as much," she said. "But being that it's going to overlap with Thanksgiving, in many cases, whole entire extended families will be together for the first time on the first night of Hanukkah."

The museum is carrying the Menurkey Menorah, the invention of 9-year-old Asher Weintraub, a Brooklyn fourth grader. First creating it unsuccessfully in clay, recalled Asher's dad Anthony, he eventually designed the Menurkey on computer 3-D software.

Funded by a campaign on Kickstarter that has already raised more than $50,000, an artist adapted Asher's design into a ceramic version that sold for $100 apiece. Now, after the 275 limited-edition ceramic menurkeys sold out, the artist is working feverishly to keep up with orders on the $50 plaster version, available in Jewish museum gift shops and online.

The museum gift shop typically sells about 100 menorahs each Hanukkah season, and Kreider expects the Menurkey to double those sales figures.

Inspired, New York City-based brothers Stephen and Adam Jacobs, the duo behind the Dirty Sock Funtime Band, launched a remake of the tune "Hanukkah, O Hanukkah," whose title now comes with the tagline: "Introducing the Menurkey!"

"Everyone who's heard the song has just started laughing," said Adam. "It's upbeat and the words are just silly."

The Cohen family of Cherry Hill also was inspired. When their daughter Lizzie becomes a bat mitzvah that weekend, they will incorporate the overarching theme of gratitude into the celebration.

The invitations start with the words love and gratitude. The family will light a menorah, and the food will include a latke bar and gelt (chocolate coins). A blue and silver color scheme will offer a nod to Hanukkah, and the candle-lighting poems will continue the theme of gratitude.

Of course, a once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgivukkah can mean once-in-a-lifetime rituals, touching on everything from food to decorations to music. At M'Kor Shalom, Frenkel plans something festive and fun, "especially with the little kids," she said.

"The only ramification I fear is that our preschoolers are going to go home and explain to their families how the Maccabees came over on the Mayflower!"

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