November 28, 2013 by · Comments Off on Thanksgiving 

Thanksgiving, The coincidence this year of Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah is very unusual – it last happened in 1888. But in a way it’s fitting, as American Jews have been embracing Thanksgiving for more than two centuries.

By the time the first of eight candles in Jewish menorah were lit on Wednesday evening for the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the country was largely closed down for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday.

According to the most commonly cited calculation, not only has this not happened for 125 years, but it won’t happen again for more than 70,000 years.

That is because the Jewish calendar is shifting in relation to the Gregorian calendar very, very slowly… at a rate of four days every 1,000 years.

It’s thanks to a quirk of both calendars that 2013 has this curious new amalgam: Thanksgivukkah.

The term was coined, and trademarked, by a marketing specialist called Dana Gitell, who teamed up with an online Jewish gift shop to sell T-shirts and other memorabilia.

Among the items on sale are a “menurkey” – a menorah shaped like a turkey – designed by a nine-year-old New Yorker, whose family say they have sold thousands at $50 a piece.

There’s a Facebook page with more than 13,000 “likes”, a #Thanksgivukkah hashtag on Twitter, and a large number of YouTube music videos of varying quality.

Thanksgiving food:

Hanukkah food:

Perhaps the most common online discussion topic is food, and ideas for “mash-up” recipes that combine festive delicacies from both sides – from potato latkes with cranberry applesauce to rye pumpkin pie.

All this has brought to the surface the longstanding affection for Thanksgiving among American Jews.

“American Jews love Thanksgiving and celebrate it every year with the rest of America,” says Gitell.

Whereas some Jewish families might not take part in Halloween or Christmas, Gitell says she doesn’t know any Jewish family that wouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. “I think that Thanksgiving is generally considered kosher by all Jews,” she says.

This is partly because Thanksgiving is generally seen as a secular, national holiday in which people honour family and community, regardless of ethnic group or religious denomination.

It is also popularly associated with pilgrims giving thanks for their new life in America, where they could practise their religion freely.

In that respect, some see similarities with the story of Hanukkah, which celebrates the miraculous lighting of the menorah in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple after the victory of the Maccabees against the Syrians in the 2nd Century BC.

Though several rabbis have expressed reservations about Thanksgiving, and one even stated his opposition to eating kosher turkey, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement, says there is “nothing adverse to anything Jewish or contradictory to Judaism” in Thanksgiving.

“For that celebration to happen – as we are in our religious calendar celebrating our own religious freedom, as it was achieved in ancient times – makes it only that more emphatic,” he says.

Greeting cards are among this year’s Thanksgivukkah products
US history has also been deployed to firm up the links, right back to the use of rabbinic texts used by Puritans to thank God for their safe arrival in America.

After George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration in 1789, the preacher at New York’s oldest congregation, Shearith Israel, gave a Thanksgiving sermon and instructed his congregation to observe the holiday.

The service was unprecedented in the history of Jewish liturgy and prayer, says Allan Nadler, a professor of Jewish studies at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

“The creation of a Hebrew religious service to commemorate a non-Jewish holiday, a holiday whose origins have nothing to do with the Jews – that’s quite remarkable.”

Their immediate adoption of Thanksgiving is also an example of how “Jews in general embraced everything American with real fervour”, says Nadler.

“The way in which the Jews immigrated to America in the 19th Century – especially the mass wave of Russian Jews at the end of the 19th Century – the speed with they acculturated themselves and rose up economically and intellectually in universities I don’t think has any parallel.”

Historically, Hanukkah was a relatively minor Jewish festival, but it has gained in significance. Gifts are now often exchanged, especially in North America.

“In America it really became important because of the timing – it fitted into the ‘festival season’,” says Nadler. “For Jews anxious to have cultural bonds and interfaith bonds with their Christian neighbours, Hanukkah was perfect.”

Currently on sabbatical in his native Canada, Nadler says he was taken aback after he arrived in the US as a graduate student and was invited by an orthodox rabbi to a Thanksgiving dinner.

He is “feeling a little forlorn” about missing the holiday this year – but he winces at the commercialisation of Hanukkah. And that goes for Thanksgivukkah, too.

