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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Calendar coincidence leads to perfect storm

We’ll have to wait 77,798 years to face the same challenge we’ll confront this very month — a perfect culinary storm of biblical proportions.

As it has been written, on Nov. 28, for the first time since 1888, and not again for more than 75,000 years, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will fall on the same day. In the beginning, this seemed like a merry coincidence. Jewish families could gather once and yet celebrate two big holidays. Christians, Muslims and others could serve up some Hanukkah latkes (potato pancakes) as an interfaith gesture of good will. Writers created an orgiastic frenzy, finding new words to blend the two celebrations. Thanksgivakah? It all seemed good.

However, no matter what you call it, no matter the doubling down of feasting and frolicking, this is a perfect storm, particularly for Jewish people. Should we be surprised? When Jews aren’t atoning or fasting or remembering some dark moment in history, it just isn’t a party. Even Hanukkah, which begins at sundown on Nov. 27 and celebrates the first of its eight days on Thanksgiving, recalls a sad time and a serious body count. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt against the Romans in the second century B.C. The story goes that there was enough oil to burn for just one night at the temple altar, but a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days. Thus the eight days of the holiday.

Thanksgiving has its roots in Christian America, with early settlers giving thanks for their survival and the bounty of the new world. It is said that the feast in Plymouth was a coming together of the new arrivals and the original native inhabitants. (That would be the Indians who were already here, who, as history tells us, would not benefit from their association with the Europeans.) Some cynics say the darkest day for Native Americans was the first day a white man stepped on shore.

Some say that the very idea of Thanksgiving is a romantic construct of the American government, which declared the holiday in 1863, glossing over the fact that the natives in Plymouth, and throughout the U.S., were systematically exploited and eventually all but wiped out. But why ruin the turkey?

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