We are living through a relatively unique event, similar to a comet sighting that occurs every 70,000 years. This Thanksgiving season is the first time since 1899, and the last until 2070, that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap. That makes it a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Thanksgiving is the time during which we gather with family and friends and offer thanks, serving up gratitude along with the traditional turkey dinner and seemingly endless NFL football. Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the military victory of an outmanned Judean army over the Hellenistic Seleucid regime of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 165 BCE. Placing a religious patina on a military victory brought about the traditional story of the miracle of the single jar of oil which, profaned by the Syrian king in the Second Temple before the Maccabean revolt, was found to last for eight days rather than the expected one.
But the portmanteau neologism that is “Thanksgivukkah,” generated by the intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, can be explicated to have real meaning, which it did for me Sunday night at the Montgomery County Executive’s Ball, an annual event to raise funds to support the arts in education in the county. These programs are critical, particularly since the cutbacks in arts education in the schools that began in the ’90s.
This event is very popular with elected officials, other political types, government staffers, union leaders, nonprofit advocates, corporate lobbyists and the people who love them, in attendance. It’s particularly popular in an election year, and this year’s attendance was around 900.
I was seated at a table with the Maryland Comptroller and his wife (their son was in my son’s class at Andover), a candidate for Lieutenant Governor (joined by her running mate, the Maryland Attorney General), and a few colleagues from my days working on the County Council. A colleague, who has also run for office, remarked that he had been in Montgomery County since 1977, and as he looked around the room he was struck by just how much the county had changed. I noted that the county had only finally been integrated five years before his arrival in 1972, and today there is an African-American County Executive, black and Hispanic councilmembers, and a diverse group of state legislators and school board members. The 900 in total were an incredibly varied group, and what was most remarkable was that it was unremarkable. Only when you stepped back — an easy thing to do two days after the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy — were you able to see that diversity in its proper historical context.