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Dreidels and Drumsticks

By Stephanie G. Franklin

This year, November 28 marks something truly phenomenal. For fascinating reasons relating to the interaction of the Gregorian and lunar calendars, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will coincide for the first time in over a century, and the last time for millennia. The holiday, in all its glory, has come to be known as Thanksgivukkah. Excitement has proliferated, with recipe contests, themed gear, and cheesy videos popping up across the Internet.

Personally, I cannot contain my excitement at the prospect of celebrating multiple great holidays on one magnificent day. To my dismay, however, Steven Colbert did not share in my enthusiasm. In a segment titled “Thanksgiving Under Attack,” he lamented Hanukkah’s invasion of Thanksgiving. And at the risk of seeming like I don’t get satire, I’d like to respectfully disagree with Mr. Colbert.

Perhaps I’m biased, as my birthday happens to fall on this day as well, but in my mind, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coinciding will be nothing other than a blissful union of cranberry sauce and latkes (and birthday cake). The holidays are actually very similar, as both center around an idealized story embellished to make it seem more positive. Every year in elementary school I learned an over-simplified version of the peaceful coexistence of Native Americans and the Pilgrims, and every year in Hebrew school I learned about the incredible triumph of the Maccabees.

Additionally, as my family’s tour guide on a trip to Israel explained, every Jewish holiday can be summed up in three sentences: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”  I can’t think of any secular holiday that so perfectly encapsulates this Jewish idea of celebrating through food like Thanksgiving does. In fact, Buzzfeed has conveniently provided a list of recipes creatively merging traditional Hanukkah and Thanksgiving cuisines. Furthermore, both holidays are times in which we traditionally get together with our extended families to celebrate. The overall compatibility of the two is astounding, and, in my mind, if there’s more reason to celebrate, we can’t possibly complain.

However, while I don’t feel much sympathy for Steven Colbert’s inability to draw a “hand-menorah,” the idea of merging Thanksgiving and Hanukkah does bring up larger issues of Jewish culture in America.  A study released by the Pew Research Center at the beginning of the month found that the prevalence of religious Jews in America is declining.  Specifically, the study noted rising trends in intermarriage and in Jews who identify as having “no religion.”

My excitement over Thanksgivukkah arguably betrays my status as one of these problematic secular Jews. I see my Judaism as simply another part of my overall culture, capable of being molded to fit my life as a regular American in the most convenient way.  Thus, some might argue, it’s problematic that I get my ideas for how to observe a Jewish holiday from Buzzfeed instead of from the Talmud— that I see Jewish culture as so adaptable into secular American culture. However, just as I don’t view celebrating two holidays at once as an inherent problem, I don’t believe this study poses as much of an issue as it might initially seem.

The study cites a rise in “religion-less Jews” and a rise in intermarriage, but these factors themselves are not necessarily negatives. The only reason these phenomena are considered bad by some is because they signify declining Jewish religiosity in this country.  However, the United States is currently experiencing a decline in religious affiliation across all faiths. American culture is already wearing down on strict religious observance.

Moreover, intermarriage and purely cultural Judaism can actually serve to benefit Judaism as a whole, by making the religion more accessible in the first place. If we want more people to become involved in the Jewish religion, then we shouldn’t turn away people at the fringes. While we should continue to make an effort to promote more advanced Jewish education among American Jews, we must be careful; if we send the message that only strict observance of Judaism is acceptable, many people will not receive enough initial exposure to be able to seek this further education.

In fact, some have recognized the potential to spread and promote Judaism in none other than Thanksgivukkah, believing that the overlap will cause more people to recognize Hanukkah and learn about Jewish culture. Jewishboston.com even created a website dedicated to spreading the word about the holiday.  The impact may be small, but the message is the same—increased accessibility is a good thing.

Finally, the assimilated Jewish culture is still a valid one that ought to be appreciated for what it is. There is no reason to say one culture is more valid than another, and while it’s great to encourage religious observance, this shouldn’t come at the expense of those who choose to be less observant. The merging of Jewish and American culture is a complicated issue, but the experience this November is sure to be worthwhile.  And if it allows Jewish families to have twice the food this Thanksgiving break, then it certainly can’t be a bad thing.

Stephanie G. Franklin ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Dunster House.

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