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Rare convergence of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah brings twist to holidays

TAMPA — Rabbi Richard Birnholz chuckles when he says the word Thanksgivukah.

Trademarked by a Boston-area woman, Thanksgivukah was coined to mark this year's rare confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. It's spawned a Facebook page — with more than 12,000 likes and counting — T-shirts, aprons, notepads, recipes and more.

The convergence of the two holidays is a major happening. It last occurred in 1888, and after Thursday, won't happen again for 70,000-plus years.

This year, the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle will take place after sundown Wednesday. Thanksgiving will mark the first day of the eight-day festival and the second candle lighting.

Birnholz of Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa said his family will wait until after Thanksgiving dinner to light the second candle, making sure to distance the traditions.

"I've heard people say they are going to try and keep them separate, and then there are people who have made Menorahs shaped like turkeys, with the tail feathers sticking up as the candles," Birnholz said. "Everyone has a different take on it."

Jody and Debbie Berner and their son, Benjamin, 13, are ramping up the celebrations. The Belleair family had hoped to celebrate Benjamin's bar mitzvah on Thanksgiving. "But we couldn't find vendors," Debbie Berner said.

So the bar mitzvah will be Saturday. But when more than a dozen relatives gather on Thanksgiving morning for the annual Turkey Trot, Berner hopes they'll all don Happy Thanksgivukah shirts.

"We're milking it," she said.

In Seminole, Judi Gordon is baking, frying and freezing for Thanksgivukah.

She's baked a challah — the traditional Jewish bread — in the shape of a turkey. For her grandchildren and great-nieces and -nephews, she's planned a special joint-holiday project that will become the centerpiece of the Thanksgivukah buffet table.

"I'm going to be getting eight small pumpkins and one medium-sized pumpkin and they are each going to get to decorate them with blue and silver and then we are going to cut a hole in each one and that will be our menorah," Gordon said.

To accompany the latkes she's made from about 12 pounds of potatoes, she'll make her mother's apple sauce recipe. But in a nod to the dual holidays, she will offer cranapple sauce as well.

All the fuss won't be confined to Thursday, though. Gordon will host a Hanukkah dinner on Wednesday, the first night of the Festival of Lights. Her guests will be greeted with a banner proclaiming, "Happy, Happy Thanksgivukah."

"We have to combine the two. You can't let something that occurs so rarely pass by without special notice," she said.

Debra Joseph and her husband, David, members of Congregation Beth Am in north Tampa, will light their Menorah together each night, including Thursday. They prefer it when Hanukkah falls in December.

"It's very inconvenient," Debra Joseph said. "I like it better when its not so early because I really like Thanksgiving and would like to celebrate it as a separate holiday."

Anna Salomon, director of lifelong learning and engagement at Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg, said the coinciding holidays offer positives, but also challenges.

"For the kids, I think the biggest challenge is the month of December. With Hanukkah ending on Dec. 5, that's an awful long month not to have anything, with all of the commercial aspects of Christmas surrounding you," she said. "Normally Hanukkah overlaps and the earliest is in the middle of the month. Now it's early and it's over."

Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater and a rabbinic fellow with the Jewish Theological Seminary said she sees only opportunities in the shared timing.

"At the time of Hanukkah, we are thankful for the miracles and blessings in our lives," she said. "In that light, I think the motif of gratitude and rededication are interlinked."

At Hanukkah, Jews remember Judah Maccabee, his small band of fighters and their victory over the religious and cultural persecution by Syrian-Greek oppressors, who seized the temple in Jerusalem. It was recaptured in 165 B.C., but when it was time to rededicate the temple, only one cruse of undefiled oil was found to rekindle the eternal light. The oil that was enough for one day miraculously lasted for eight.

The idea of meshing the holidays is appreciated by Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin, founder of the Jewish Discovery Center in Brandon.

"I've always liked how both of them have a similar message, that no one can dictate how we should believe," Rubashkin said.

"This year not only can we celebrate our right to practice our religion back in Israel, but also our freedom of religion in the United States."

Rare convergence of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah brings twist to holidays 11/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, November 23, 2013 10:18pm]

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