As we experienced Thanksgiving Dinner and lit the Chanukah candles in Upstate New York, the day before my daughter Zena’s Bat Mitzvah; I could not help but to share the uncanny similarities between America and Israel on Thanksgiving and Chanukah.
According to various calculations this unique occurrence of celebrating both on the same Thursday won’t occur again for about another 77,798 years. Whatever the exact number let’s see some actual binding historical connections that will outlast the current rift (due to Iran) between these two countries that are true beacons of light unto other nations.
In the year 167 BCE Antiochus the Seleucid tyrant ordered an altar of Zeus to be erected in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he banned the Brit Milah (circumcision) for Jewish newborns. That was too much for the high priest Mattathias ben Johanan and his five sons to bear leading to the revolt we commemorate as the Festival of Lights.As a child, in 1972, I read the book My Glorious Brothers by Howard Fast which so adroitly brought to life the narrative of the holiday.
Fast forward to September 16, 1620 almost one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven years later the American Puritans had enough of religious intolerance by the Monarchy of England. One of the founding Puritans, Governor of Plymouth, and a signer of the Mayflower Compact was William Bradford and he wrote “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.”
What better parallel could Hanukah and Thanksgiving have than sharing in a candle that lights all that is good amongst nations? William Bradford studied Hebrew “so that when he died he might be able to speak in the most ancient language, in which the Lord and his angles spoke.” A fellow Puritan Cotton Mather told his congregants that they should learn Hebrew in the morning and the evening. One of first academic learning centers in America Yale University has Hebrew in its emblem written Urim v Thummin (Light and Truth).
Less than two hundred years later General George Washington fought for the rights and liberty for freedom from tyranny; no different than Judah the Maccabee had done. A descendant of the ancient Israelites, Haym Solomon emigrated in 1772 to the new world and became a patriot of the Sons of Liberty. He was captured by the British only to escape and help finance the Revolutionary War by loaning General Washington over $600,000 – more than $30 billion in today’s dollars – that ultimately became a gift instead of a loan. Almost 170 years later on May 17, 1943 the U.S. Navy commissioned a ship named the USS Haym Solomon in honor of his service.
The connection of the Hebrew people to President Washington is best described in a letter he wrote to a synagogue in Rhode Island; “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid”.
The number 13 might be considered suspiciously unlucky but its significant when a young Hebrew bears responsibility for his/her actions at the time of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah; the connection to this great new nation is as follows: there were 13 original colonies, 13 signers of the Declaration of Independence, on the One Dollar Bill of George Washington there are: 13 stripes on our flag, 13 steps on the Pyramid, 13 letters in, ‘Annuit Coeptis,’ 13 letters in ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ 13 stars above the Eagle, 13 bars on that shield, 13 leaves on the olive branch, 13 fruits, 13 arrows and most mysterious on the Dollar bill are 13 stars arranged in the shape of a Star of David.
The bonding of nations doesn’t end there; for perhaps the prolific President has the greatest connection to the people of Israel for he bears the name of the forefather of the Jewish people Abraham Lincoln, who like Moses put an end to slavery. His roots seem to have a lineage that deserves some observation; his great great grandfather was Mordecai Lincoln. It is one thing being the only President named Abraham but entirely another when 3 generations earlier there is paternal grandfather who’s named after the hero of Purim.
In Steven Spielberg’s movie on Lincoln he depicts the President’s desire to visit Jerusalem after the Civil War; Mary Lincoln his wife said “he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footprints of the Savior. On Oct 3, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln announced that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. Today you can visit his namesake in Tel Aviv if you want on cup of coffee or a falafel on Lincoln Street.
Dr. Peter Kash is a former Professor of Entrepreneurship, bestselling author and holds a Doctorate in Education from Yeshiva University.