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What the Lights Mean
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past few months, you know that next week will bring the highly improbable convergence of two beloved holidays — Thanksgiving and Chanukah.
Both holidays celebrate what we now take for granted: the victory of religious freedom over oppression. But now that we’ve got what hasn’t been easy to come by, what matters most is what we do with it.
No time in our history outside of Israel have we Jews been as free to worship, gather and succeed as we have in this country. It hasn’t always come easily and battles still remain — battles over the separation of church and state, battles against ignorance, battles against anti-Semitism.
But as a people, we enjoy unprecedented freedom to pursue our political, economic, academic, social and cultural ambitions. The quotas that not so long ago excluded our parents and grandparents from private schools, law firms, universities and country clubs have all been eradicated.
But as the boundaries that once separated us from other Americans have been erased, we have the freedom to opt out of our cultural and religious heritage. Too many of us are doing just that.
The convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah affords us the opportunity to reflect how we as Americans can at once cherish our dual roles as good citizens of this land of freedom — and as active members of our particular Jewish community.
Yes, we might be sick of the hype surrounding “Thanksgivukkah,” but we can delve beyond the commercialism to use this unusual confluence of our secular and Jewish calendars to appreciate and celebrate both the common and distinct themes each holiday presents.
As we light this year’s Chanukah candles — whether before, after or during our Thanksgiving festivities — let’s remember what those candles symbolize: bringing light to the world through a Jewish lens; celebrating the hard-fought victory of our ancestors over assimilation and over those who sought to quash our Jewish practices; and rekindling the promise of a bright future.
Chanukah may have become an over-emphasized holiday in America and certainly the fixation on gifts is in response to its usual proximity to Christmas. This year, with no need to compete with Christmas, we can reflect on the holiday on its own terms — and in concert with another celebration that reminds us to be thankful for the freedom that allows us to be fully participating Jews in America.
So bring on the turkey and the latkes. Happy Chanukah and Happy Thanksgiving!