By the time Thanksgiving starts on Thursday, Hanukkah will have already begun. Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish celebration of light, is more commonly celebrated in December and is sometimes compared to Christmas because children get presents. It begins at sunset Wednesday this year and it has a rare overlap with Thanksgiving.
In many ways, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have the same sentiment in their expressions of thanks and gratitude.
“Thanksgiving still kept its flavor of thanking God,” said Rabbi Yossi Shemtov, director of Bais Menachem Mendel—Chabad House of Toledo. Rabbi Shemtov referred to Americans descended from the pilgrims, people “who desperately wanted” freedom from religious oppression. “That's exactly what Hanukkah is.”
The Hanukkah story is told in the books of First and Second Maccabees, describing resistance to temple desecration by a small army of Jewish people resisting Syrian oppression in the second century B.C. Rabbi Shemtov said, “It's a small group of people with no chance of winning, and they stood strong and they said, 'No, we want to practice our religion.'” When they won and restored the temple, a candle with enough oil for one day burned for eight, which started the eight-day tradition of celebrating Hanukkah.
Rabbi Shemtov referred to guidelines in the Talmud, or a book of Jewish laws, and the Torah, or scripture, saying that “the guiding force is publicizing the miracle.” Publicizing it, the menorah or candelabra is lit at night, when it's visible, by a window, so others can see it, and so on. “At night, people walk outside and it's dark and they could stumble, so a little candle there,” he said.
“We're still celebrating inside, too,” Rabbi Shmouel Matusof said. Rabbi Matusof is Rabbi Shemtov's son-in-law, and he also is a Chabad House rabbi. “It's not just a public celebration. It's more than celebrating the holiday with the public; it's more like sharing the miracle.”
“It's a good time for us to reflect on what the real meaning of Thanksgiving is, the real meaning of Hanukkah,” said Rabbi Shemtov. “Where else besides America have founding fathers thought of that? It was important to them. Let's say thank you, and let's say thank you to God. We're pretty lucky.”
Rabbis Shemtov and Matusof have planned two special Hanukkah events for Chabad House to sponsor. Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, at Franklin Park Mall's Food Court at 5:15 p.m., they will have a Hanukkah celebration, light the menorah, offer donuts and latkes, demonstrate an olive press, and present a Hanukkah-themed game show. In past years Chabad House has built menorahs using balloons and canned food and other items; this year, the look will be more traditional for a menorah in the mall. There will also be children's activities and a photo booth at the celebration. The menorah will stay at the mall through all of Hanukkah, with one more branch lit each night until all eight branches are lit.
On Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m., the third annual menorah car parade leaves Chabad House, 4020 Nantuckett Dr. “It's pretty nice to see,” Rabbi Matusof said. “We have between 10 and 12 cars, with a limo leading and a truck with music and everything. We drive all around the Franklin Park Mall area, Central, and then come back.” The cars will have menorahs on the roofs, taking the sacred light into the community. When the parade returns to Chabad House, refreshments will be served.
The rabbis will also host families during the holidays, and visit and celebrate with seniors. Their first event happens Sunday; Chabad House has programs for children with special needs, and the Hanukkah party for them is Sunday. “One of the things we know about children with special needs, one of the things they're very sensitive to, is no change, and it should all fit in with everything else, so that's why we're doing it early,” Rabbi Shemtov said. In another Chabad House program, children brought gifts and wrapped them, and the presents will go to hospitalized children.
“And then we have rabbinical students who travel to the surrounding communities like Lima, Monroe, Findlay to bring the message of light,” Rabbi Shemtov said. “Where there's so much darkness around, one thing we learn from Hasidism [Jewish mysticism], chasing out the darkness with a broomstick doesn't really work. You strike a match, you light a candle, and the darkness runs away.”