A December Dilemma Turns into a November Opportunity
by Rabbi David Levy
The world is being swept up in a tidal wave of Menurkeys and recipes for sweet potato latkes, as American Jews rush to embrace the quirky collision of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.
There’s a lot we can learn from this response.
Every other year, when Hanukkah falls in December, Jewish leaders and educators lament the “December Dilemma.” As a community we display feelings of inadequacy at Hanukkah not having the kind of presence as the all-encompassing nature of Christmas. As parents, we share the challenges of assimilation and raising kids in a Christian society. Then along comes “Thanksgivukkah,” and we see something completely different. Thanksgiving, being a secular American civic holiday, is accessible to everyone, and Jews are excited to graft a piece of our identity onto this inclusive platform. There is no “November Dilemma,” because Jews by and large are happy to celebrate Thanksgiving and have no self-consciousness about it. In fact, we have instead a “November Opportunity,” one where we proudly own our dual identities as Americans and Jews. We will watch football by the menorah light and we will buy Hanukkah presents at Black Friday sales beginning at 5am.
As someone who directs programs for teens, I think a lot about Jewish identity, and I’m hopeful that this sense of feeling included both as Jews and as Americans will signal a new way forward. We as a community should be on the lookout for more opportunities to participate in what’s happening around us not only with our American selves, but with our full Jewish selves. Look at the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and its annual World Wide Wrap, which makes Super Bowl Sunday a day for “wrap” events that promote the use of tefillin. Can we develop exciting Jewish expressions for Labor Day, July 4th,, and beyond? I certainly hope so.
Thanksgiving has been easy – after all, a holiday focused on gratitude is right up our alley. Hakarat Ha-tov (recognizing and acknowledging the good) is a major Jewish value. We give thanks with blessings and by telling people when we appreciate them. And Hanukkah itself is a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving. The Maccabees rededicated the Temple, and they celebrated the most recent festival they had missed – Sukkot, a harvest festival, which like Thanksgiving, celebrates the bounty of the land.
As a youth leader, I’m always talking to teens about when it is they like to wave their Jewish flags and when they keep a lower profile. I encourage young people in USY to bring their full selves, Jewish and all, to everything they do. Thanksgivukkah is the perfect example. It’s a time when we can be fully Jewish and fully American.
Let us follow the lead of Tom Menurkey and the Maccabees and bring our best, whole selves into each season as proud Americans and proud Jews.
Rabbi David Levy is Director of Teen Learning for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, where his work includes overseeing all USY programs.