By Molly Parr
Is it too much to say that every American Jew can give an extra thanks this year to marketing maven Dana Gitell? She is the one who dubbed the Hanukkah/Thanksgiving holiday overlap “Thanksgivukkah” and created great merchandise to celebrate it. I chatted with Dana about her early stroke of genius, plus asked for her favorite holiday menu suggestions.
So somehow you managed to coin “Thanksgivukkah,” and, more important, get the URL! How did it come to you?
It actually started with the calendar that CJP gives out every year! The back page shows the dates of Jewish holidays for the next five years. A few years ago I was looking at that page and checking out when Hanukkah might fall “early” or “late.” I saw the early date in 2013; I noticed it especially because my husband’s birthday is also right around Thanksgiving. Then last fall, right before Thanksgiving, I was driving to work and I just started thinking ahead to 2013 and how special it would be, and what one might call the holiday. By the time I got to work, I had thought of “Thanksgivukkah.” And by that night, I had registered the URL, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Tell me about the merchandise—what is it, who is selling it for you, and where are the proceeds going?
After seeing the response to the Facebook page, I realized there was a retail opportunity. People seemed to want a way to express their excitement for this phenomenon. Additionally, I saw promoting this convergence as an opportunity to really celebrate the Jewish-American experience and give thanks for America as a bastion of religious freedom. My sister-in-law, Deborah Gitell, felt the same way. Together with her friend, Kim DeMarco, who happens to be an accomplished art professor and illustrator, the three of us brainstormed product ideas and images. Once those were developed—we settled on souvenir T-shirts and holiday cards—I sent an email pitch to Jennie Rivlin Roberts of ModernTribe.com, an online Judaica shop that I’d been a fan of for a while. Within minutes of sending the email, Jennie wrote back “absolutely” and we began a collaboration to produce and sell the products. We chose MAZON: A Jewish Response for Hunger as our charity partner, with 10 percent of each sale going to combat hunger across America and Israel.
You worked for Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in your career (and earlier in his). What was it like working for him?
In between working for Jewish organizations—my first job was with the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington, D.C., and I currently work for Hebrew SeniorLife in Dedham—I had a series of jobs in politics. Working on then-Senator Kerry’s 2002 re-election campaign as the coordinator of volunteers was a fantastic experience. With his anticipated White House bid looming, his opponent-less Senate campaign attracted a lot of young talent, including future Massachusetts political stars Ayanna Pressley (now on the Boston City Council) and Roger Lau (currently chief of staff to Senator Elizabeth Warren). One of the moments I remember most vividly was being at a smaller event where Senator Kerry was speaking; he was pulled out to receive news that Senator Paul Wellstone had been killed in a plane crash. We learned of the tragedy directly from him. Seeing his composure in that situation and hearing him share his in-the-moment reflections about the life of his late friend and colleague really said a lot about who he is as a leader and as a human being.
What’s on your Thanksgivukkah menu? There are so many ways to go with it!
The culinary implications of Thanksgivukkah cannot be overstated. I’ve gotten so many great suggestions on Facebook and Twitter. My fantasy Thanksgivukkah menu would include deep-fried turkey, sweet potato latkes with cranberry sauce, tsimmes with marshmallows, green bean kugel and pumpkin sufganiyot. But my actual menu won’t have deep-fried turkey—I’m way too much of a wimp to attempt that!
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview?