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Pass the cranberry latkes: When holidays collide

HANUKKAH FEATURE

With the cornukiyah, Edmon J. Rodman tries his hand at creating a centerpiece suitable for a Thanksgivukkah table. (Edmon J. Rodman)

With the cornukiyah, Edmon J. Rodman tries his hand at creating a centerpiece suitable for a Thanksgivukkah table. (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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah-Thanksgiving confluence won’t happen again by one calculation until the year 79811 — 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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 Thankgivukkkah 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 Hanukkah — 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah, 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 edmojace@gmail.com.)

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