From left, Drew Saltzstein, Elizabeth Lane-Mariani, and Sara Federman prepare for a ‘Thanksgivukkah’ dinner at Toledo Hillel.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah carried a sense of adventure for the students at Hillel House on the University of Toledo campus. Combining the holidays, the Hillel group held a Thanksgivukkah celebration before the school's holiday break.
For the people at Hillel, that meant making Thanksgiving-oriented, but Jewish-based, food—such as sweet potato latkes in place of the more traditional potato pancakes. The Hillel students took part in a service project, too, “decorating bags for Project Angel Heart. They're an organization that gives food to people that are living with AIDS and cancer,” said Elizabeth Lane-Mariani, the director of Hillel at both the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.
Thanksgivukkah, combining the holiday names, follows the word mash of Chrismukkah, the pairing of Christmas and Hanukkah, which came from the TV show The O.C. in the early 2000s. Four students at Hillel were preparing for the evening feast. Drew Saltzstein, 21, a senior from Sylvania, said he associates the combined word with a cell phone commercial; Virgin Mobile has used Chrismahanukwanzakah in its ads.
However they came upon the word, Thanksgivukkah, Sara Federman, 22, a senior from Sylvania, said, is “exciting. It's once in a lifetime, literally,” because predictions of the next time Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap are from the year 2070 to 70,000 years in the future. “It's going to be really fun. You can do so many different things,” Miss Federman said. Thanksgivukkah “opens up a whole new world.”
“We are Jews, we like food, so we're going to experiment with it, Jessica Moses, 20, a junior from Cleveland, said.
Hillel is a national organization that serves Jewish students on 550 campuses in North America, and it has 55 other locations around the world. Among its programs, Hillel provides alternative spring break experiences. University of Toledo Hillel students go to Give Kids the World in Orlando, Florida. “They have a resort, so when Make-a-Wish has a wish kid that wants to go to DisneyWorld, they go to Give Kids the World and Give Kids the World then provides housing for the family and park tickets” to DisneyWorld, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, Miss Federman said. “We go and volunteer for the week, so we can be doing anything from working in a restaurant to running a parade. They have different celebrations each night, like a birthday party, Christmas, Halloween, all the different holidays. It's a different holiday every night.”
“I think I painted, like, 100 kids' faces,” Miss Moses said.
“Yeah, face painting, nail painting, I operated a carousel for a day. It was a blast,” said Miss Federman.
Hillel also arranges for Jewish students to visit Israel. The Taglit-Birthright Israel organization offers free trips, and of those assembled, three had been, Devin Billstein, 21, a senior from Ottawa Hills, was making plans, and Miss Moses had not started the process.
At the Toledo Hillel House, students celebrate shabbat with a weekly dinner Fridays after student-led religious services, and they also have other activities. “We've had 25 programs this semester,” Mrs. Lane-Mariani said. “We do a little over 50 a school year, and they're anything from social programs, movie nights, things like that to volunteer programs. We do a Challah for Hunger; we make challah [bread] for the Jewish Family Services food bank. We make blankets for Project Linus, all kinds of things.”
“It's really nice. We get a good mixture of people coming in, some who are curious, some people are Jewish, some people want to learn more about Judaism,” said Miss Federman.
“It's been an amazing four years here, Mrs. Lane-Mariani said. “When I started, we had three students who wanted to really have an organization. Didn't really know a ton of other people, they hadn't had a program in forever, so it was just the three of them. Fast forward not even four years later, we've had 25 events this semester and we know of 100 students who have participated with us.” And they moved from using campus facilities to having a Hillel House.
“It's really important to work together, especially when you're a small community like we are,” Mrs. Lane-Mariani said. “Everybody benefits from this then.”