In a rare holiday phenomenon, Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlap this year—for the first time since 1918. Chanukah begins on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27, with the second night of candle-lighting, for many Jewish Americans, taking place over a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

That means there’s even more to be thankful for in a season marked by an appreciation of national freedom and a Jewish celebration of a long-ago battle over religious freedom.

Chanukah, which runs through Thursday, Dec. 5, celebrates the miracles that occurred in Jerusalem after the Maccabees vanquished the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who defiled the Holy Temple and sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. A small jug of pure oil—sufficient to last for only one day—miraculously lasted for eight, enough time for more oil to be made to enable the Jewish people to rededicate their Temple.

Today, Jews around the world add a candle to their menorahs each night for eight nights.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl and his wife, Bluma, co-directors of Chabad of Mineola in Mineola, N.Y., are marking the occasion with a culinary treat: a Thanksgiving-Chanukah kosher recipe contest. Ideas came rolling in from 10 states as they invited nominations for the “One-Pot Meal,” “Healthy Cooking” and “Party Foods” categories. A team of judges will evaluate the recipes, which Chabad’s web site says will be published, along with the chefs’ names, in Chabad Chanukah cookbooks.

Among the contenders: Pumpkin-Cream Sufganiyot (fried jelly-filled doughnuts served at holiday time, powdered or plain) and Chanukah Fried Turkey Legs. This year puts an extra emphasis on Fall Season meets Festival of Lights.

There’s also an opportunity to add a pinch more Jewish tradition to Thanksgiving dinner, according to Perl.

“To me, the most important thing we’re promoting is to ‘think kosher,’ ” says the rabbi. “If you were not kosher yet, this would be a fun way to begin—introduce a kosher turkey and all the trimmings.”

Sitting around the table for the American holiday also offers a chance to talk about the importance of keeping the gratitude flowing: “It’s a double-header of thanks, and the appreciation we must have should last beyond Chanukah.”

Rabbi Anchelle Perl and his wife, Bluma, co-directors of Chabad of Mineola in Mineola, N.Y., are marking the occasion with a culinary treat: a Thanksgiving-Chanukah kosher recipe contest.
Rabbi Anchelle Perl and his wife, Bluma, co-directors of Chabad of Mineola in Mineola, N.Y., are marking the occasion with a culinary treat: a Thanksgiving-Chanukah kosher recipe contest.

Members of his community have already taken notice of the possible connections, he says, which are making the holiday even more exciting. “People on Facebook are asking me, ‘What is the appropriate blessing for turkey?’ ”

To make the taste of Chanukah extra-special, Chabad.org's "Cook It Kosher" food blog contains an abundance of recipes for the holiday. Also taking note of Thanksgiving this year, Miriam Szokovski suggests that "instead of making sweet-potato pie for Thanksgiving and potato latkes for Chanukah, try these Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Latkes. They provide the flavors of Thanksgiving with the crispy fried texture of Chanukah."

Helping the Hungry

Part of the holidays also includes thinking about those who don’t have an abundance of food; it’s a time to reinforce the idea of providing for others. That’s a lesson Rabbi Shalom Lubin—of Chabad of Southeast Morris County in Madison, N.J.—takes to heart every Thanksgiving.

For the past eight years, volunteers from his community have delivered meals to homebound individuals who could use sustenance: both the edible kind and by way of companionship. “To be able to see the smiles on recipients’ faces, it’s really a beautiful thing,” says Lubin.

The program has grown from 25 to 50 dinners he kept in area refrigerators and handed out with a little help to a 25-team volunteer effort slated to distribute more than 500 meals. It’s advertised in the newspaper, says the rabbi, and they partner with area organizations to give back to the broader community.

“People come with their children and their grandchildren,” he says. “It’s become a family project.”

Instead of making sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving and potato latkes for Chanukah, try these Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Latkes. The recipe can be found in Chabad.org's "Cook It Kosher" food blog.
Instead of making sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving and potato latkes for Chanukah, try these Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Latkes. The recipe can be found in Chabad.org's "Cook It Kosher" food blog.

The kosher meals include turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce and dessert. This year, to reflect the convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, potato lakes will find their way into the dinner as well.

As part of this year’s efforts, Lubin also plans to ask volunteers to bring canned food items to construct a “can menorah” at the Chabad House, which will be handed out to the hungry over Chanukah.

“I think the spirit of thankfulness of Chanukah and the thankfulness of Thanksgiving just amplify,” says the rabbi. “I’m inspired knowing that if I light my Chanukah candles, the entire spectrum of America will be giving thanks as well.”

Marking the Blessings

Playing on the words "thanks" and "giving," Chabad-Lubavitch of Mesa, Ariz., has been collecting coins so the community can give back this holiday season.

Rabbi Laibel Blotner is preparing an estimated 35,000 coins to be stuffed into a 6-foot-tall, tube-style menorah that they will light at this year’s Chanukah celebration. It will be transported by truck to the Superstition Springs Center, where a crowd above and beyond the usual 150 is expected to attend. The festivities at the mall will include potato latkes, music, crafts and a live magician.

After the lighting, the money will be sent to Israel to help children affected by poverty.

Teens have been going around collecting coins, and people Blotner has never seen before have stopped by to donate to the project as the word has gotten out.

“It’s something unique," he says, "it’s added a new dimension to our Chanukah program. New people have come and stepped forward and gotten involved, so I think it’s really very exciting.”

Nearby in the same state, CTeen of Greater Phoenix is collecting canned foods to use to create a giant “canorah.”

The CTeen (Chabad Teen) Network is inspired by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—whose belief in the power of youth transformed the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery.

Afterward Chanukah, the cans, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, will be donated to Tomchei Shabbat and Just 3 Things, which stocks the food bank for Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s Real World Job Development program.

On-Campus Celebrations

Rabbi Dov Wagner, director of the Chabad Student Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is revving up for a different kind of Chanukah this year. After all, it won’t coincide with Thanksgiving again until 2070, assuming the calendars stay the same.

Since many Jewish students will be home with their families on the first nights of Chanukah and over Shabbat, campus activities will be scheduled near the end of the holiday. These include a menorah-lighting in the middle of campus, greetings from the provost, a marching band playing Chanukah songs and a Chanukah ice sculpture.

“The whole USC taking the evening off makes it more likely that a popular holiday that gets a lot of attention will get even more,” he says, pointing to how the miracle that the Jews saw led them to stop, give thanks, and set aside a time to mark individual and communal blessings.

“This country is founded on a similar idea—to stop and give thanks for all the good things that happen to us,” says Wagner.

Chanukah celebrates the victory of light over darkness, and the idea that there is purity and beauty to life goes beyond the material, he explains. “And it’s those values that ultimately shine on over and above whatever is external.”