The Beatles atop your Chanukah playlist
By Binyamin Kagedan
For your Chanukah party this year, impress and surprise your guests with songs that aren’t explicitly about the Festival of Lights, but relate to the holiday in an imaginative way. JNS.org takes care of your playlist for the most wonderful time of the Jewish year.
Eight Days A Week (The Beatles)
If you’ve ever wondered why Chanukah lasts eight days, it’s not because the menorah has eight branches; in fact, the original menorah only had seven. Only two holidays on the Jewish calendar run for eight days — can you guess the other one? It’s actually Sukkot, and the correspondence is no accident. Having taken back the temple, Judah and the Maccabees wanted to hold a grand reopening festival worthy of the dwelling place of the divine. For inspiration, they looked to the biblical holiday of Sukkot, which, among other things, marked the dedication of the original tabernacle and lasted for eight days (seven days, plus Shemini Atzeret). No wonder Lennon and McCartney chose the eight-day week to symbolize love that goes above and beyond.
Light My Candle (from the show ‘Rent’)
An obvious choice for its title, even if the lyrics aren’t the most PG. For those who don’t know the story, this number is about the power of bringing a little light into someone’s dark times, acting with kindness toward a stranger in need. The image of light is perhaps the oldest symbol of goodness, purity and hope in human imagination. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in “Seasons of our Joy,” points out that Chanukah is scheduled close in time to the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and so may have been truly a “festival of light” for ancient Israelites.
Seize the Day (from the show ‘Newsies’)
Chanukah celebrates the improbable victory of the Jewish people in their struggle for political and religious independence from the Seleucid-Greek empire. Any musical based on the Maccabees story would need to include a song like this one, all about stepping up and facing down a fearsome enemy in the name of freedom. “Nothing can break us/no one can make us/give our rights away/arise and seize the day!”
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive)
Though games of chance are not generally looked upon favorably in rabbinic literature, spinning the dreidel has become an indispensable Chanukah pastime. Not only that, but “Dreidel, Dreidel Dreidel, I made it out of clay,” has without a doubt become the most widely recognized Jewish holiday tune on the North American continent. For a twist (couldn’t help myself) this year, let the children twirl themselves dizzy to one of the quintessential sounds of the ’80s.
Wannabe (Spice Girls)
Finding the perfect Chanukah present is a complicated affair. Since we don’t (yet) ask children to open Chanukah gift registries, gift buying can easily become an exercise in thankless guesswork. Perhaps we could all save ourselves some aggravation by adopting the frank attitude of this girl-group classic’s opening dialogue: “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want!” “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want!” “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want!” “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want!”
Binyamin Kagedan has an M.A. in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Pass the cranberry latkes: When holidays collide
By Edmon J. Rodman
LOS ANGELES (JTA) — If the Pilgrims are lighting menorahs and the Maccabees are chasing turkeys, it must be Thanksgivukkah, as some have come to call the confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah that will happen this year on Nov. 28.
It’s a rare event, one that won’t occur again until 2070 and then in 2165. Beyond that, because the Jewish lunisolar (lunar with solar adjustments) calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, the Chanukah-Thanksgiving confluence won’t happen again by one calculation until the year 79,811 — when turkeys presumably will be smart enough to read calendars and vacation in space that month.
How do we celebrate this rare holiday alignment? Do we stick candles in the turkey and stuff the horns of plenty with gelt? Put payes on the Pilgrims? What about starting by wishing each other “gobble tov” and then changing the words to a favorite Chanukah melody:
“I cooked a little turkey,
Just like I’m Bobby Flay,
And when it’s sliced and ready,
I’ll fress the day away.”
The holiday mash-up has its limits. We know the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will not end with a float carrying a Maccabee. But it has created opportunities as well: Raise your hand if you plan to wait until the post-Thanksgiving Day sales for your Chanukah shopping.
Ritually, just as we’ve figured out that we add candles to our menorahs from right to left and light them from left to right, a new question looms this year: Should we slice the turkey before or after?
