Written by Anthony Moujaes
For the first time in more than a century, Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah fall the same day, Nov. 28. In celebration, a United Church of Christ congregation in Massachusetts is inviting its Christian and Jewish neighbors for an interfaith service to lift up the rare occasion, to light Thanksgiving and Hannukah candles, and to share food, songs and stories.
"It's a time of celebration and joy to praise God, and then from there we can work on common goals and needs, like feeding the hungry and dealing with poverty," said the Rev. Natalie Shiras, pastor at Church on the Hill UCC in Lenox, Mass.
Shaped by almost 50 years of interfaith work, the annual Community All Faith Thanksgiving Eve worship service on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at Church on the Hill is open to people of all faiths, not just Protestant Christians and Jewish people. There are eight different houses of worship coming together from Protestant, Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic and Jewish faiths.
Church on the Hill has maintained a relationship with Temple Anshe Amunim that dates back to the 1960s, explains Shiras. "Previous rabbis and pastors have been in this long-term relationship swapping pulpits, taking trips to Israel, and learning about each other," she added. "This was a natural fit for us. I've been doing interfaith work in 30-plus years of ministry."
Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim will light the first Hanukkah candle of the season, and Rabbi David Weiner of Congregation Knesset Israel will give a prayer of Thanksgiving. Both temples are located in the nearby town of Pittsfield, Mass., and have always been welcome at Church on the Hill's Thanksgiving table.
"There's a long-standing connection between my temple and Church on the Hill, and we really value that connection," said Breindel. "We have a deep recognition for the other's traditions and we both want to learn about the ways other people worship. The nature of Thanksgiving, being secular with religious overtones, makes it the perfect holiday for everyone to get together. A large protion of Thanksgiving is thanking our Creator for liberties, and as an American holiday, it makes me feel good as clergy and American to share in this.
"This year, we have the opportunity to share in the Jewish ritual of the lighting of the first candle. The candles are often colored and quite lovely. I feel privilaged to share something I love from my religion with other people."
Father C.J. Waitekus, of St. Ann Roman Catholic Church in Lenox, will offer the Thanksgiving message.
"Not many Roman Catholic priests have the luxury of working with Protestant colleagues," Shiras said of the relationship with Waitekus and St. Ann Roman Catholic Church. In the past, both churches have presented faith forums to educate and discuss issues such as gun violence and anti-bullying.
The last time the beginning of the Jewish holiday coincided with Thanksgiving was in 1888 — just 25 years after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday — and the next time it's likely to happen is in 2070. The convergence of the two holidays has even resulted in quirky, catch-phrase terms on the internet such as ‘Thanksgivukkah,' and ‘Gobble tov!'
Whatever nicknames are offered, one thing is clear to Shiras about sharing the celebrations. "It's a great time to come together," she said, "and an opportunity to gather and give thanks."