a message from rabbi
ayelet s. cohen

The unusual convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving has been the cause of much attention and humor this year, not to mention viral web videos, new merchandise, and recipes which would strike horror in the hearts of any nutritionist. But this intersection is an opportunity for much more than putting Chanukah and Thanksgiving in a blender and letting hilarity ensue.

The truth is Thanksgiving is actually a much more fitting partner for Chanukah than its usual counterpart late in the month of December. It's an opportunity to reframe Chanukah as a holiday about gratitude.

Chanukah, a minor Jewish holiday that has gained outsize importance due to its usual proximity to Christmas, has not benefitted from that comparison. Efforts to match the sparkle and stature of Christmas in American consumer culture has resulted in mountains of presents, obscuring the actually challenging story and themes of the holiday, and a general commercialization that in recent years has included a proliferation of silver and blue tinsel (precisely what the Maccabees were likely trying to avoid). And as a parent of young children, I can attest that the argument that "our holiday is better because we have eight nights of presents" is no more convincing to them than to us as adults. It’s not about competition.

So this year Chanukah doesn’t have to be swallowed up by another major American holiday, albeit one that most Americans of all religions celebrate without ambivalence. A more nuanced approach also allows us to ask questions about the dominant narratives of both Chanukah and Thanksgiving—a great conversation to have around the holiday table.

Indeed, Chanukah has also been widely embraced in American culture because its observance is easily accessible. It doesn't require synagogue time or ask us to fast—its celebration consists of lighting beautiful candles at home. The associated traditions are food, games, and songs that lend themselves to cold winter evenings with family gathered at home.

Chanukah truly is about practicing gratitude. It invites all of us to notice the miracles of our own lives, the small, unexpected victories that might have the power to be transformative. It calls us to pay attention to the light in our lives. It encourages us to be thankful for the way a tiny light illuminates the darkness, rather than weighing it against the darkness which might seem much more immense. Chanukah is about being grateful for the ability to be hopeful.

So let's cultivate gratitude this year on Chanukah: gratitude for traditions, those we have inherited and those we have created anew; gratitude for family: families of origin, families of choice, or the families that are the communities we build and with whom we gather to celebrate; and gratitude for the blessings of our lives.

May your Chanukah be filled with light. Chag Urim Sameach.


Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen
Director of The Center for Jewish Living

celebrate chanukah at the jcc!

Join us to light candles in the lobby every night of Chanukah at 5:15 pm, except for Thursday and Friday, when we will be lighting at 1:30 pm. Gather with the JCC community and enjoy food, music, and more.


First Night, First Light
Wednesday, November 27, 4–6 pm

Free programs such as this are made possible by the generosity of donors to The JCC in Manhattan who deeply believe that there should be community places, spaces, and experiences that are accessible to everyone. Please do what you can today by supporting The JCC in Manhattan.

Thu, Nov 28: Symbolic candle lighting, 1:30 pm.
Fri, Nov 29: A pre-Shabbat symbolic candle lighting at 1:30 pm.
Sat, Nov 30: After R&R join us for Havdalah and to light the fourth candle at 5:15 pm.
Sun, Dec 1: Candle lighting, 5:15 pm.
Mon, Dec 2: Come celebrate the Festival of Lights as a family. Join us in the lobby for light and shadow exploration, and healthy Chanukah treats, 4:30-5:30 pm. Candle lighting at 5:15 pm.
Tue, Dec 3: Candle lighting at 5:15 pm.
Wed, Dec 4: Candle lighting at 5:15 pm.

chanukah programs

Engage Volunteer Opportunities:
Thu, Nov 21: Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst
Sun, Nov 24: Center for Special Needs Chanukah Party
For more information, please contact Rabbi Brian Fink, Director of Engage, at 646.505.4408 or bfink@jccmanhattan.org.

