Thanksgivikkah in Africa Courtesy Belmont's Beth El Temple

Beth El Temple Center will have its annual Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony tonight at 6 p.m.

The article is written by Belmont author Len Abram

It’s called Thanksgivikkah, not to be repeated in this century, in fact, for 7,000 centuries more. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, and the national holiday of Thanksgiving, occur together. The first day of the Jewish eight-day celebration falls on Thanksgiving day.  

Whether they celebrate the American holiday with turkey or tofu, Jews across America will also be lighting a candle each night for eight nights. Along with them, Jews serving with the American military overseas can also share in the double holiday. 

Since 2005, the Brotherhood and congregation of Belmont's Beth El Temple Center have sent Hanukkah celebration kits to Jewish soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, in Germany, Korea, Afghanistan,  Iraq,  Kuwait, and bases in Africa, such as Djibouti, as well as to ships like the USS George Washington, Wasp and Abraham Lincoln. With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down, this year the packages go to Africa.

Beth El Temple Center will celebrate its annual Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Temple tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m. 

AFRICOM is the American command for our forces and programs in Africa,  whose chief mission – aside from training local police and armed forces  – is to  deter and defeat “transnational threats” in Africa. Transnational is the latest buzz word in the struggle against terrorists, who train in one country to attack  in another.

Behind the term is the realization that the boundaries of the United States can no longer exclude large scale attack, that the width of oceans can no longer keep us safe.  The 9/11 assaults on  New York and Washington, D.C.  made that point. Terrorists are mobile like the rest of us, from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia for 9/11,  or from Dagestan  for the Boston Marathon bombing. American policy is preemptive, to defeat the terrorists before they get here. The shootings at a shopping center in Kenya – the pictures of the dead in the aisles from Nairobi – could be repeated at a shopping center in Burlington or Buffalo or Boise. 

Hanukkah is an appropriate holiday for those serving in the military. It celebrates a military victory of Jewish forces against a Greek Syrian tyranny. Twenty-one hundred years ago, Greek culture dominated the Middle East. Alexander, the military genius who conquered lands from Greece to the borders of India, was wise in letting the inhabitants follow their religious beliefs while he ruled them. 

His successors, however, imposed pagan rituals on the conquered, like the Jews, under penalty of death. The Seleucids, as they were called, desecrated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. They left only enough oil for a lamp to burn one day, but,  according to legend, it burned for eight, hence the eight days of candle lighting. 

Among Jewish holidays, the Rabbis, who codified observances about holidays,  considered  Hanukkah minor. That may have been to placate the Romans under whom they lived at the time, who had no interest in promoting the story of a successful revolt. 

The holiday represents the heroics of the Jewish Maccabees to preserve their people’s identity and beliefs. Hanukkah means rededication, when the defiled Temple was cleaned and made sacred again. Although there was enough oil for a day, the lamp oil lasted eight. The traditional food for the holiday is potato pancakes, not for the potatoes as much as for the symbolism of the oil (donuts also work).

For the service men and women in Africa, each kit contains candles and a menorah (more accurately “hanukkiah”), a CD with Jewish music, a “desert camouflage” kippah or head covering, a dreidl or spinning top for games, chocolate coins to wager, bubble gum, a card from the religious school kids, a letter from the Brotherhood and congregation, and a stamped post card in hopes in hearing back from the recipients. The letter from Brotherhood president Bill Siegel thanks the men and women for their service.

The children’s Hanukkah cards have been much appreciated over the years. These are samples from this year’s  4th graders at Beth El Temple Sunday school:

“Dear Soldier,
Happy Hanuka,
 I hope you com  back safly and qick!!!
I hope to see you on Vittrins Day (I am a boy scout too).”
And another, more simply:
“Thank you for serving our country.”

And another:
“Dear Soldier,
I know how hard it is to fight so many, so I want to make this card as long as possible so your heart can feel easy for a long time. I enjoy writing to you because it is the right thing.  I am very greatful for everything you do. Everyone at Beth El is proud of you. Have a safe trip home. Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving.”

The Beth El Temple Center's Hanukkah party, sponsored by the Brotherhood, occurs this Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m., in the Temple’s Zonis auditorium.  


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