A once-in-a-lifetime occurrence takes place this holiday season.
For the first time since 1918, and not to be seen again until 2070, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will overlap.
The rare event is significant due to the fact the two holidays share a similar historical context, according to Ephraim Zimmerman, the only full-time rabbi in the Oro Valley area, which consists of about 1,600 Jewish families and 3,000 total Jews.
During the era of the Syrian-Greek Empire, Judaism was outlawed as a religion because it differed from common Greek beliefs in recognizing a single god over men.
The religious ban sparked a revolt by a group known as the Maccabees, who fought the empire and reestablished their religion.
“It was a pretty miraculous victory, because they were a small group, weakly armed, and they were fighting the mighty empire,” said Zimmerman.
The Maccabees then began restoring a Jerusalem temple that had been destroyed in the conflict. During the restoration, the Maccabbees found themselves with only one jug of oil – enough to last one night during the ritual Menorah lighting.
“In order to get new oil, it would take eight days,” said Zimmerman. “They lit that jug of oil and dispatched to go make more oil, but a miracle took place, and that was that the Menorah burned for eight days. When those candles burned for eight days, which is a miraculous thing, that was the closure they had that it was worth fighting for.”
Zimmerman paralleled the story to that of the history of Thanksgiving, which was initiated when America’s founding fathers gave thanks to God after achieving religious freedom from Europe.
“The early settlers wanted to be able to practice religion in peace, and 1,500 years before that, that’s exactly what Hanukkah was,” said Zimmerman. “It was a certain government saying you cannot practice your religion, and they fought for it and were victorious.”
Because the Jewish calendar runs on a lunar calendar, the same holiday generally takes place on different days, and usually comes closer to New Year’s Eve, said Zimmerman.
“It’s very rare that Thanksgiving comes so late and Hanukkah comes so early that they overlap,” he said.
Thanksgiving falls on the second day of Hanukkah this year.
On Dec. 3 at the Oro Valley Public Library Zimmerman, with the Chabbad of Oro Valley, will host a free public menorah lighting at 5 p.m., with food, music, speeches, and raffle. Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath will be in attendance. The event will last about an hour.
Members of the public, regardless of religious affiliation, are invited to join the celebration, which Zimmerman assures will be pressure-free.
“Judaism does not promote converting,” he said. “But the message of Hanukkah is an incredible message, and that we try to spread. It was the few against the many, the weak against the strong – but they fought for truth, they fought for an ideal against tyranny and oppression. They were fighting for freedom of religion, and the permission to believe in God is something that we feel is universal.”