Center for Special Needs Chanukah Celebration
Sun, Nov 24, 11:30 am–1 pm, free all

JCC Nursery School Alumni Chanukah Party
Tue, Nov 26, 4–6 pm
RSVP to cgarrison@jccmanhattan.org

Vegetarian Chanukah Dinner: Savory Pancakes, Latkes + Risotto Cakes with Chef Jay Weinstein
Mon, Dec 2, 7–9:30 pm, $85/$95

Chanukah: A Meditation on Light
Mon, Dec 2, 7:15–9 pm

Chanukah Lobby Celebration (Infants and Toddlers)
Tue, Dec 3, 10–11 am, free

Seniors Chanukah Candle Lighting Party
Wed, Dec 4, 3:30–5 pm, free all

Eight Treats for Eight Lights for 20s + 30s with Chef Jennifer Abadi
Wed, Dec 4, 7–9:30 pm, $85/$95

Annual 20s & 30s Chanukah Soiree
Wed, Dec 4, 7:30pm $30 all

Latkes and Vodka: Annual Generation R Chanukah Soiree
Wed, Dec 4, 8 pm, $20 all

chanukah resources and treats

8 ways of gratitude on chanukah

Check Back Every Day of Chanukah for a New Chanukah Treat!

+ 1st Candle: Wednesday, November 27, 2013:

Everything you need to light the Chanukah candles with the Chanukah menorah/chanukiyah (which starts tonight!)

Instructions & Blessings for Lighting the
Chanukah Menorah

Chanukah Blessings by JJP assistant director and Rabbi Jessica Minnen at The JCC in Manhattan

The Chanukah Story
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters, against the Syrian Greeks, who in the 2nd century BCE sought to force the Jews to adopt Hellenistic culture and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem.

As they prepared to rededicate the Temple"("Chanukah" means "dedication"), "and re-light its menorah, the Maccabees found only one small jug of oil, enough to last one day but not for the eight days it would take to press new olive oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights.

+ 2nd Candle: Thursday, November 28, 2013

+ 3rd Candle: Friday, November 29, 2013

How to Play the Dreidel Game
A dreidel (sevivon in Hebrew) is a four-sided spinning top. Each side has a Hebrew letter on it, an acronym for נס גדול היה שם -nes gadol hayah sham,"a great miracle happened there."(In Israel dreidels have a peh"פ"for the last letter instead of a shin"ש"to replace the word sham שם, or"there", with poh פה, or"here."

+ 4th Candle: Saturday, November 30, 2013

FAQ's
Former Center for Jewish Living intern Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman answers a few extra questions you may be pondering

+ 5th Candle: Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chanukah Foods
Most Chanukah foods involve lots of oil, to symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. Jewish communities around the world developed different traditions based on their cuisine, such as potato latkes in Eastern Europe and fried sufganiyot (jelly donuts) in Israel.

Chanukah can be good for your health!
Olive oil and dark chocolate both have many health benefits. Visit our lobby this week for more information and for healthy variations on Chanukah classics.

+ 6th Candle: Monday, December 2, 2013

+ 7th Candle: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Feeling crafty?
DIY Chanukah Crafts

Need a new Chanukah menorah to spice up the last days of Chanukah?
25 Chanukah Crafts and DIY Menorahs
27 Awesome And Unexpected Menorahs

+ 8th Candle: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

celebrating a socially responsible chanukah

As we reflect on gratitude this Chanukah, let us make social justice, tzedakah, and volunteerism a part of our celebration.

West Side Campaign Against Hunger 1000
Turkey Challenge

The JCC is participating again this year in the interfaith coalition behind the 1000 Turkey Challenge for West Side Campaign Against Hunger.

Last year, the group of churches and synagogues collected over 1000 frozen turkeys and other food plus $19,000 for WSCAH to spend to ensure that all of the families that frequent their supermarket-style food pantry had a nutritious Thanksgiving dinner for their families.

Please help us make this a successful drive again this year!

The JCC's Holiday Toy Drive

The American Jewish World Service created a kavanah (intention) for families to read before opening Chanukah gifts.

Guilt-Free Gelt
T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights is proud to partner with Fair Trade Judaica to bring you child-labor free fair trade Chanukah gelt. Fair Trade Chanukah gelt will also be available for sale in the JCC lobby.