By Kathy Bloomfield
As if it weren’t difficult enough getting ready for Rosh Hashanah two days after Labor Day, this year the first day of Hanukkah is Thanksgiving Day. This means that my family and I will be lighting our first Hanukkah candle on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, when I’m usually baking pumpkin pie and setting the table for the next day’s feast. In addition, as the sun goes down following our turkey with all the trimmings, we will be lighting candles for the second night of Hanukkah, when I’m usually in a vegetative state. Not only that, it appears I’m going to be preparing brisket and latkes for Shabbat dinner on “Black Friday,” instead of our usual turkey pot pie and leftovers!
One thing is certain: I will not be serving latkes or sweet potato kugel for Thanksgiving dinner, nor will I be preparing string bean casserole to accompany my latkes. In my house, at least, Thanksgiving is a holiday all by itself, with its own menu of beloved foods that my family looks forward to all year, and Hanukkah is the same. So while I will have to compress my holiday cooking into a 24- to 48-hour marathon, I will not deprive either holiday of its culinary customs. That being said, I already have my “creativity cap” on so both of these beloved holidays get their due when it comes to touting their traditions in meaningful ways.
Fortunately, on both holidays I will feel a sense of gratitude to be sharing the time with family and friends. How I love Shehecheyanu moments! I will be reminded (and do some reminding) that many people in our neighborhoods, country and around the world are not as fortunate as we are, and it is our job to help repair that problem. I will look for ways that we, individually and as a group, can do something to help, whether through the gift of our hands or the generosity of our wallets.
As you think about this convergence of holidays and its meaning, here is a list of books to have on hand for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah that keep in mind the underlying spirit of each.
1. “Chanukah Lights” by Michael Rosen
Ages 6 and up. Winner of the 2012 Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award (the Jewish equivalent of the Caldecott Honor), this marvel of pop-up engineering takes the reader on a 2,000-year tour through Jewish history. From the temple in Jerusalem where Hanukkah began, across deserts, over oceans, into shtetls and onto kibbutz farm land, each two-page spread is an enriching and engaging exploration of how the Hanukkah lights have always been a beacon of hope for the Jewish people.
2. “Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift” by Dara Goldman
Ages 5-9. Boris and Stella love each other very much. So at Christmas time, Boris wants to give Stella something beautiful for her Christmas tree. At Hanukkah, Stella wants to give Boris the most exquisite driedel for his collection. When the time comes to exchange gifts, however, they realize how little gifts matter and how much they really do love each other. This is a lovely interfaith rendition of O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”
3. “Harvest of Light” by Alison Ofanansky
Ages 4-9. Imagine gathering the olives that will make the oil to be used to light your Hanukkah menorah. In this wonderful picture book, we once again join the Israeli family (who last month built the sukkah) as they take us step-by-step through the process of harvesting the olives from the trees, sorting them, cleaning them and taking them to the press to be made into olive oil for their food and fuel.
4. “Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah” by Jamie Korngold
Ages 3-8. What happens when you spend days making a marvelous Hanukkah menorah but smash it when you run to show it to your mom? Well, if you are Sadie, you come up with a wonderful new tradition for your family! This is a beautifully illustrated and charming story of turning heartbreak into delight.
1. “Turkey Tot” by George Shannon
Ages 4-8. While not exactly a Thanksgiving story, creativity abounds as Turkey Tot searches for ways to reach the delicious, ripe blackberries sitting on top of the bush. Repeatedly discouraged by his friends Pig, Hen and Chick, Turkey Tot does not give up and ultimately reaches his goal. Probably because, as Hen says, “He’s been different since the day he hatched.”
2. “Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving” by Laurie Halse Anderson
Ages 5-10. “Pick up your pen. Change the world.” That is what Sarah Hale did, and because she did, we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. It took this strong, dynamic woman over 38 years to get an American president to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. This is the remarkable story of how she did it.
3. “Bear Says Thanks” by Karma Wilson
Ages 3-6. When all Bear’s friends come to visit and share foods they have gathered in the forest, Bear feels sad that he has nothing to offer. Bear’s cupboard is bare! All the thanks in the world will not feed his friends. But they quickly point out that Bear has something better than food to offer—he has a warm cave and plenty of stories, for which they all say, “Thanks!”
4. “Rivka’s First Thanksgiving” by Elsa Okon Rael
Ages 4-8. I’ll admit that I include this title in every article I write about Thanksgiving. It’s my all-time favorite Jewish Thanksgiving story, but it’s currently out of print (which only means you have to get it at a library or through a used book vendor). I love it because the title character, Rivka, “speaks truth to power,” telling her Rebbe that he is wrong to tell his community not to celebrate Thanksgiving in America and giving him the reasons she believes they should. If we all had Rivka’s courage, I can only imagine what the world would be like today.
Kathy Bloomfield founded the website forwordsbooks: kids’ books that matter in 2009 to highlight and review kids’ books that promote Jewish values. A former member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Kathy previews children’s books as they are published and searches for classics and undiscovered gems filled with meaning for today’s readers. For more information or for book guidance for your family, please email Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.