When I owned a restaurant in Jerusalem in the 80’s, we did a big Thanksgiving business with transplanted Americans, as well as young American men and women studying in Israel. While a great many of them were orthodox and not usually inclined to celebrate non-Jewish holidays, the fact that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday and throw in the nostalgia factor and we did all right. To promote the dinner, I took out a large ad in the Jerusalem post and other tourist publications that read: “Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? Because it says Hodu LaHaShem Ki Tov – give thanks to G-d for He is good (the word Hodu in Hebrew is also the word for turkey)…” It was quite funny and original then and I cannot believe how many times I was asked this question this past weekend in Detroit.
This year the festivals of Thanksgiving and Chanukah miss each other by a week yet, they are forever connected, for Chanukah is the Jewish holiday of Thanksgiving. A small band of Maccabees led a handful of untrained zealots against the most powerful army in the world and forced them and their culture out of Israel. By example, other nations took the hint and the downfall of the Greek Empire was inevitable.
To commemorate the event symbolized by the miracle of oil, our Rabbis initiated and created a special Rabbinical Mitzvah (commandment) to ignite flames and to give thanks to G-d on these eight days to commemorate the miracles and wonders that G-d continuously performs for us.
It is hard to believe that the rebels ever believed that they would succeed in their objective. Of course, our history is filled with just such occurrences, but to expect it to happen is quite another thing. From the defeat of the mighty regional kings by our patriarch Abraham to the defeat of the united Arab armies during the Six-Day war, He continuously brings us victory from annihilation. Though we always think “times have changed” and “this is different,” He still uses His divine clockwork to save us. Therefore, we say: “V’Al HaNissim – And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have produced for our ancestors in those days, at this time.”
What is important for us to know (not just believe) is that He will protect us regardless of who threatens us with nuclear weapons. Our only salvation is in the words of King David, Hodu LaHaShem Ki Tov – give thanks to G-d for He is good.