For our household, the dreidel-wishbone overlap means that our son at college who always comes home for Thanksgiving will be home to light the family hanukkiyah, too.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Dr. Ron Wolfson, whose book “Relational Judaism” (Jewish Lights Publishing) speaks to how our communal relationships — how we listen and welcome — can make our Jewish communities more meaningful. “This year is about bringing friends and family together.”
Wolfson, also the author of “The Hanukkah Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration,” said in a recent interview that this year’s calendrical collision was a way to enhance “Thanksgiving beyond football and a big meal.”
In our land of commercial plenty, the confluence certainly has served up a feast of merchandise. There are T-shirts saying “8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes” and a coffee mug picturing a turkey with nine burning tail feathers. And then there’s the ceramic menorah in the shape of a turkey — a Menurkey, created by 9-year-old Asher Weintraub of New York.
But being more of a do-it-yourselfer, I recycled an old sukkah decoration to create my own Thankgivukkah centerpiece — the cornukiyah.
For the holiday cook trying to blend the two holidays’ flavors, there’s a recipe that calls for turkeys brined in Manischewitz, and I found another for cranberry latkes. But what about a replacement for the now infamous Frankenstein of Thanksgiving cuisine, the turducken? How about a “turchitke,” a latke inside of a chicken inside of a turkey?
For Wolfson, who has largely ignored the merch and wordplay, this year simply is an opportunity to change the script. At his Thanksgiving dinner, he is going combine Chanukah ritual with holiday elements found on FreedomsFeast.us, a website that uses American holidays to pass on “stories, values and behaviors.”
Searching the site, I found a “Thanksgiving Service for Interfaith Gatherings” by Rabbi Jack Moline that includes a reading that also could work for Chanukah— a holiday of religious freedom — as it celebrates many of the occupations that “we can do when we are free,” including activists, writers, artists, entrepreneurs, even journalists.
For our own celebrations Wolfson, a Fingerhut professor of education at American Jewish University, wants us to consider the similarities of the stories at the heart of each holiday.
“The Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution in Europe. They did not want to be assimilated,” Wolfson said, adding that “the Maccabees were fighting against Hellenization,” another form of assimilation.
Counter to the usual “December Dilemma” for the intermarried — whose numbers have increased to 58 percent since 2005, according to the recent Pew study — Wolfson noted the “opportunities and challenges” presented this year by Chanukah and Christmas not coinciding.
“We usually feel the tension between the two holidays,” he said. “This year we can feel the compatibility of the two.”
The early Chanukah will help people to appreciate its “cultural integrity,” said Wolfson, adding that he “would not be surprised by a spike in candle lighting this year.”
But for others in the Jewish community, the pushing together of the Festival of Lights with Turkey Day has forced other changes, some unwanted.
Rabbi Steven Silver of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, Calif., is canceling his temple’s traditional Friday night Chanukah dinner.
“That holiday weekend will be vacation time, people will be out visiting family and friends,” he said. “The rabbis won’t have anyone in front of them that weekend, and that’s a problem.”
Yet Silver also has found the confluence has presented an opportunity.
The day before Chanukah, his congregation is planning to attend an interfaith Thanksgiving service at a Catholic church.
“There will between 800 and 900 in attendance, from Buddhists to Sikhs, and three Jewish congregations” Silver said. “We are planning to bring a 6-foot-high wooden menorah and symbolically light it.”
The holidays overlapping, he said, “are giving us an opportunity to show the miracle.”
Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Thanksgivukkah, celebrate uniqueness of each holiday
By Dasee Berkowitz
NEW YORK (JTA) — Some folks are taking the rare confluence this year of Thanksgiving and Chanukah to heart, renaming it Thanksgivukkah, redesigning their menus for the occasion (latkes topped with cranberry relish anyone?) and refashioning ritual objects (a turkey-shaped hanukkiyah called the Menurkey is gaining traction on Kickstarter).
Others are taking it one step deeper, celebrating how the combined holidays enable us to fully appreciate being both Jewish and American. It’s a perfect symbiosis: As we freely celebrate Chanukah this year, we recognize that we directly benefit from the freedoms that were at the core of what brought the Puritans and Pilgrims to settle a new land.
