If you've been online at all this month, you can't have missed reading about Thanksgivukkah -- the newly-minted holiday located at the freak intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah this Nov. 28.
Last year, Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist in Albuquerque, did the math and demonstrated (with graphs!) that the coincidence of Hanukkah on the lunar Hebrew calender and Thanksgiving on the solar Gregorian calendar is so rare that it will not happen again until the year 79,811 — and then only if the Jewish calendar is not somehow reset to ensure that Passover remains a springtime holiday. (yes, the Hebrew calendar is slipping, as this Jewschool post explains, in some detail).
It's all sort of silly, with a Facebook page dedicated to the faux holiday and widely-publicized foodie celebrations across the country creating Thanksgivukkah menus -- pumpkin-filled sufganiot in L.A., latke-encrusted turkey cutlets in San Francisco, and online recipes for kasha with smoked turkey, butternut squash in bourbon (Haaretz), latkes with cranberry applesauce, Maneschewitz-brined roast turkey, challah-apple stuffing, and roasted brussels sprouts with pastrami and pickled red onion. (Buzzfeed.com).
The most Thanksgivukkah-est city ever is Boston, where marketing specialist Dana Gitell first coined the term (if you need proof, just visit thanksgivukkahboston.com); Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has promised to proclaim Nov. 28 “Thanksgivukkah Day" throughout the city.
New England Jews can claim some interesting parallels between the the Pilgrims who settled their part of the country and the Maccabees -- both were, after all, activitists willing to risk their lives for religious freedom. Kol HaLev Education Director Robyn Novick pointed me in the direction of Deanna Mirsky's "The Truth About Pilgrims and Maccabees," which argues while the Plymouth Pilgrims didn't celebrate Hanukkah, they certainly knew about the Maccabees because the Pilgrims as dedicated scholars of Hebrew and Judaica. Mirsky asks us to think beyond turkey and cranberries this Thanksgiving: "Ask 'Mi yemalel?' ('Who can recount the brave deeds of Israel?'). And answer: 'They could and did at Plymouth.'"
Is there something more serious than humor and hype hiding behind this giddy explosion of culinary, scholarly and entrepreneurial energy? (Did I mention the kid who raised money on Kickstarter to produce a turkey-shaped hanukkiah called the menurkey?)
I'm thinking that there is, if only because the excitement which has bubbled up spontaneously around a more-or-less random mash-up of Jewish and American cultural narratives feels real. Joking aside, there's a reason Thanksgivukkah has fueled the imagination of Jewish America: it's because it expresses our legitimate pleasure in the good forturne of being a Jew in America, the one place in the Diaspora -- and arguably in the entire Jewish world -- where, it is relatively safe -- OK, even a blessing! -- to be Jewish.
I'll say it: The U.S. is still one of the best places in the world to be if you're a Jew-- otherwise, we'd all be lining up on the runway to make aliyah, and we're not. And yet, it's no longer really OK to express this degree of unambivalent pleasure in being an American Jew. We're all supposed to want to end the diaspora and go "home" to a place the vast majority of us haven't come from, urged on by an unfortunate trend in the larger Jewish world to characterize American Jews as cowards who lack the commitment to live as Jews in the place where it's really tough to be Jewish -- in Israel.
For generations, the de facto meme of Yiddish and Jewish-American song and literature was the celebration of American as the goldene medina (the golden country, though perhaps it never turned out to be golden in exactly the way one imagined back in the shtetl). In recent decades, however, songs of the golden streets of America have been drowned out by a different tune -- the cultural myth of the State of Israel as the only true apotheosis of modern Jewish life.
I'm not trying to be controversial, really. All I'm suggesting, is that the wildfire popularity of Thanksgivukkah among American Jews reveals our secret wish to be allowed to be American, to take a break from "Next year in Jerusalem" and celebrate the the fact that right here, right now -- and for some of us, going back several generations -- the land of the Pilgrims has been pretty good to us.