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November 18, 2013

Hanukkah, Thanksgiving: a holiday convergence

Well-established holiday traditions fuse in a rare gift from calendar

TERRE HAUTE — Menorah + Turkey = Menurkey.

Go on, say it.

It’s catchy. And a 9-year-old boy came up with it.

A menurkey is a turkey-shaped menorah, which Asher Weintraub, a New York City fourth-grader, thought of, designed and named to celebrate the rare convergence this year of Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah, an eight-night Jewish festival (also known as the Festival of Lights).

Many refer to this convergence by another, unique name: Thanksgivukkah.

Some sources, including the Menurkey website (by the makers of the turkey-shaped menorah), claim that this year is the only time this intersection has ever occurred.

“The reason Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will overlap this year is because the Jewish calendar repeats on a 19-year cycle, and Thanksgiving repeats on a 7-year cycle. You would therefore expect them to coincide roughly every 19x7 = 133 years,” the website states.

“Which is correct – the last time it would have happened is 1861. But Thanksgiving was only formally established by President Lincoln in 1863 (which is why it has never happened before),” it continued.

Media reports by the Associated Press and The Washington Post, however, say that the last time the convergence of the two holidays happened was in 1888, and the next time it will happen may be 79,000 years from now.

The Menurkey website claims it may never happen again.

But regardless of when it happened before or when it will happen again, it is still a rare occurrence this year that some people are excited about.

Terre Haute residents Jan and Herschel Chait purchased a menurkey and put it on displayed in their home.

In the front, the menurkey just looks like a turkey (which appears to be made of plaster), but on the back is the menorah. The couple added colorful candles to it.

Since the convergence of the two holidays is so rare, and this year is the first time a menurkey has ever been produced, “I think of it as a novelty item,” said Herschel Chait, an associate professor of management at Indiana State University, at his home on Friday.

One source says that “the next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070,” according to the Lubavitch of Indiana’s website.

Jan Chait said if it occurs, then she can pass the menurkey down to her grandchildren.

“If somebody doesn’t break it this year,” she pointed out.

The family celebrates both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, so its dinner table this year will be filled with dishes celebrating the “fusion.”

“I’ve already made pumpkin challah,” Jan said about the traditional Jewish bread.

She said she can take the traditional food from one holiday and combine it with a traditional ingredient from the other.

Another family is planning to incorporate this fusion to its “Thanksgivukkah” table.

Elle Muhlbaum, a student rabbi at the United Hebrew Congregation in Terre Haute, said she also plans to have pumpkin challah. She will also add potato pancakes served with cranberry apple sauce (traditionally served with just apple sauce or sour cream) to her menu.

She will incorporate the “flavor of Thanksgiving in the Hanukkah meal.”

But the decorations will also reflect the special, once-in-a-lifetime (at least our lifetime) occurrence.

Muhlbaum said that her home will combine harvest colors with the blue and silver of Hannukah “for the first time this year.”

“Here we have the unique opportunity to celebrate them [the two holidays] together,” Muhlbaum, who learned about Thanksgivukkah after it became “this Internet phenomenon,” said.

And it is only fitting to celebrate them together, Muhlbaum said, because both holidays are a time of thanksgiving.

“On Thanksgiving, thousands of American families sit around bountiful tables, sharing elements of their life for which they’re thankful. On Chanukah, we commemorate the miraculous lighting power of a tiny volume of oil providing light in the Temple,” Muhlbaum wrote in a United Hebrew Congregation monthly journal.

“In each holiday, we can reflect for things we feel thankful for,” she added.

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