Hanukkah, Thanksgiving on same day a 'once-in-a-lifetime occurrence'

2013-11-27T17:00:00Z 2013-11-28T23:10:08Z Hanukkah, Thanksgiving on same day a 'once-in-a-lifetime occurrence'Lu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 27, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

It hasn’t happened since 1918 and won’t occur again until 2070.

Two holidays that revolve around family and gratitude — the first full day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving – are being celebrated Thursday.

Hanukkah always begins the evening before the first full day, said Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, of Chabad of Northwest Indiana based in Munster. On Wednesday evening, Jewish families gathered to light the first candle on the menorah in a tradition that dates back centuries.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for Hanukkah and Thanksgiving to coincide,” Zalmanov said.

However, he said, “It’s no coincidence. We don’t believe in coincidences. We look for a lesson, which is to always give thanks.”

Although the date of Hanukkah changes according to the secular calendar, it is always the same date in the Hebrew calendar, the 25th day of Kislev, Zalmanov said.

“Our calendar follows the lunar cycle. When you look up and see the full moon, we are in the middle of a month,” the rabbi said.

Hanukkah can begin as early as Nov. 27, as it does this year, or through late December near Christmas.

The actual date of Thanksgiving also changes but is celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah share the emphasis on gratitude for life, liberty, family and religious freedom, Zalmanov said.

What Americans call “the first Thanksgiving” was celebrated in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation by the 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans after their first harvest in the New World, said Rabbi Emeritus Michael Stevens, of Temple-Beth El in Munster.

The New England colonists celebrated “thanksgivings” regularly, Stevens said. These days of prayer thanked God for such blessings as a military victory, the end of drought or a good harvest.

Often called the Festival of the Lights, the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah commemorates a revolution against assimilation of the Hebrew people and the suppression of the Jewish religion that occurred in ancient Israel during the 2nd Century BCE (Before the Common Era), Zalmanov said.

A small group of Jewish freedom fighters fought for two decades to defeat the Assyrian Greek armies of Antiochus IV Epiphane that occupied Israel and defiled the Temple. The miracle of lights refers to one day of consecrated oil that burned for eight days after the Temple was taken back and cleansed, he said.

That eight-day period is symbolized by the eight letters in the festival’s name, Hanukkah or Chanukah, and in the eight candles of the menorah.

The menorah’s ninth candle, called the shamash or servant candle, is used to light the others, Zalmanov said. As the sun goes down each of the eight days, the flame of a new candle provides added increased light to the world, he said.

“We are asked to put the menorah where it can be seen to bring the warmth and joy of Chanukah to everyone. It’s a small light that grows in the world,” Zalmanov said.

The Zalmanov family has been involved in bringing the light of Hanukkah to the area for the past 10 years.

Recently, the rabbi again put up a 9-foot menorah in front of the family home along Ridge Road. He also assembled a wooden menorah at the Munster branch of the Lake County Public Library.

“This is a family holiday,” Zalmanov said. “The word Hanukkah comes from a (Hebrew) root word that means education.”

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