But Jewish tradition doesn’t love conflating holidays. In fact, there’s a concept — ein mearvin simcha b’simcha — that we shouldn’t mix one happy occasion with another. No weddings during Sukkot or Passover, or any Jewish holiday, for that matter.
At first glance it seems like a downer. Shouldn’t doubling up on our celebration just enhance our enjoyment and be a net gain?
For those of us with birthdays on Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day, we know that conflating celebrations doesn’t really work — one celebration usually gets lost into the other. Keeping celebrations separate enables us to be fully present for each.
So instead of conflating Chanukah and Thanksgiving, let’s look at it another way: How can the unique aspects of each holiday help us more fully celebrate the other?
Thanksgiving teaches us to give thanks for the harvest and for all we have without the need to acquire more. How can that concept inform our celebration of Chanukah, a holiday that has become overrun with gift giving that verges on the excessive?
Instead of being thankful for the plenty that so many of us experience — we mostly take the most basic things for granted, like waking up in a dry, warm bed each morning — we want more, and on Chanukah we watch children tear through gifts wondering what else awaits them each night of the Festival of Lights.
Parents can help children appreciate that mom and dad’s presence in their lives can be present enough by giving the gift of time to their kids at Hanukkah. So often we are distracted by everything we must do in life — I have been shamed by my son asking me to stand “still as a statue” as he tries to get my attention or by my daughter saying “Ima, just listen to me.”
Pick a night of Chanukah and give your child a period of your undivided attention. Friends and significant others can also give each other the gift of an evening unplugged. Go out with your friends or spouses unmediated by a screen of any kind.
For your children, help them cultivate a sense of gratitude and the plenty in their own lives. On one night of Chanukah, ask your kids to recycle some of their own toys and gift them to others. On another night, they can give some money or time to charity.
We don’t need more things, we need to appreciate the people who fill our lives with meaning and the power we have to help others.
What lessons can Chanukah provide in our celebration of Thanksgiving?
For starters, it can teach us not to shy away from ritual. Significant Jewish occasions are ritualized, from lighting the hanukkiyah to recounting the Exodus story on Passover, to a Shabbat meal replete with blessings over candles, grape juice and wine. The rituals help to connect us to Jewish time and to the drama of Jewish history. They transport us from the realm of the ordinary into the realm of the sacred. They enable us to slow down and pay attention to the experiences that are unfolding before us.
While each family may have its own rituals on Thanksgiving — the football game or carving of the turkey — many of us feel self-conscious about rituals that enter the sphere of the sacred, like inviting guests to share what they are grateful for or chanting a blessing to thank God for the food we are about to eat. It amazes me how much time, effort and money is put into preparing a lavish Thanksgiving meal, and the invited guests just dig in and then complain about overeating.
Invite everyone to pause before eating and say one thing for which they are grateful — from the food, the chef or the One who makes it all possible. Connect your feelings of gratitude to the company that surrounds you or for what it means for you to be an American today. Make this sharing circle or some other activity you create as a group a ritualized part of what you do each Thanksgiving.
Chanukah can also teach Thanksgiving a thing or two about being different. Whereas Thanksgiving sends us a powerful message about intergroup relations and the coming together of the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians for a fall harvest feast, Hanukkah celebrates what sets us apart and makes us different.
Hanukkah honors the Maccabean revolt to safeguard practices unique to Jewish people (like Shabbat, holiday celebration and circumcision). The strong impulse to develop our unique and particular identities is an important first stage to pass through before coming together with others and celebrate multiculturalism. We need to know who we are first before we can share that with others. And while I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday celebrated by so many Americans, with common foods and customs, let’s celebrate what makes our families different and unique.
What is particular about your family that you would like your kids to learn about this Thanksgiving? Stories of resilience or bravery? Others? This Thanksgiving, encourage those gathered around the table to share the particular legacy they would like to leave to their children and grandchildren.
Ein mearvin simcha b’simcha suggests that we shouldn’t mix our celebrations. But when the calendar leaves us no other choice, let’s do so with integrity. Let each holiday’s central values — being thankful for what we already have, celebrating ritual that connects us to that which is sacred and rejoicing in our differences — inform how we experience both festivals this fall.
Dasee Berkowitz is a contributing writer to JTA.