Lighting the Chanukah Menorah at Thanksgiving Dinner

Kids playing games at last year's celebration.

Families play games during last year’s Thanksgiving celebration.

By Dena Schusterman

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It is a holiday that is obviously more than Pilgrims and turkey. It is a story of an arduous journey to escape religious persecution for freedom in a new land, the establishment of a democratic charter and the sense of Divine providence that carried the Pilgrims through their plight.

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah shares this narrative. The story occurred during the era of the second Temple that stood in Jerusalem during the second century BC. The secular Greek Hellenists oppressed any group that wished to practice their religion. The Jews in Israel were particularly targeted for abuse. A small group of Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees led by their leader Judah rose up against their oppressors and miraculously brought about freedom for their brethren in the holy land. The Jewish people won this battle for religious freedom in their own land and immediately thanked G?d for the miracles that enabled this victory.

As a Jewish preschool, we don’t share in the seasonal holiday excitement in October and December that is prevalent in every shop window, catalogue and thematic academic units. I must admit sometimes we feel left out. Not so with Thanksgiving.  This is an American holiday with a universal message and one that we take seriously at the Intown Jewish Preschool.

Each Thanksgiving we invite our grandparents or older special people in our lives, to join the preschool for a holiday lunch. Our special older guests have a stronger connection to the past and are important links in a chain going back generation to generation.

We look to the adults in our life to help us understand the past so we can be grateful for the present and enrich our future. Celebrating with our grandparents means that we create personal invitations and decorate our school to welcome them. The children are involved in cooking and baking the feast, learning songs and engaging in grandparent appropriate activities.

This year, our annual Grandparent’s Day Thanksgiving Feast will be no different. It will actually be better, enhanced by a special flavor of the uniquely Jewish holiday called Chanukah.  Much ado is being made of this convergence of epic holidays. President Lincoln established the first official holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863, and since1888 we have not celebrated the two holidays together. It is impossible to determine if the two holidays will ever coincide again. Aside from the lighthearted commentary on the coincidence of these two holidays converging, there is a deeper connection between the two.

So this year, together with our grandparents and special elders, the children at IJP will construct creative menorahs, say the blessings and light them, while we enjoy our Thanksgiving feast. Life is good for a Jew in America, and for this we are truly thankful.

Dena Schusterman is the director of Intown Jewish Preschool

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