Valley Jews embrace merging of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving holidays

The Fresno BeeNovember 22, 2013 

For the first time in 95 years, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day are overlapping this year — and Jewish people in the central San Joaquin Valley say they are embracing the rare occasion.

"Happy Menurkey day," Elaine Colett, a member of Chabad of Fresno, tells friends and family.

Menurkey?

It's a made-up word that meshes the central symbol of each holiday, a menorah and a turkey.

The menorah is a candelabrum with nine branches that is used during Hanukkah, an eight-day festival that celebrates the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. Judaism teaches that only enough oil was available to light the temple a day, but the oil miraculously lasted eight days. Each day of Hanukkah, a candle is lit.

Thanksgiving Day is a U.S. national holiday when Americans give thanks and feast, usually over turkey with all the trimmings. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish year. Last year, Hanukkah began on Dec. 8.

This year, the day comes much sooner — at sundown Wednesday. Hanukkah's first full day is Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day.

Not since 1918 have Thanksgiving Day and Hanukkah overlapped, according to chabad.org, the official homepage for the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The site in Brooklyn, N.Y., promotes Judaism and provides daily Torah lectures and Jewish insight.

After this year, Thanksgiving Day and Hanukkah don't meet again until 2070.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, director of media relations for chabad.org, says this year's overlap is an opportunity for people to rediscover the meanings of both holidays. He believes both themes are about thanksgiving.

"People are looking a little deeper as to what the meanings of both holidays are about and what they share — and they rediscover they share quite a bit," Seligson says in a phone interview with The Bee.

"In most years, Hanukkah is during the shopping season, and there's a large focus on gifts, but this year gives us the opportunity to rediscover the element of thanking the almighty for everything we have — and that is at the core of Hanukkah."

Members of the Valley's Jewish community say they feel good about the overlap. Many are taking steps to manage the two holidays.

Colett, a real estate broker with Guarantee, bought a new turkey menorah made out of plaster of Paris. She plans to use the turkey menorah — the latest in her large menorah collection — as the table centerpiece for her Thanksgiving Day dinner for more than 25 people.

"My goodness, it's only going to happen once in our lifetime; let's have fun with it," she says.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah with many foods prepared with oil. They include latkes, shallow-fried pancakes of grated or ground potato, flour and egg, and sufganiyot, a deep-fried jelly donut.

Colett's Thanksgiving Day dinner this year will mesh the popular foods of both holidays. She plans to either deep-fry a turkey, served with mashed potatoes, or roast a turkey served with latkes.

"We usually only serve a turkey, but this year we will also have brisket because it goes well with latkes," she says.

Colett also will serve donuts filled with cranberry.

Phyllis Farrow, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central California, believes the overlap unites people in celebration.

"While it kind of pushed the holiday forward a little bit, it also gives us a chance to celebrate Hanukkah at a time when everyone is celebrating," she says.

She plans to serve latkes as appetizers before her Thanksgiving Day meal.

"It will be latkes and apple sauce," she says.

Dessert? It will be the chocolate coins used to play dreidel, a children's game that epitomizes the story of Hanukkah.

Ephraim Hadjis, president of Congregation Beth Jacob in west-central Fresno, says he feels good about the overlap of Thanksgiving Day and Hanukkah: "I think it's a unique opportunity, thanking God for giving us this day — and especially on a day that everyone can celebrate it."

The reporter can be reached at rorozco@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6304.

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