Celebrating the Festival of Lights
This year, the stars aligned! The first day of Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day! According to many calculations, it is the rarest of occasions that will not be repeated for many, many years. It is fascinating to delve into calculations and assumptions stemming from the differences between the Jewish and the Gregorian calendars, but let’s rather think about the meaning and the message behind this coincidence.
Just like everything in Jewish life, the unique convergence makes sense and comes at a very important time when many of us, spurred by recent demographic revelations, worry about the survival and the future of the Jewish people in America.
When Chanukah falls on or near Christmas, it confuses non-Jews as well as many Jews into thinking that these two holidays are related, that they are just two “winter holidays” with required gifts and parties. And so over the years Chanukah has become all about shopping, wrapping, and eating. This year’s Thanksgivukkah puts a stop to the dangerous blurring of two distinct religious traditions.
Unlike most American holidays, Thanksgiving has retained its original significance for most people. Many Americans (including me and my family) identify with the plight of the Pilgrims who fled their country of birth seeking a new future without religious oppression. And that is also the story of Chanukah—the story of how we fought back against religious oppression in our own land, earned our freedom and thanked G-d for the miracles.
And so it is, both Chanukah and Thanksgiving are about gratitude for what we’ve received...and showing our gratitude by giving to others food, gifts and sustenance from our heart.
Why do we still light Chanukah candles and teach our children about the struggle of a Jewish community that lived thousands of years ago? It is to teach them about our religious survival against all odds, about the victory of the few over the many, the weak over the mighty, the spiritual over the material. Let’s understand and focus on what we are celebrating: the triumph of Jewish values over an attempt to outlaw Jewish practice, and the miracle of a little bit of oil—just enough to last a day—that burned for eight days and nights.
Each year, Chanukah brings light into our lives. At the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, we are proud of everything we do, with the help of our generous community, to bring warmth and light to the Jewish people. Because of your generosity we are able to help people here in Central Florida, in Israel and around the world.