Tonight’s sundown marks the start of one of the most confusing holidays to spell – Hanukkah! Or Chanukah. Or Chanukkah. But that’s not all. For the first time since 1888, and not to be repeated for 79,043 years, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday each November in the United States, occur on the same day. Some verbal wits on social media have dubbed this very rare occurrence as …drum roll…”Hanu-giving.” Others are calling it “Thanksgivukkah.” Whatever the favorite, at least it has 79,043 years to catch on.
In fact, Hanukkah holds a unique place in Jewish history. This ancient Jewish holiday marks the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Commemorating the Jewish victory over the Seleucids, Jews today celebrate Hanukkah as a reminder of the courage and perseverance of their ancestors in the face of religious persecution.
Seleucid Rule and the Maccabean Wars
In about 200 B.C.E, Judea came under the control of the Seleucid Empire, which was formed after the death of Alexander the Great and encompassed modern-day Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and parts of Turkey, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. At first, Jews continued to practice their religion in peace despite their new ruler. In fact, many Jews were eager to learn Greek philosophy and exercise in the Gymnasium.
However, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power in 168 B.C.E. things changed. Antiochus IV ordered the Jews to participate in Greek religion, replaced the Temple in Jerusalem with an altar to Zeus, and slaughtered thousands of people in his takeover. The Jewish priest Mattathias could not stand to see his people and his religion destroyed. He and his five sons organized a rebellion against Antiochus IV. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E, his son Judah Maccabee, aka “The Hammer,” took over. Using guerilla warfare and cunning tactics, the Maccabees won after two years of war with the Seleucids. It should be noted that some modern scholars believe there was already an ongoing civil war between the traditionalist Jews and the Hellenized Jews, which the Seleucids became involved with after tensions were already high in Judea.
The Miracle of Light
You may have heard Hanukkah referred to as the Festival of Lights. This has to do with what came after the war, during the re-building of Jerusalem. Fresh from victory but also weary from war, the Jews returned to their Temple to discover that it had been destroyed and the pots of oil smashed. They set to work cleaning and repairing the building, and rededicating the sacred space. The word Hanukkah actually means “dedication” in Hebrew. When it came time to light the temple menorah, they could only find enough oil to last one day. In what the Jews believed to be a miracle, that one pot of oil lasted for eight nights instead of one. This gave them enough time to procure more oil and inspired an eight-day celebration to commemorate the miracle.
Today, Jews still celebrate the Maccabee’s victory and the miracle of light for eight nights. Using a special menorah called the hanukiah, one candle of the menorah is lit each night at sundown, until the final night when all eight candles plus the shamash, which is the candle used to light the others each night, burn brightly. Another Hanukkah tradition is to eat fried foods, again celebrating the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights instead of one. The most popular are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).
Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and the World of Social Media
Because the Jewish calendar is based on both the lunar and solar cycles, the dates of Hannukkah change every year. As we mentioned earlier, for the only time in our lifetimes, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide. What better opportunity to create a social media phenomenon? Credited with starting the Thanksgivukkah fete is Dana Gitell, who through Facebook and other social media has indeed whipped up an original holiday drawing from 2,000 years of tradition. What would be her favorite mash-up feast to celebrate Thanksgivukkah? Fried turkey, sweet potato latkes with cranberry sauce, tsimmes with marshmallows, green bean kugel and pumpkin sufganiyot.
To read an interview with Dana Gitell, go to http://thanksgivukkahboston.com/four-questions-with-dana-gitell-creator-of-thanksgivukkah-com/
And check out the comments on the Thanksgivukkah Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Thanksgivukkah
Also, please enjoy our recipe for (vegan!) latkes adapted from the wonderful recipe by Isa Moskowitz at The Post Punk Kitchen and join us in honoring the diversity of cultures and religions throughout the world!
Makes about 18
- 2 1/2 pounds starchy white potatoes, peeled (russets, idaho, et al)
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled
- 1/4 cup potato or corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups matzoh meal
- Lots of vegetable oil
*Optional: because Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide this year, think about trading ¼ cup of the potatoes for sweet potatoes or butternut squash!
- If using a food processor, use the grating blade to shred the potatoes and the onion.
- If shredding by hand, use a grater to shred all the potatoes. Dice the onion as finely as possible.
- Have ready brown paper shopping bags or paper towels for draining the oil from the latkes. You may also want to have the oven on at 200 F to keep the latkes warm until you’re ready to serve. If serving immediately then just have a baking pan covered with tin foil ready to keep the finished ones warm after they’ve been drained.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon or your hands mix the potatoes and onions with the potato starch until the potatoes have released some moisture and the starch is dissolved, about 2 minutes.
- Add the salt and pepper to combine.
- Add the matzoh meal and mix well.
- Set aside for about 10 minutes to let the liquid and starch combine and become
- While the mixture sits, pre-heat a large cast iron (or other non-stick) skillet over
- medium heat, a little bit on the high side.
- Add about 1/4 inch layer of vegetable oil to the pan. The oil is hot enough when you throw a bit of batter in and bubbles rapidly form around it. If it immediately smokes then the heat is too high and you should lower it a bit. If the bubbles are really lazy then give it a few more minutes or turn the heat up a bit.
- With wet hands (so that the mixture doesn’t stick) roll the potato mixture into small, golf ball sized balls. Flatten into thin round patties.
- Lower the patties into the oil using a large fork or slotted spoon.
- Fry on one side for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip over and fry for
- another 3 minutes.
- Transfer to the paper towels and proceed with the remaining latkes. Once latkes have drained on both sides, place in a baking pan to keep warm.