Jacob Garber: Thanksgivukkah: The two holidays are more similar than we realize

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Jewish households around the country will use this Seinfeld-esque greeting Thursday, as Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah fall on the same day. The fourth Thursday of November comes late and Hanukkah begins abnormally early, creating an overlap that hasn’t occurred since 1888.

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For many Jewish Americans, this is a big deal. This conflation of holidays is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Actually, it’s much longer than a lifetime, as it won’t happen again for over 77,000 years, according to some estimates.

And as many Jewish mothers and a handful of major news organizations have pointed out, this combination holds many great culinary possibilities. Sitting around our dinner table this week, my family will eat our matzo ball soup with a side of stuffing and drink our Manischewitz with a slice of pumpkin pie. But when it comes to traditions and history, I worry which holiday will fall by the wayside.

The roots of Thanksgiving and the often unspoken history of Jews in the U.S. turn Thanksgivukkah into a dark joke that will, thankfully, not return for thousands of years.

Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah hold great cultural and historical significance, each paying tribute to important historical events and perennial lessons. But solving the tension between these holidays is not as easy as putting food from two different traditions on the same table.

Although Thanksgiving is supposed to celebrate a happy harmony among the cultures in the U.S., racism and persecution that still exist today looms over the holiday. We imagine the turkey dinner among colonists and Native Americans, but in reality Native Americans have faced systemic discrimination and other atrocities for hundreds of years.

And it still resonates today. Just look at the disrespectful name of D.C.’s football team. Look at the rampant violence, crime and failing education on many Native American reservations.

This week, as I light the menorah and scoop some cranberry sauce, I am afraid that I won’t be able to reconcile the historical racism of Thanksgiving and the Jews’ own history of hardship in the U.S.

Ivy League universities put quotas on the number of Jews they would accept in the 1920s, and the government put limitations on the number of Jews who could immigrate to the United States to escape the Holocaust.

And just two weeks ago, the United States attorney’s office started investigating reports of “rampant anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment” in a New York school district.

I know that these histories are only a part of the traditions of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and perhaps even small ones. They should be discussed, but they won’t come up at my family dinner.

What is more likely when I sit down at the table is that my brother will tell me what his high school classes are like, we’ll all enjoy the sweet aromas coming from my kitchen and I’ll realize nobody is considering these conflicts. And it won’t be because my family doesn’t care, but rather because, like many American families, these holidays aren’t really about their histories. Rather, they are excuses to bring people together.

For me – and likely many – this Thanksgivukkah break will have little to do with the holidays themselves. Perhaps it makes me a bad American and Jew to say this, but these holidays hold more importance in their ability to bring families and communities around the same table.

For many, the holidays won’t really be about about Judaism or patriotism. They will be about taking a break, eating a heavy meal and getting enough sleep to get through finals and make it to Christmas.

The writer, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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