We celebrate two important holidays on the same day this week, both with strong Jewish traditions that can be summed up in two words: freedom and food. You know the story of the Jewish people in three sentences: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.
Chanukah this year falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. Chanukah was celebrated in our home as we were growing up with my mother’s wonderful latkes, any one of which had enough oil to burn for eight days on its own. Chanukah is also a big holiday in Oklahoma and Saudi Arabia, where they think it celebrates the oil industry.
It is a relatively minor holiday that has become very big because it falls near Christmas, which is an old pagan holiday updated by Christians and celebrated by Jews throughout the world of retailing.
Thanksgiving is also a very important Jewish holiday. At least it is in character because it is reminiscent of Succoth, the fall festival thanking God for protecting us in the wilderness and leading us to the promised land. Like so many Jewish holidays we express our thanks by having a big family meal and giving thanks for all our blessings.
Most of all it reminds me how fortunate I am that my grandparents came to this golden medina just over a century ago. Had they remained in eastern Europe they would have suffered the fate of millions of other Jews a few decades later.
My grandfather, Sam Bloomfield, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS New York on October 14, 1906, at the age of 22 and with $5 in his pocket. He went to live with one of his brothers at 137 E. Houston Street in lower Manhattan.
Like many he came here because he heard the streets were paved with gold; when he arrived he learned three things: the streets were not paved with gold, they were not even paved, and he was expected to do the paving.
Sam listed his profession as tailor and found a job making hats. He lived in New York 10 years before making aliyah to the next promised land, Ohio.
Thanksgiving to me has a special meaning. It represents all that is the best of America. Freedom. Opportunity. Prosperity. It’s a very good place to be a Jew. Or anything else you wish. I give thanks all the time that my grandparents came here, and especially on Yom Hag Ha Turkey.