Monday, November 18, 2013

Chanukah’s Attitude of Gratitude

It's that time of year again, isn't it? Even here, in beautiful and sunny Southern California, the weather starts to change. The days are rainier, the nights are cooler and if you're perceptive enough, you'll see leaves subtly changing colors. In this month of November it's impossible to overlook that most American of holidays; of course I'm referring to Chanukah.

No, I'm of course referring to Thanksgiving! But I will take this moment to mention what has consistently placed in the top three topics of Jewish conversation since late summer: How early the holidays are this year, especially Chanukah. 

We all know that Chanukah is indeed "early" this year: its first night is the evening of Wednesday, November 27th, and the very next day is Thanksgiving. And just like that, we American Jews are presented with a rare and auspicious opportunity to celebrate two very different holidays with very similar themes of thankfulness, bravery, and religious freedom. 

The Maccabees challenged Ancient Greece's overwhelming military forces in pursuit of their own religious freedom, much as the Pilgrims set sail in pursuit of their understanding of religious freedom. Chanukah celebrates the bravery of the Maccabees and their retaking, purifying, and rededicating Jerusalem's Ancient Temple; all culminating with, as Jewish Tradition tells it: the discovery of that one remaining cruse of untouched oil lasting a miraculous eight nights. Thanksgiving's celebration is also one of bravery: the bravery of two very different peoples, the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, courageously trusting and joining with each other to, as American Tradition tells it: sit down together for the first Thanksgiving meal. There is certainly much to celebrate. 

Yet, many of us may feel conflicted, questioning how “Tradition tells it” and wondering if it's the literal and factual account of events. Not only is that okay, it is good and thoroughly Jewish to ask questions. However, there is one crucial element within both holidays that actually discourages us from questioning one thing in particular, and that is: gratitude.

Both holidays strive to inspire a deep sense of appreciation. But appreciation and thankfulness can be hard to find within ourselves when life leaves us feeling bereft, lost, and alone; when life is more lemons than lemonade. Which is why both holidays also emphasize bravery, courage, and trust: to be brave like those before us; to have the courage it often takes to feel truly thankful; and to fully trust those in your life by sharing it with them.

Our two holidays, Thanksgiving and Chanukah, strongly encourage us to feel grateful. But to feel grateful we must be grateful. As your Chanukah Menorah, or Chanukiah, illumines this year's Thanksgiving, may one remind you to be brave, and may the other remind you to be grateful. Chanukah Sa’mayach – Happy Chanukah! And Happy Thanksgiving!

No comments: