For almost seven million people in the Jewish community, 2013 marks a very unusual collision of two holidays: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Dubbed “Thanksgivukkah,” it is the first time the two holidays have coincided since 1918, or will again until 2070.
Often characterized as the Jewish companion to Christmas, with gifts, big meals and family time as major themes, Hanukkah colliding with Thanksgiving may surprise many. Abraham Lincoln created Thanksgiving as a holiday—something which has always surprised me, because I think of him as being rather busy with the war between the States happening during his presidency and all. FDR moved it back a week during his presidency, in what became an incredibly controversial topic for years to come. In the newspaper world, it is considered suicide to mess with the comics page; apparently, presidents messing with the dates of holidays is just as bad an idea. We associate Thanksgiving in America with big turkey dinners and the official beginning of the holiday shopping season.
Hanukkah, or The Miracle of Light, seems to have potential to be an allegory for the Live Local movement. As the story goes: Antiochus, then king of the Greek empire, ordered a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple and for sacrifices to be made to the god. A small but determined group of Jewish people refused to play ball and revolted against the Greek empire. Eventually, the Maccabees (the rebels—think Han Solo and Luke Skywalker of Judaism) triumphed, reclaimed the temple and rededicated it. When they went to re-kindle the everlasting light in the sanctuary, they only had enough oil for one night, Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days until more could be made. In remembrance, modern Jews light menorahs, have big family dinners and give gifts over those eight days.
My dear, fellow Jews, this is exactly what we have the opportunity to do this year: celebrate Judah Maccabee not as a distant mythical figure but re-enact his refusal to sacrifice to the false gods forced upon him. We do not have to bend to the corporate giants or the online retailers who give nothing to our communities. Let’s really celebrate the spirit of rebellion by choosing to make this Hanukkah a made-in-the-USA holiday; it is after all coinciding with that purely American holiday, Thanksgiving. Hanukkah November 27th through December 5th, while Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 28th.
What sort of difference could it make if one of the seven million American Jews ordered local foods for Thanksgivukkah dinner and gave made-in-the-USA gifts? Let’s assume a family of four gives 16 gifts at an average expenditure of $50 per gift. That would be an average of $800 per family spent on made-in-the-USA and locally made gifts, equally approximately $800 million cycling through our manufacturing and retail industries.
Now assuming the cost is $200 for Thanksgivukkah dinner of local foods—with less pollution for transporting food products—it could put $200 million recirculating into the agricultural and food retail sectors of our economy. Thus it creates food security for our country and protects farm land, which really is why we celebrate Thanksgiving is about—a harvest festival giving thanks for sustaining the new world.
Has that mega-online retailer done anything for the temple or synagogue? No, but the smaller business owned by congregation members have coughed up for the various campaigns. They continue to contribute to charities throughout the community. So, why would we not support the business that support our very values and beliefs?
As Rabbi Hillel asked in the first century BC: “If I am not for myself—who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
We must choose to support those who support us, not those who exploit us or others. Taking the short view of “it’s fast and easy this way,” or “it’s a dollar cheaper here” is just that: a short view that shortchanges us and our children of greater opportunities in the future. It’s a choice that can exploit others through cheap goods made in China and under near slave-like conditions. Or as Mother Jones Magazine reports, it abuses the pickers in online fulfillment warehouses in the U.S. Does the mattress feel that comfortable to sleep on, then? It is not a decision that can be put off until we have more time, more money, more flexibility and more luxury.
The Talmud tells us Hillel studied the Torah in spite of incredible odds to go on to become one of our most respected thinkers. He didn’t wait until he had plenty of time or money, but because he committed to do so when he knew it was right and necessary. Anything you have achieved in your life has certainly come through hard work—but even more so from the help and investment of people who believed in you. That is something you can pay back everyday by the choices you make.
Now you are given a tailor-made holiday mash-up to teach your children about not only the importance of thankfulness and that obligations we owe each other but about the people who have made your comfortable lives possible. Let us make a commitment to Tikkun olam, the healing of the world, this Thanksgivukkah and teach our children what genuine gratitude and keeping the light alive is really about. Invest in their future with a made-in-the-USA holiday season.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author or ‘Promise of Peanuts,’ which can be bought at Old Books on Front Street, with all monies donated to local nonprofit Full Belly Project.