Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap this year

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For Jews in America, this holiday season will be unlike the past celebrations of their parents -- maybe even grandparents -- because for the first time in almost a century, they may be eating turkey dinner to the light of a menorah candle.

Thanksgiving is Thursday, and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins at sunset tonight and ends the evening of Dec. 5.

"The overlap is extremely unique," Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum said. "I like it because Thanksgiving is a great family time and the fact that everyone is already there, all can celebrate Hanukkah together as well."

The last time the two celebrations occurred on the same date was Nov. 28, 1918, when Thanksgiving was on Hanukkah eve. Jewish holidays begin at sunset the day before.

Rabbi Rosenblum is director of Chabad of the South Hills, the Jewish Center for Living and Learning in Dormont.

"There is also a certain message overlap," Rabbi Rosenblum noted. "Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the beautiful things in our life, and Hanukkah is about thanking God for the vibrant miracles that allow us to be vibrant today."

From 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon, 1500 Washington Road, Chabad will stage a communitywide Hanukkah celebration.

It will be held on the second level near the fountain. From 3 to 5 p.m., activities will be held for children, including playing with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top on which each side bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letters form the acronym for "A Great Miracle Happened There," referring to the miracle of Hanukkah.

"Traditionally, these tops were used at a time [about 2,000 years ago] where studying the Torah was prohibited," Rabbi Rosenblum said. "They would have these and hide the books and make it look like they were playing a game."

At 5 p.m., a 7-foot menorah will be lit.

The celebration that follows will include the distribution of seasonal food, such as jelly doughnuts, and the playing of Klezmer music, celebratory music with eastern European roots.

Those who attend -- the celebration is open to the public -- are asked to bring a new toy for the center's annual toy drive for hospitalized and underprivileged children.

Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah, celebrates the "miracle of the oil,'' which occurred when Jews were rebuilding their temple after it was destroyed by Syrian soldiers in 165 B.C.

Although only one consecrated container of oil was in the temple, which was enough to keep the eternal flame burning for a day, the flame burned for eight days.

In commemoration, the menorah holds nine candles, eight of which are for remembering the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. The ninth candle, known as the shamash candle, is placed at a different height in the menorah and is used to light the other candles.

Rabbi Rosenblum said the symbolism of the holiday is as meaningful today as it was more than 2,000 years ago.

"Whenever there is darkness from outside, we light a menorah," he said. "And a little light dispels a lot of darkness."

Toys for the toy drive may be dropped off through next Wednesday at Chabad of the South Hills, 1701 McFarland Road. Hours are10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.

For more on Chabad of the South Hills, visit: www.chabadsh.com.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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