We have an historic Chanukah this year! It falls on the earliest date possible. It coincides this year with Thanksgiving. It won’t happen again for 76,000 years! So this year we’ll be eating our latkes with cranberry sauce; it might even become a new tradition!
Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. The smells of the turkey cooking in the oven, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and apple pie fill American homes as families gather to be thankful and celebrate. There are tangible connections between Thanksgiving and Judaism.
The Pilgrims — authors of the Mayflower Compact in November 1620, wherein they declared “Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith” — were guided by a very strong religious fervor and faith who saw themselves as establishing a New Israel. They read their Bible and many scholars point to Sukkot, the Jewish fall harvest holiday, as being the basis for Thanksgiving.
We also know that Sukkot is the original reason why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. The earliest Jewish sources (the Macabees) explain that Chanukah was an eight day holiday, being a late celebration of Sukkot since “during Sukkot they had been wandering in the mountains and caverns like wild animals.” (The story of the miracle of the oil does not appear until 500 years later.) Sukkot was also an appropriate basis for Chanukah since Sukkot was the holiday when King Solomon dedicated the First Temple.
Thanksgiving is also celebrated as a holiday of religious freedom. The Puritans left England, first via Holland, having been persecuted in England for their religious beliefs. And so the connection between Thanksgiving and Chanukah is very strong and both holidays mphasize our greatest treasure-freedom.
Religious freedom is something we hold sacred and have chosen to celebrate freedom through both of these holidays. And for that we can be thankful.
Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett