'It's a lovely combination' -- Thanksgiving and Hanukkah converge

The rare convergence of two holidays, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, graces the calendar this year for the first time since 1888, and for the last time for thousands of years.

But Rabbi Michelle Werner, of B'nai Israel Synagogue, in Rochester, smiles when talk turns to the statistical improbability of it all.

"The numbers are fun, sure, but there's more to it than that," Werner said. "It's in what we bring to the events. That's the significance."

"Thanksgiving is unifying, helps preserve our national identity, a shared symbol that helps us find who we are as Americans, while Hanukkah has always had a message of humility, too," Werner said. "It's a lovely combination. Together, the two can enrich your experience. They are a real compliment to each other."

Each holiday emphasizes the importance of putting others first.


"This will be a chance to be reminded it truly is not just about us," Werner said. "We have a saying, `No more than my place, no less than my space.' Humility is a reflection of what God wants on the earth."

Rabbi Dovid Greene of Chabad Lubavitch in Rochester couldn't agree more with that sentiment, the universal message that good overcomes evil being a big part of what Hanukkah recalls over its eight days and eight nights celebration.

The Second Book of Maccabees records that, against all odds, the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Second Temple in Jerusalem after it had been looted and services stopped. In 167 B.C., Antiochus, a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 B.C. until his death in 164, erected an altar to Zeus in the temple, banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar.

Antiochus's actions provoked a large-scale revolt. The temple was then liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event.

According to the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil. An eight-day festival was then declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

It's known as Hanukkah or Chanukah and commemorates the rededication. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

"Hanukkah is more about being thankful than you might realize," said Greene, a rabbi since 1988. "But then again, Thanksgiving, too, is inspirational in that it's celebrated by everyone and it's all about giving thanks. There's some surrender in that, for sure, but it does not make us weaker."

No matter the name of the holiday.


Tim Grice is a Rochester freelance writer.


Hanukkah event

What: Chanukah on Ice, including a menorah lighting, skating, music, entertainment and kosher food.

When: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Rochester Recreation Center, 21 Elton Hills Drive N.W.

Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for children.

Sponsor: Chabad Lubavitch of Rochester.


More information: Call 507-288-7500 or go online,

Thanksgiving? Hanukkah? Try 'Thanksgivvukah'

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