This article appeared in the November, 2021 issue of The Scroll.
Chanuka is early this year. I am used to celebrating Chanuka in mid-to-late December. This year, it falls at the end of November and carries on into early December. This happens because the Jewish year follows a lunar cycle and is between 10 and 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar which is based on a solar cycle. This difference causes Jewish holidays to shift relative to the secular calendar.
November is also the month of Thanksgiving. Both Chanuka and Thanksgiving have a very common theme: giving thanks for survival. The pilgrims survived the harsh winter and, with the help of the local native Americans, were able to plant crops and bring in their first harvest. They celebrated with their newfound friends with a feast that has since become a traditional (and now a legal) holiday that is uniquely American. Chanuka celebrates the Hasmonean victory over the Assyrian Greeks. The Greeks attempted to Hellenize the Jewish people and destroy their religious lives by turning them away from Hashem and Torah. The victory afforded the Jewish people the right to self-determination and to worship freely. In effect, the Hasmonean triumph allowed the nation’s religious identity to survive.
I am not a big Thanksgiving guy. I have nothing against the holiday, and I think it should be celebrated, but, with the kids all out of the house, it has lost some of its allure. If I am not with my children and grandchildren, what do I need a fancy meal for? The kids have their own lives and frequently are busy with friends. I get that and do not begrudge them that, but without them, Thanksgiving feels kind of empty.
Well, recently Chana and I decided to go all out. I suggested that, instead of a turkey, we get a turducken.
Have you ever had one? It’s pretty incredible. A turducken is a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck which is stuffed into a deboned turkey. Between each layer, you have stuffing and spices. The turkey is sewn up so, from the outside, all you see is the turkey.
It’s a massive bird, as you might think, so there was no way that Chana and I were going to prepare this for ourselves. The plan was much, much better. We called Shmuel and suggested we get the turducken and join him and his family for Thanksgiving. He and Allison agreed and even suggested that they would cook the turducken.
So, off to Evergreen Chana and I went. You may not know this, but you can order a turducken from Evergreen. They will make it custom for you. So, I ordered one. I did not ask how much it would cost and I honestly didn’t care. I wanted that special meal with my kids.
We picked up the turducken shortly before Thanksgiving. I will not tell you how much it cost but it was most definitely not cheap. We dropped it off by Shmuel and Allison and went home. I was excited about the upcoming event.
Well, when we got to Teaneck the next day, I got a phenomenal surprise. It seems like Shmuel conspired with his brother and Baruch, Elianna and their kids came to dinner as well. I was in heaven. The food was awesome, the kids delightful, and the evening a massive success. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed Thanksgiving quite so much.
I think we, as Jews, are fortunate. I really think that we know how to celebrate better than most people do. Maybe that is a bit of cultural conceit, but here’s how I look at it. We Jews are no strangers to tragedy. We have survived thousands of years of it. Especially after the Holocaust, could anyone blame us if we were bitter? Has any people ever suffered as much as we have over the centuries? Yet, that is not our way. We Jews are a positive people. We go through life with boundless hope. We understand that Hashem runs the world and, while sometimes he turns his face away from us, he will always return it in the end. We have had ample evidence of this over the last two millennia.
Therefore, when it comes to celebration, we do so not only with great joy but with dignity as well. We center our celebrations on family, faith, and community. We know that Hashem is the source of our cultural, physical, and monetary wealth. Our comfortable lives here in the United States of America only exist because Hashem guided a Spanish (and some say Jewish) explorer to the shores of the New World.
The Talmud in Tractate Megilla says (13b): “The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not strike at the Jewish people unless He has already created a remedy for them beforehand.” The Jews of Spain were forced to leave on July 31, 1492. Columbus’s voyage, which had been planned for a while, left just three days later on August 3, 1492. Columbus was destined to discover the land that would become a haven for the Jewish remnant of the Holocaust and would ultimately become a great center of Torah learning.
Judaism rests on a three-legged stool: Our belief in Hashem as Master of the Universe, Torah, and family. When we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner, let’s remember that we are celebrating Hashem’s munificence in having given us a resting place where we may freely raise our families, worship, learn Torah, and live our lives as Jews. Thanksgiving is a great partner to Chanuka. Let’s take the time to celebrate both: with our families.
PS: Chana and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Chanuka. May we only celebrate joyous occasions together.