Thanksgivukkah. We’ve been hearing a lot about it lately. From yam latkes to cranberry filled sufganiot, this historic confluence of holidays has created a lot of playful buzz these last few weeks. Now I like a good menurkey as much as the next guy, but I believe there’s a poignant message behind this mash up of festivities which we Jews should be considering too.
Chanukah commemorates a time when the Jewish people overcame a regime that prohibited studying Torah and observing Jewish law. Jewish history is, of course, replete with similar bans and persecutions for the crime of being an observant Jew. From the Greeks to the Romans to the Crusades, from the Spanish Inquisition, to the Cossak Massacres and Soviet Russia. There haven’t been many countries in our long, tear-soaked history that afforded us the luxury to live our lives as practicing Jews, without fear of interference.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, offers us the chance to acknowledge that this great country of ours is such a rare, treasured safe haven. It commemorates a celebration held by a people who fled their homeland seeking religious freedom–a freedom that was enshrined in our Bill of Rights upon America’s establishment, some 150 years later.
Yet despite the historic freedoms in America today, we are plagued by an epidemic just as dangerous as anti-Semitism – Jewish apathy. According to the recent Pew Study on American Jewry, 81% of Jews don’t believe that Torah is an essential part of their Judaism. In fact, a larger percentage of Jews in the U.S. today believe that having a good sense of humor is more essential to being Jewish than observing Jewish law. We are finally free – after all this time(!) – to study and practice Judaism to our heart’s content, but most of us couldn’t care less.
Unfortunately, the majority of American Jews don’t just suffer from Jewish apathy, but also from Jewish ignorance. It’s not that they partook of Torah learning and rejected it. It’s not that they lived a life of mitzvos, but decided it wasn’t for them. They have simply discarded their heritage sight unseen.
And that is why this Thanksgivikkuh I have one simple wish: that American Jewry take advantage of the freedoms which we have been granted and attempt to understand what about our Torah is so profound that our ancestors were willing to sacrifice everything in order to maintain it and pass it on to us.
If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.
Excellent point. To reference a common sentiment on the freedom to choose how one will observe Jewish law and customs: "informed choice" implies that one is informed enough to make educated decisions. Too many of us make Jewish choices — or choices by default — without exploring deeply into our beautiful traditions, wisdom, and history. Thank you, Allison, for all you're doing to encourage people to learn more.
For those who have some familiarity with "yeshivish," there's an excellent group of free downloads on the Yeshiva University website called Chanuka To Go. You can download groups of articles going back several years, or choose individual articles. This year, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveitchik offers "God's Providence and the United States: A Thanksgiving Reader on Judaism and the American Idea." This excellent essay demonstrates the deep roots of the U.S. — and the tradition of thanksgiving — in the Tanakh, and includes amazing facts such as: the first court case around religious freedom in the U.S. was that of a Jew who had been called to testify in court on Shabbat (courts were in session on Saturdays back then); William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, had a Christian Bible commentary written by an early English Puritan scholar. This commentary referred to Maimonides and his _Mishneh Torah_ when discussing the obligation to give thanks, based on Psalm 107. Amazing. (During the 1600s and 1700s there was a surge in European Christian scholars who learned Hebrew and studied Jewish texts, including Kabbalah. They were called Christian Hebraists. One of them was Sir Isaac Newton.)
Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Very beautifully said Allison. Thank you for all that you do!
Thank you Allison, for this beautifully written article. I just couldn’t help feeling pained, thinking the whole time I was reading it- What about Israel? Hasn’t history proven Israel is the only country that can really be a ‘safe haven’ for the Jewish nation? It saddens me that when you write “this great country of ours” you are referring to America, and not to Israel, which actually is “our” (all Jews of the world) personal country. Israel too is a very rare and amazing country, and when you think of how the Maccabees fought so hard to protect their right to live by the Torah in the Land of Israel, you realize how blessed we are today to have the opportunity to live freely as Jews in the land of our forefathers- Israel.
Happy Hannukah and Thanksgiving to all:)
Thanks for your comment, Gila. First off, let me just state for the record that I love Israel. I don’t think saying that I love America should God forbid imply that I don’t love Israel too. Secondly, this was a post about Thanksgivukkah, which is connected to America. Third – America is different than Israel because it is non-Jews who are allowing us to live freely. In Israel we are in control. We should have a lot of gratitude for that. Could things change, God forbid, of course. But while we are being treated well, we should feel grateful and use our freedoms to the upmost.