Today is a special day. It seems innocent enough being a Wednesday and all. It's tomorrow that's the big show... the parade, the meal, the football. So what's special about today? My Jewish friends are calling it "erev Thanksgiving," the evening before Thanksgiving. It is the first night of the festival of Hanukkah with its hallmark eight consecutive nights of lighting candles on a special menorah.
This convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah is very rare. Indeed it is a one time occurance for those of us alive now. The dates coincided in 1861, or 1866, or 1888 depending on what source one is using. Why won't it happen in the future? Well it will but only tens of thousands of year from now. For more on the Gregorian and Shmuelian (Jewish) calendars and why these holidays will do not often converges check out this article "Why Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Will Never Again Coincide" by Dr. Joel Hoffman. But I digress...
The more immediate implications of this convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are very eloquently expressed in Dr. Howard Berman's oped in the Boston Herald this week. Rabbi Berman is a student of history and an avid teacher of all things Jewish and historic particularly as they relate to the unique experience of American Jews. He serves both as Rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston and Executive Director of The Society for Classical Reform Judaism.
Hit article "Give Thanks for Religious Freedom" reminds us that this country was founded on the premise that everyone should be able to exercise their freedom to worship and live by the values of their own faith traditions. Speaking of the historic Touro Synangogue in Newport, Rhode Island Rabbi Berman recalls a letter written to that congregation. "It was to this congregation that George Washington wrote his famous 1790 letter, with its immortal declaration that the government of the new United States was committed to moving far beyond mere tolerance in its recognition of the natural rights of every citizen, and would 'give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.'”
All of this seems particularly poignant as the right wing fundamentalist Christian forces in the United States have shifted their rhetoric to demand their right to religious freedom broaden to limit the rights of the rest of us. It's important to remember that we don't all agree even within one denomination much less within faith traditions. There is a diversity of opinion and practice often within a single congregation. So let's just all take a breath... and enjoy some light and laughter and turkey... for just one day.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil to light the lamps for one night lasted for eight nights. As we light candles and say prayers in my house tonight we will give thanks that we can live in peace, celebrating two faith traditions, in the same country that was founded on the premise of religious freedom for all.
Giving thanks for our freedom as Americans this week let us recommit ourselves to ensuring that our government upholds the highest ideals of humankind. Ethical government does not allow corporations to deny women reproductive healthcare. Ethical government does not favor the rich and burden the poor. Ethical government gives a damn that our citizens commit suicide for lack of mental healthcare and that the homeless starve or freeze to death in the cold. It's time we stopped allowing the media to give the microphone to the selfish, self serving right wing fundamentalists of Christianity and calling that "fair and balanced" coverage of these topics.
As I say the ancient prayers in Hebrew tonight with my Rabbi partner we will be giving thanks for what the United States can become and recommitting ourselves to working for religious freedom for everyone, not just the vocal few. I invite you to do the same.
Learn more about The Society for Classical Reform Judaism at www.renewreform.org. And if you're in the Boston area be sure to enjoy Central Reform Temple of Boston's annual holiday offering "A Light Through the Ages" at 4:00pm on Sunday, December 2, 2103 at the shared home of Central Reform Temple and Emmanual Church, 15 Newbury Street, Boston.