Chanukah, the beloved holiday that has taken on an outsized role in American Jewish life, has a complex and ambiguous origin, with a meaning that has been the subject of much debate through the years. A celebration of Jewish peoplehood and triumph– at least temporarily –over a foreign overlord in Judea, it is also a victory of priests and religious traditionalists over secular Hellenist Jews. Up for debate: the actual miracle of Chanukah; was it a victory over superior military might, or the burning of the lights in the Temple for eight days?
Our legacy of ambivalence about Chanukah dates to the ancient rabbis’ decision to exclude its origin story from the Jewish Bible, thus providing us with the permission to re-appropriate the holiday and give it new significance in the context of each Jewish community and time.
This year we’re celebrating “Thanksgivukkah,” the rare overlap of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. While our celebration is especially meaningful in the Boston Jewish community – we are after all the Jews closest to Plymouth Rock –there is a deeper significance in the convergence of these days.
It is no coincidence that the Pilgrim’s first harvest festival had similarities to Sukkot, the harvest festival of booths in Jewish tradition. The society they built in their new land was inspired and informed by their faith tradition. So naturally, when they marked the end of their first year in a new place, took in their crops and prepared for winter, they looked to their Bible for rituals to mark this time.
What maybe isn’t as well known is that Sukkot also inspires Chanukah. In the apocryphal Books of the Maccabees it is told that when those ancient soldiers retook the temple in Jerusalem:
They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths… carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving… they decreed/ that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year. Book 2, Chapter 10. Verse 6:
The Pilgrims came to Massachusetts with a vision; to build a community for their children rooted in values. Over the centuries, as others arrived in Boston, that community of faith has evolved and expanded to include a diversity of religious traditions, each with its own unique set of hopes and dreams for building this new Jerusalem, this shining city on a hill that continues to serve as a beacon and idea factory for the ever evolving American ideal.
Today, over two centuries after Jews started arriving in Boston, we work together with our partners across faith communities for the advancement of what Governor Deval Patrick, in the days after the marathon bombing, described as our shared civic faith.
Jewish Bostonians express our civic faith in our work to advance a seamless marriage of Jewish and American values. We act upon our ideals in our work ensuring that America delivers on our promise of opportunity: building access to good education and decent jobs; creating a society committed to full equality for all of its’ people; continuing to welcome the immigrants who bring renewed vitality to our nation.
So why Thanksgivukkah?
This year, as we begin to settle into the long nights of a New England winter, we celebrate, as our ancestors in ancient Judea and nearby Plymouth once did, the harvest we have reaped this year and the strength it brings us for our shared future. We celebrate the ways in which our interfaith community is stronger together, how One Boston came together after the marathon, and of course our civic pride in our World Champion Red Sox. We take this season to reflect – in a way both deeply Jewish and also deeply American – on how our community continues to be a shining city on a hill with a new mayor and renewed hope for our future.
So if we get a little silly for one week as we take note once again of how deeply entwined our Jewish and American stories and values are, at how much we are a part of one seamless civic faith, forgive us this moment;
The idea of sweet potato and cranberry latkes was just too wicked to pass up.
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.