By the Light of Thanksgiving

As Jewish families gather across the country this year on the last Thursday in November, you might very well hear:  “Carve the Turkey and pass the Latkes.”  No this is not some kind of cosmic time warp conflating the American festival of Thanksgiving and the Jewish Festival of Lights!!  But what a strange feeling it is when these two holidays fall only a matter of days apart! The celebrations seem so different:  Thanksgiving, with its distinctly autumnal images of pilgrims offering thanks for  the harvest and Hannukah, with a decidedly wintry feel of lights shining in the darkness.  Yet the origins of Hannukah are more closely tied to Thanksgiving than we might think.

The Book of Maccabees, which was not included into the Jewish Bible (but it is included in the Catholic versions of the Bible!), describes the first celebration of  Hannukah and recounts the valiant and victorious struggle of Judah and his Maccabees to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the Greek-Syrians.  Strangely, however, the story, as it is preserved, tells how the Maccabees cleaned up the Temple and reconsecrated it, not by spinning dreidels or even with miracles of oil, but by celebrating “The Feast of Tabernacles” or Sukkot for eight days.  Why Sukkot you might ask?  Sukkot was the most important holiday for the Jews of that time (165 b.c.e.) because it was an opportunity to give thanks for the harvest and pray for the rains necessary for the upcoming season.  Sukkot, of course, is the very epitome of a Thanksgiving festival.  (In fact, the Pilgrims may have found their inspiration for the celebration of Thanksgiving on the biblical holiday of Sukkot!!)  The Maccabees were unable to celebrate Sukkot in its proper time because they were in the midst of a battle to regain the Temple.  So, in fact, the very first Hannukah was “Thanksgiving in December!” following the ancient dictum:  “Better late than never.”  So, once again, these two festivals are reunited this year.

Furthermore, if you need additional proof of the deeper interconnectedness between these two holidays, we turn to the Hallel, a praise of thanks recited on Hannukah.  In a line from the Hallel, we find the verse, “Hodu l’Adonai ki tov,”  “It is good to give thanks to God.”  In an interesting twist of linguistic fate, Hodu (thanks) can also mean “turkey,” in Hebrew, thus solidifying the link between these two holidays.  “It is good to give a turkey for God!”

This year, as we make a quick transition from Thanksgiving to Hannukah, may we hold on tightly to our blessings of joy and light.  Let us give thanks for the miracles that fill our days as we celebrate with friends and loved ones once again.  Darkness looms all around us to be sure, but Hannukah calls upon us to be courageous in our beliefs, to be strong in defense of our values.  Now more than ever we need to add our light to the world.  As we give thanks for the freedom with which we are blessed, as we gather with our families, as we enjoy the bounties of this earth, let us join with others to share our good fortune.  If we can help one person who lives in darkness, if we can share our food with those who are hungry, if we can work for freedom for the oppressed of this world, and if we can strive for freedom in just one corner of this earth then we will be creating miracles in our own day.  Then we will also have that much more for which to be thankful.

Please be sure to join us for all of our special Hannukah festivities this year:

*See our special Hannukah webpage with recipes, songs and blessings, and more!

*In anticipation of Hannukah, our Partnership Committee will be hosting our annual Hannukah Hike on Sunday, November 28th, gathering at 10 a.m. in the Redwood Grove. (Please see below for more details.)

*Join us for a very special FB Live gathering on the first night of Hannukah, Sunday, November 28th at 5 p.m. (Pacific) with your Reform Jewish family across the country!
You will be able to access the celebration at The Hannukah gathering will be just about 30 minutes long and is full of lots of light, sweetness, and some beautiful messages from really outstanding Reform Jews from around our community.When this special presentation is over we will gather over Zoom Sunday at 5:30 pm (at our regular shabbat Zoom link) to kindle the Hannukah lights together and to sing some of our own Hannukah songs.*All are invited to join us for our annual Family Hannukah Shabbat service on Friday, December 3rd at 6 pm. We will be welcoming the participation of our enthusiastic 5th grade/Gimmel Hebrew class. You can join the service by zoom or in person.

*Enjoy a wonderful Hannukah Film Festival with a different movie each night! Here is the link to the website with all the information: Every ticket purchased with our promo code will go towards supporting CBH. We receive 50% of the proceeds if you use HAVER when you purchase.

Our special promo code is HAVER.

May All Your Blessings Shine Brightly,

Rabbi Greg