Posts by Rabbi Mara Young

Friday, November 26, 2021

(Almost) Thanksgivukkah

2013 was the first time since the late 1800’s that the first day of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving day. This won’t happen again for a long time. We’ll get a “partial” Thanksgivukkah in 2070 and then not again until 2165, when Hanukkah will begin the evening of Thanksgiving. God willing, 84 year-old-me will live to see the first of those.

Which is to say...I declare that we can make this weekend an honorary Thanksgivukkah!

So go for it... put your Thanksgiving leftovers to good use. You can find plenty of recipes like sweet potato latkes topped with turkey and gravy. Light your menurkey – a combo menorah and Turkey on Sunday night (it’s not a real turkey, in case you were wondering).

It’s fun and games and I think there’s a lot more to this rare pair of holidays.

First, the themes and symbols overlap considerably: miracles, thankfulness, and community. Because of this, I really like this blending of the two holidays.

It’s also a time to reflect on the American Jewish experience. A time to think about how we’ve adopted this country, and, overall, how it has adopted us. Jews in America experience freedom and prosperity that Diaspora Jews have never experienced before, even in all the golden ages and times of quiet. We have never been this blessed.

The joining of the holidays also seems apt because they share a clear message: by working together, we can overcome great obstacles.

That is…if we adhere to the traditional, mythical stories about both holidays. For Thanksgiving, that is the Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to join in a bountiful feast of friendship, taking on the formidable winter together. For Hanukkah, that’s the Maccabees bounding together with their fellow Jews to take on the formidable Syrian Greek army.

But just as famous as these stories is the fact that they’re considerably white-washed. What came after “the first Thanksgiving” (if it even existed at all)? Forced assimilation, migration and genocide of Indigenous Americans.

What happened after the Maccabees restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? A civil war broke out among the Jews. The Maccabees put themselves at the top of the government and made themselves the ruling Hasmonean class. They eventually became so corrupt and ineffective that just 100 years later, the dynasty fell to an invading empire.

A questionable and controversial past seems to be something Thanksgiving and Hanukkah also have in common.

And yet we go all in, us American Jews. Particularly us Reform Jews. But that’s because our job is to go to the heart of the myth, shine a light on the values and develop them anew. The two values we want to look at this weekend are gratitude and joy.

For Thanksgiving, we’ll draw out the gratitude. We Jews are supposed to say 100 blessings a day! We get this teaching from two places:

In Deuteronomy 10:12, Moses tells the Jewish people: "What (mah) does God ask of you?" The Talmud explains that the word mah can be read as me'ah, meaning 100. The interpretation is that we should recite (at least) 100 blessings every day.

There’s also the midrash that in the time of King David, 100 people died every day due to a terrible plague. Realizing that the plague had a spiritual cause, King David instituted a "measure for measure" response: the saying of 100 blessings each day. Once implemented, the plague stopped.

Thanksgiving is a secular but powerful ritual that reminds us to keep up this very Jewish daily practice.

For Hanukkah, we’ll draw upon the joy. The joy of miracles and marvels done for our ancestors in days of old! The “joy” of Hanukkah is light hearted joy: gift giving, spinning dreidels, latkes and doughnuts and oil and chocolate! That would be enough, but Hanukkah comes around to show us how a religious holiday can dig even deeper. And joy, as simple as it seems, is a pretty complex emotion.

Hanukkah’s joy is wrapped up in more than tinsel and bows. The miracle of Hanukkah was not the oil, but the Maccabee’s ability to break down a formidable foe - that even in the face of walls and armor and elephants, they turned the tables. It was a given that an established army would win. But with some ingenuity, pluck, and through a grassroots movement, the Maccabees reallocated the power. Hanukkah’s miracles are not just our everyday blessings, but the reassessing and redefining of our power.

Never have I felt this theme of the holiday as strongly as I felt this week. In a matter of hours, grassroots voices of justice experienced major triumph in the face of established norms and calcified structures of hate in our country. This happened through two significant verdicts.

First, nine  plaintiffs consisting of students, clergy, peaceful protestors, and innocent bystanders -- who were victims of a coordinated attack by white supremacists during what was called “Unite the Right” in August 2017 -- won a historic victory against the white supremacist groups and individuals who conspired for months to bring violence to the streets of Charlottesville.  This will cripple the morale and financial structures of the so-called “alt-right.” Integrity First for America, the small organization supporting the suit, and their grassroots network of supporters, smashed more cracks into the wall of White Supremacy that has long been buttressing American society.

And then just hours later, all three defendants in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder. This caused celebration and fanfare in the face of a biased system that for so long has upheld such terrible actions as the killers. A miracle!

But should it have caused such cheers? Charles Blow reflected: 

The guilty verdicts landed oddly for me. This was the right decision, the way it should have gone. There was an impulse to celebrate the victory, but it felt a bit like celebrating a mother caring for her children or respecting a spouse.

If you are humane, this is what you do, not because there is a need for fanfare, but because it is the right and honorable way to behave.

But that’s just it: Our justice system is so racially biased, so often allowing vigilantes and police officers to kill Black people with impunity, that simply having the system not perform in that way becomes extraordinary.

To pair Hanukkah with these two important verdicts, is to remind us that today’s miracles should be tomorrow’s everyday blessings. It shouldn’t be remarkable that Black lives are valued, it should just be the way it is. It shouldn’t be remarkable that we are starting to dismantle white supremacy, it should just be rubble.

These two cases will not destroy the oppression and hate that was poured in the foundation of our nation, but it will create cracks through which we will shine a light and from which we will re-build a more sound structure.

Charles Blows words hit me deep:

Of course none of this will change the fact that Arbery was murdered. Nothing can bring him back. Nothing can ease the ache in his mother’s heart. But at least the pain was not compounded the way it was in other cases.

I dare not say that this one case teaches us much about the American justice system. I dare not say that it demonstrates a trend or a shift. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary.

I will only say that a shooting star that streaks across the night sky, that disrupts the darkness, is worthy of being noticed and appreciated. It doesn’t alter the night. It doesn’t convert it into day. It comes without warning, a phenomenon onto itself, not a herald for others to follow.

We’ve taken note of our blessings. We witnessed some miracles. It is now time to kindle our Hanukkah lights. Let’s disrupt the darkness. We won’t fix it all in 1 night, or even 8. But as the nights develop, so too may our resolve. Afterall, the menorah only becomes brighter as the holiday progresses. Light by light by light, we get closer to being the shining beacon we aspire to. Can we get there by 2070? Well, it’s worth trying.

No comments:

Post a Comment