Thanksgivukkah: Rare holiday mashup won't be seen again for 78,000 years

Thanksgivukkah: Rare holiday mashup won't be seen again for 78,000 years

November 26th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Local Regional News

Rabbi Susie Tendler, left, helps Abe Lebovitz of B'nai Zion Hebrew School to light an electric a menorah at Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


• Welcoming service: On the day after Thanksgiving, Mizpah Congregation will host a kabbalat/erev shabbat, or welcoming/evening service, at 5:45 p.m. with songs, music, prayers, readings and blessings, he said. It will incorporate English readings on the theme of thanksgiving, or "hoda," as it is called in Hebrew. It also will incorporate the lighting of Hanukkah candles, said Rabbi Bill Tepper. Joining Tepper will be the Rev. Ann Weeks, deacon of outreach for St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Doug Werth, minister of Unity of Chattanooga. Both, he said, will speak about the theme of thanksgiving, the confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and the traditional themes of peace and harmony present for weekly services. The public is invited.

• Menorah lighting: The public is also invited to celebrate Chabad of Chattanooga's annual menorah lighting outside the Walker Pavilion in Coolidge Park on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. It will be followed, at the adjacent River Street Deli, by Chabad's annual latke-eating contest and, this year, by a meal of dishes prepared by deli owner Bruce Weiss from submissions to a Thanksgivukkah recipe contest. "We'll be mixing different items," said Rabbi Shaul Perlstein, "perhaps something like turkey-stuffed latkes. I think we'll have a great turnout."

• Hanukkah party: The Jewish Cultural Center will host its traditional Hanukkah party on Dec. 4 at 5:30 p.m., according to Michael Dzik, executive director of the Chattanooga Jewish Federation. Normally held early in Hanukkah, it was pushed to the end to accommodate the overlap with Thanksgiving, he said. Children from all three congregations will perform traditional Jewish and Hanukkah songs, and doughnuts fried in oil -- symbolic of the miracle one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days at the rededication of the 2 B.C. temple -- will be served, he said.

Don't blink, because it won't happen for another 79,811 years.

It's the intersection of Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah, of course.

Call it Thanksgivukkah. Lots of people are.

Chattanooga-area Jewish residents are making various plans to celebrate both a secular day that did not become an annual tradition in the United States until an 1863 presidential proclamation by Abraham Lincoln and an eight-day religious holiday that commemorates an event that happened in 2 B.C.

"A lot of families I know are mixing the two together," said Rabbi Shaul Perlstein of Chabad Jewish Center of Chattanooga. "It's fascinating. I can't tell you all the buzz out there. A lot of people are trying to find cute ideas. It'll be interesting to hear what everybody came up with."

Although Hanukkah officially begins Wednesday night at sundown, its first full day will coincide with Thanksgiving Day.

"Some families have bought a menurkey, or turkey menorah," said Perlstein. "We're invited to a family's home where we'll be having turkey but stuffing made with traditional Jewish foods."

This is the first year the two have intersected since 1888, when Thanksgiving was still celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

And the next time? Forget it, you won't be around.


But Jewish leaders said the combined day couldn't be more appropriate.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Rabbi Bill Tepper of Mizpah Congregation. "When one has been a clergy for any reasonable amount of time, we learn there are no coincidences in life. The Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays are both, in their own way, about gratitude, about being thankful for life and love, for the gifts of family, friendships and good health, for the blessings of individual/personal freedoms."

Rabbi Susan Tendler of B'nai Zion Congregation said she has taught about the convergence of the two days in the congregation's religious school, extrapolated on it with an adult group, written about it in her weekly message to members and plans to incorporate it into prayers around her family's own Thanksgiving/Hanukkah table.

"I find meaning in the two being together," she said, noting in the message to her members that both holidays call for thanks to be given for the miracles extended to our ancestors and for the miracles in our lives today.

Michael Dzik, executive director of the Chattanooga Jewish Federation, said that, after talking to local rabbis, it became even more clear to him just how alike the two holidays are.

"When you think about it," he said, "Thanksgiving is about family, friends and food. It's the same when you think about Hanukkah."

"There's always [been] a relationship," said Perlstein. "The concept of thanks and giving are two things very common in the holiday of Hanukkah, which is really eight days of thanks. Celebrating the holiday is celebrating and thanking God for freedom in general, which is a direct connection to Thanksgiving."

Even the giving of Hanukkah gifts, or gelt, is connected to the "big idea of helping others," he said.

Tendler said she hasn't planned her family menu for the day but hopes to incorporate elements of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah in one or more of her dishes. A dish like sweet potato latkes might be appropriate, she said.

Tepper said he'll participate in the annual Grateful Gobbler Walk, a fundraiser for the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition. Then he and his wife, Deborah, will have both a traditional Thanksgiving meal with friends and light a Hanukkah candle.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is Jewish, says he and his family are looking forward to the dual holidays.

"Both celebrations are truly important to my family as well as the cultural diversity of our city," he said. "My family and I will be celebrating both holidays, and we look forward to spending quality time with family members."

A decade or so before the term Thanksgivukkah was even coined, the Chattanooga Jewish Congregational Religious School was helping its neighbors around Thanksgiving. Indeed, the school's annual Turkey Train stocks the Chattanooga Food Bank with frozen turkeys donated for holiday food baskets.

Ronni Charyn, director of the school, said the concept of gemilut chassadim, or the Jewish social value of doing acts of loving kindness, is something the community within a greater community practices.

"This is something we're proud to do every year," she said.

This year's event, held at Mizpah Congregation on Nov. 17, supplied the organization with 927 pounds of turkey contributed by donors, plus $200 cash, Charyn said. About 50 children, some of whom weighed just a bit more than the turkeys, passed the frozen birds down a line to older children and high school assistants who, in turn, lifted them into the Food Bank truck, she said.

"It was a good workout for the upper body," Charyn said.

More than that, she said, there is "such a warm and wonderful feeling doing it. You know you are doing the right thing, helping the right people. The need is always so great. We do what we can."

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at CooperCTFP.