Turkey Brine

November 20, 2010 by · Comments Off on Turkey Brine 

Turkey Brine, Craig Laban chat excerpt online:

Reader: Make my bird on my Weber (propane) this year. Any advice? Is it necessary to brine? Do I always season and stuff like usual?

CL: Take a look at my story linked here ( on broiler turkeys. (Note: I now cook on a grill mine Big Green Egg, but Weber has served me well for many years), I used charcoal, but you can do with the gas, too, as long as you have enough burners for indirect cooking. I resist putting the stuffing in the bird on the grill – he cooked is tricky enough without additional insulation to slow down. Brining? It’s a must now, especially on the grill, because it makes the bird forgivingly juicy, regardless of how much you ate too much. There are a lot of salt into the meat from the brine, so go easy on the salt when seasoning the outside. Other seasonings (such as herbs de Provence or smoked paprika I use) should be applied liberally.

Reader’s recipe grilled turkey Craig is seriously impressive. I strongly suggest that what follows.

CL: That’s a good recipe – but I have always stressed out every year before lighting the charcoal. As a hedge against error, I added a new gadget in my grill – BBQ guru computerized thermostat automatically monitors the temperature of the grill and meat and controls the heat with a small fan. I’m giving it a test-run on the sternal region this weekend. . .

Reader: I too am a bird on the Big Green Egg this year, brining is a must. I also recommend it sat on a can of beer or turkey sitter! Yep – beer can turkey. God bless America. As for the wines of Thanksgiving, there seems to be an unlimited number of good red. What are some of your most memorable wines day Turkey? I debate between Drouhin Willamette Valley Pinot Black, and old (97) Cabin California that would have mellowed by now (but big enough to stand up to my beer can Turkey).

CL: The beer is always better things, but I go with what works, that my bird (about 20 pounds) is a bit too big for this kind of stand-up stunts. I can barely close the lid as it is. As for the wines of T-memorable day, the rules are wide open because of differing tastes of this meal, so I focused on the range. Your choice, I would go to the House, one of the great Oregon Pinots. I generally try to stay American and affordable (given the crowd), but I had success with sparkling wine (or Schramsberg Roederer Anderson Valley), semi-dry Riesling (CSM Eroica), spicy red zin (Renwood, Biale, Rosenblum, Ridge), Pinot (Rodney Strong, Drouhin, affordable Sebastiani), and sweet Madeira at the end. (Philly were great colonial Madeira; George Washington drank barrels of it.) But I would keep the car in the basement. Even well-aged, I think it will be lost on Turkey. Register now for New Year’s roast

Reader: For my Thanksgiving wine, I’ll start my meal with the FMC South Africa (Chenin best in the world) and finishing with Paradocx Vineyards Touriga!

CL: Those are great ideas, something with a touch of sweetness and acidity to start the meal, and taste of Portugal (Touriga) via the Chester County! Paradocx gives interesting wine, but I have not tried the Touriga. . . very intriguing, and exactly the kind of experimentation with alternatives to the usual suspects grape (cab, chard, etc.) required for local growers to find their niche.

Reader: For wine of Turkey Day, I had some classics in mind – or perhaps a Morgon Moulin à Vent (especially one I had recently, a 2009 Thibault Liger-Belair) and Soave Classico (perhaps one of Inama).

CL: Good ideas on Morgon and Moulin – two great examples of Cru Beaujolais (not that new light and fruity), a classic pairing with Thanksgiving just the right weight to deal with all the flavors without overwhelming part of the meal.

Reader: What is a good Chateauneuf du Pape for the T-day? (In fact, can not say I’ve never had a bad!)

CL: Yes, this is another common pairing Thanksgiving because Chateauneuf corresponds with Garnier flavors of the meal. (Giblet sauce and dark meat? Wild wild mushroom stuffing? Go Old Telegraph!) But if you want to keep the national theme, there are plenty of Cali Rhone Rangers. That’s why I thought of Tablas Creek, owned by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel, which is one of my favorites of all time.

Reader: I was very happy that Garces Trading Co. pies for T-giving this year! Chocolate pecan bourbon black, pumpkin, ginger and my personal favorite apple sampling, maple bacon. Can I order a have for breakfast on Thursday morning!

CL: That’s a good suggestion – Garces has a skilled pastry department.

I just called TAG: apple maple bacon and 25, the other two are each 30. OK, Iron Chef, you will have more of my money.