Thanksgivukkah: A Holiday Collision
By Paula Sokolska
BU News Service
BOSTON–The holiday season is nearing its traditional Thanksgiving kickoff. And with the looming threats of visiting in-laws, feeding an army, and party planning, many are bracing themselves for the petty debates that come along with opening up their homes to good cheer. Stuffing in the bird or in a casserole dish? Watch the Macy’s parade or the football game? Pumpkin or apple pie?
This year, things are getting even more complicated as two holidays–Thanksgiving and Hanukkah–vie for a spot at the same table. With millions of American Jews celebrating the hybrid holiday dubbed Thanksgivukkah, the question arises: which holiday icon, the turkey or the menorah, takes the honor of being a centerpiece? But rather than choosing one, many are embracing the holiday mash up by boldly reinventing traditional staples to reflect both their cultural and religious ties.
This once-in-a-lifetime holiday overlap will occur on Nov. 28, a coincidence not expected again until the year 79043, according to Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.. Mizrahi calculated the next Thanksgivukkah date by overlapping the Gregorian and Jewish calendars using Mathematica, a computational software program.
Hanukkah, the eight day Jewish festival of lights commemorating the miracle of a single day of oil outlasting a week-long battle between the Maccabees and Greeks, typically falls in December, reinforcing its commercial role as the Jewish equivalent to Christmas. This year, however, the Jewish holiday coincides with American Thanksgiving.
Leading the forefront of the Thanksgivukkah promotional push is Dana Reichman Gitell, a marketing specialist at Hebrew SeniorLife in Dedham, Mass. Gitell, who runs the Thanksgivukkah Facebook and Twitter profiles in addition to owning the Thanksgivukkah trademark, has partnered with ModernTribe.com, a Judaica retailer, to sell holiday apparel marked with the slogan “Thanksgivukkah: 8 days of lights, liberty and latkes.”
“I saw promoting this convergence as an opportunity to really celebrate the Jewish-American experience and give thanks for America as a bastion of religious freedom,” she said.
Ten percent of proceeds from sales of the apparel will benefit the charity MAZON: A Jewish Response for Hunger, which works to combat hunger across America and Israel.
But Gitell isn’t the only one who took early notice of the holiday overlap. Asher Weintraub, a 9-year-old from New York, was on a drive back from Florida with his parents last December, when his mom, Carline Baron, mentioned the upcoming holiday.
His father, Anthony Weintraub, recalled the drive. “[Asher] said, ‘You know what would be cool? If there was a menorah shaped like a turkey.’”
“What would you call it,” Weintraub asked his son.
“I’d call it the Menurkey,” Asher said
With the help of his parents, Asher developed his vision of the Menurkey into a prototype, using TinkerCad, a digital design tool that creates computer animated design—or CAD—models for 3D printers.
From there, the family launched a campaign on Kickstarter, an online platform for funding grass roots projects, with the initial goal of raising $25,000 to cover production costs. At its close, the campaign raised $48,345.
As the name implies, the Menurkey is a menorah, nine-branched candelabrum used during Hanukkah celebrations, shaped like a turkey, and it’s available for purchase to be used at the center of your holiday table.
The Menurkey project evolved even further thanks to a partnership with the Jewish Museum of New York, an exclusive retailer of the Menurkey. Other Menurkey products include an iPhone app and a Menurkey song available for download on iTunes.
“It hasn’t gotten to his head,” Asher’s father said. “I could tell you of five ideas he’s thinking of working on next.”
As with Gitell’s Thanksgivukkah merchandise, a certain percentage of proceeds from Menurkey sales will be donated to a charity of Anthony’s choice, which he has yet to determine.
Thanksgivukkah offers an opportunity to share Judaism with a much wider audience than it has traditionally had in the past.
“You’re bringing such a diverse group of people together. Everyone celebrates Thanksgiving and most Jews celebrate Hanukkah. You’re bringing people together over the house you may not typically have,” said Jeff Levy, director of JewishBoston.com which runs ThanksgivukkahBoston.com, a blog offering resources and suggestions for merging the holidays.
Examples include making a pumpkin menorah, a recipe for pumpkin kugel, as well as craft ideas and ways of explaining Hanukkah to those unfamiliar with the Jewish faith.
Some people have raised concerns that the Franken-holiday is yet another gimmick in the commercialization of what should be a personal expression of faith.
“I think people are looking at it as a way to participate in something that will never happen again in their lives. They want to share it, and they’re having fun with it,” Levy said.
“We live in a digital age. When someone has an idea and it’s good, it goes viral. It’s positive if something is good and shared by many,” said Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz, Director of the Chai Center in Brookline, Mass.
“Everyone’s excited about it. This is something that’s not going to happen again for another 76,000 years. As much as I plan to be around for the next time Thanksgivukkuh comes around, let’s love this one.”