FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. — When life gives you Hanukkah on Thanksgiving, make a menurkey. Or a turkel.
That’s what students at suburban Detroit’s Hillel Day School are doing — creating paper-and-paint mashups of menorahs and turkeys, and the birds combined with dreidels.
The recent class projects at the Farmington Hills school illustrate one way U.S. Jews are dealing with a rare quirk of the calendar on Thursday that overlaps Thanksgiving with the start of Hanukkah. The last time it happened was 1888 and the next is 79,043 years from now — by one estimate widely shared in Jewish circles.
The convergence of the secular and sacred holidays is presenting opportunities for many Jews and challenges for others — including concerns about everything from extra preparation and party planning to those who think they will dilute or devalue both celebrations.
The dilemma is best illustrated by Hillel Day School teacher Lori Rashty, who recently watched eighth-grade students help second-graders plant their freshly painted hands onto paper to make the turkey, then transform the four finger feathers into candles to incorporate a menorah.
“I think it’s a nice way to integrate the two holidays,” Rashty said. “Since we’re not going to see it again for 79,000 years, it’s kind of an exciting way for the kids to realize that it’s a special occasion for them.”
Still, she added, the double-barreled holiday extracts a personal toll.
“For me it’s a little overwhelming ’cause I don’t have time to get ready for Hanukkah,” she said. “I feel like personally it takes away a little bit from Hanukkah.”
The lunisolar nature of the Jewish calendar makes Hanukkah and other religious observances appear to drift slightly from year to year when compared to the U.S., or Gregorian, calendar. Jewish practice calls for the first candle of eight-day Hanukkah to be lit the night before Thanksgiving Day this year, so technically “Thanksgivukkah,” — or “Thanksgivvukah,” as the Hillel students spell it — falls on the “second candle” night.
Kerry Elgarten, host of an annual Hanukkah party for family and friends at his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough, calls the convergence “a conundrum.” Because of guests’ Thanksgiving commitments, he’s moving the bash to the following weekend.
“I feel a little bit weird about pushing it off — it was just too much holiday for one weekend,” he said. “Honestly, I will even cheat on the candles. I’ll fill up the whole menorah … and just pretend.”
In California, Bruce Sandler has no plans to move or modify the annual Thanksgiving eve party he throws for the staff and other affiliates of his medical supply business. The party’s kosher offerings typically include a turkey and his wife’s nondairy cornbread. Hanukkah, he said, doesn’t call for any changes.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal — I think maybe it adds a little bit to it,” said Sandler, who is president of Young Israel of Northridge near Los Angeles. It’s worth noting that Sandler is fond of having fun with holiday mixing and matching — he recently hired a man to paint Santa Claus riding a medical scooter while spinning a dreidel on his storefront window.
Back at Hillel Day School, students entering the library see a colorful poster designed to provoke thoughts about the convergent holidays: Under a Thanksgivvukah headline are several questions, including “How are Thanksgiving and Hanukkah alike?”
“I think it’s a great honor to be able to have Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same day,” said Jason Teper, an eighth-grader who was helping the second-graders with their menurkeys. “Also, it’s really good for kids because they get presents and they get to eat good food on the same day. For Hanukkah, you usually just get presents and then for Thanksgiving you just eat. Now everything is just mixed together and I think that’s a great thing.”
Saul Rube, Hillel’s dean of Judaic studies, said the light-hearted combinations of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah icons underscore a deeper bond: The Talmud, one of Judaism’s core texts, describes Hanukkah as a “holiday of thanksgiving.”
“The fact that you could meld our Jewish culture and the popular culture is such a wonderful opportunity, when so many times in December observant families feel … torn. They want to be part of that whole holiday season,” he said.
Rube said his Thanksgiving dinner table will have one notable addition: a challurkey, a loaf of Jewish challah bread in the shape of a turkey. Some Detroit-area bakeries are selling them but he found one he liked online from a kosher bakery and ordered it. It was only $12, but a good bit more for shipping.
“I splurged — I told my wife if we amortize the cost over 80,000 years ’til it happens again, it’s not so bad,” he said.
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