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The four questions of Thanksgivukkah [Commentary]

Jewish events and holidays are often fraught with the angst of 5774 years of collective peoplehood. The cycle begins with the bris (ouch!), proceeds through Bar or Bat Mitzvah panic on the pulpit, and climaxes during the union of two Jews under the wedding chuppah — breaking a glass to remind us of life's pain and imperfection. We engage in minor self-flagellation on Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement, and we seem to fast at the drop of a hat. Comics joke (and sing on YouTube) that many Jewish holidays boil down to a "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat" theme.

So, when some genius figured out that the confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will occur this year for the first time since 1888 (25 years after Abe Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday) and wouldn't come 'round again for a mere 77,000 years, it's hard not to feel giddy. Coined "Thanksgivukkah" by a social media marketer, this holiday is fit for a fête — a mash up of meshugeneh proportions.

Imagining such a holiday transports my Jewish soul back to the days when I, the youngest member of my extended family, was expected to ask the traditional "Four Questions" — the "Ma Nishtana" — at Passover. I had to chant questions related to "Why is this night so different from all other nights?"

I'll give you a hint: The answers teach us that "On all other nights" we don't eat bitter herbs nor dip them twice, we don't recline in our seats like free people, and we certainly don't eat a helluva-lot of matzah! I dreaded being put on the spot. Talk about holiday angst — I'd much rather have drowned in the Red Sea myself than face that ordeal every year.

Yet, the sacred night of Thanksgivukkah? Let's just say I'd plotz — you should pardon the expression — if I was expected to ask and answer such questions.

But what would they be? I'm no Rabbi, but I bet I can guess.

So…why is this night so different from all other nights?

•On all other Thanksgivings, we greet one another by saying "Happy Thanksgiving." On this night, we say "Gobble Tov" and respond "Thanks-a-Latke." Black attire, à la Puritan or Hasidic style, is encouraged.

•On all other Hanukkahs, we spin the dreidel and bet pennies or chocolate coins called gelt. On this night, we play dreidel with cranberries — fresh, not canned — or maybe mahjong or even spin the turkey while watching NFL football games. We give thanks that none of "our boys" are playing.

•On all other Thanksgivings, we eat turkey with stuffing and express gratitude for our past and present bounty. On this night, the meal begins with chopped liver molded into a pilgrim's hat, followed by chicken soup with biscuits, turkey brined in Manischewitz wine (with gravy) or Tofurky for those who keep kosher, sweet potato latkes fried in turkey schmaltz and topped with marshmallows and pumpkin rugelach or pecan-rhubarb-borscht pie with Mazel Toffee ice cream. A chorus of "Ess, mine kinder" (Eat, my children) is chanted to encourage everyone to honor the true meaning of "stuffing" so that we don't have to engage in the "eight days of leftovers."

•On all other Hanukkahs, we light one to eight candles in our menorahs. On this night, our table is adorned with a gelt-filled Chanukkopia, and we light candles on the dining room table — often the same candles that have been lit every Thanksgiving and fancy dinner since 1955 and still have not burned more than a few centimeters because we blow them out to make them last. Plus we light menorahs in each window, or "Menurkeys" in the shape of a turkey (thank you, Mr. Big Shot 9-year-old Asher Weintraub of Brooklyn for coming up with the idea), presumably to show our neighbors that we are proud to celebrate a combined Judeo-American holiday that commemorates "light, liberty and latkes" and — WHOOPS, the fire alarm is going off, so we better cut this question and answer period short because we need to grab our presents and get the fire extinguisher. (Now where the heck did we hang that thing?)

Oy vey.

I guess it's a good thing that Thanksgivukkah doesn't come around very often. In any case, it's certainly no match for the Twelve Days of Christmahanasolkwanza.

Nancy Alpert lives in San Francisco with her daughter and their dog, Latke. Her email is nalpo@igc.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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