PLYMOUTH — Alexander Hailman finally got to meet his ancestor Myles Standish, although chances are the storied Plimoth Plantation captain won’t be able to make the Lexington lad’s bar mitzvah.
Hailman, 12, is a student at Kehillah Schechter Academy, a Jewish day school in Norwood. Last week, the school traveled to Plymouth to celebrate a fluke in the calendar: the convergence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah, dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” by a Kehillah Schechter parent, Dana Gitell.
Since no self-respecting holiday lacks its own song, Rabbi David Paskin, co-head of the school, wrote “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah,” which the students sang at the plantation and then at the Mayflower II. Yesterday, the students were scheduled to perform it again on the steps of the State House. They were hoping their Beacon Hill audience would include Governor Deval Patrick, who had already signed a proclamation declaring Thanksgivukkah Day in Massachusetts.
Besides running the school and serving as rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Paskin, 42, has made a name for himself at Jewish camps and on the Web as the rock ‘n’ roll rabbi (“I bought the URL, so I think that makes it true,” he says). He first picked up a guitar as a student at Brandeis, where he graduated with a degree in Judaic and Near Eastern Studies in 1993.
Paskin, soloing on vocals and guitar, recorded the ballad and then enlisted the entire Kehillah Schechter community to make a music video. As the song boomed from a wireless Bose speaker in his backpack, Paskin swept down hallways, through classrooms, and up and down staircases filming with his iPhone. Eighth-graders posted in strategic spots lip-synched the lyrics and held props, such as a mock Mayflower wheel. Younger students supplemented the soundtrack, singing snippets from Hanukkah favorites “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “Rock of Ages.”
“Amazingly, we got it done in two takes,” Paskin said. Since it was posted on YouTube on Oct. 10, the video has been viewed nearly 20,000 times and drawn the attention of news outlets from as far away as California and Israel. The Plymouth trip was filmed by a crew from PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly”; it is due to be broadcast locally Monday.
With its infectious melody and playful rhymes (Squanto and pronto; latkes and minorities), the ballad tends to lodge itself in your head. Paskin credits Gitell and his daughter Ayelet, a fifth-grader at the school and “my toughest critic,” with providing the finishing touches.
Yes, all this Thanksgivukkah stuff may at first seem like a stretch. But while some critics scoff that the hybrid celebration detracts from the individual holidays, Paskin says it enriches them both.
“We’re going to laugh at ourselves. And we’re going to learn with one another. We’re perhaps going to dig into Hanukkah more than we ever have before, and maybe even into Thanksgiving more than we ever have before,” said Paskin, who shares leadership of the academy with Nitzan Resnik.
Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday; its origins aren’t even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Often viewed as the Jewish counterpart to Christmas – at least as far as gift-giving goes — the spirit of Hanukkah parallels that of Thanksgiving. Like the Pilgrims some 1,800 years later, the Maccabees were forced to struggle for religious freedom.
Kehillah Schechter, which enrolls 109 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has turned the convergence into a multidisciplinary affair, viewing it through religious, historical, mathematical, and even engineering perspectives.
Before the trip to Plymouth, a class of third- and fourth-graders presented a timeline charting the Maccabees, the Pilgrims, and the various incarnations of Thanksgiving. Responding to questions from their teacher, Tamar Benjamin, they spoke not just about what happened when, but also about the hows and whys. “It’s been really cool to put the focus on religious freedom,” Benjamin said.
As a bonus, the students have mastered vagaries of the calendar that probably baffle many of their parents. Such as why we’ll have to wait 78,000 years for the next time the first day of Hanukkah occurs on Thanksgiving. Hint: The Jewish calendar is based on the moon’s circuit of the sun; the Gregorian calendar on the earth’s circuit of the sun; and the date of Thanksgiving on when the fourth Thursday happens to fall in November. More latke-crusted stuffing, anyone?
Older students in the school Engineering Lab built turkey-shaped menorahs, one of which is now in the permanent collection of Plimoth Plantation.
Imagine Judah Maccabee sitting down to roast turkey.Passing the potatoes to Squanto,And pilgrims in Jerusalem standing with Hasmoneans.Got to get this temple cleaned up pronto.
For the Plimoth visit, students came armed with clipboards and questions. They fanned out among the villagers, asking about where they got their clothes, how they cooked their meals, how old they were when they got married. It was a bit of a mob scene around Standish, so Alex couldn’t really chat with his 12th-great-grandfather on his father’s side. On his mother’s side of the family, Alex has a grandfather who just managed to escape the Nazis before Jews were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto.
The younger students tended to be the most persistent inquisitors. As one village woman plucked away at a headless rooster, several sixth- or seventh-grader girls turned away in disgust; but their younger schoolmates didn’t flinch as they asked whether the feathers could be stuffed in pillows (answer: “It would be like sleeping on pins and needles”).
The rooster definitely wasn’t kosher; there were no Jews among the Mayflower passengers. But the Pilgrims did identify with the ancient Hebrews, according to Karin J. Goldstein, curator of Collections and Library at Plimoth Plantation.
“They used the Red Sea as a metaphor for the Atlantic, fleeing from pharaoh,” Goldstein said. Coming out of the Protestant Reformation, the Pilgrims were interested in the Hebrew language and original Biblical sources, she added, noting that William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, learned Hebrew in his later years.
Goldstein just published “A History of Jewish Plymouth” (History Press, 2013), which she wrote at the suggestion of fellow congregants at her synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob, located just a few blocks from Plymouth Rock.
The plantation will give dreidels to its first 500 visitors on Thanksgiving Day. It also will hand out a pamphlet featuring traditional and original recipes with a Hanukkah twist. But the plantation’s kitchen won’t be serving any cranberry-orange kugel. That would be stretching things.
The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah
By Rabbi David Paskin, with help from Ayelet Paskin and Dana Reichman Gitell
© 2013 Rabbi David Paskin
Imagine Judah Maccabee sitting down to roast turkey
Passing the potatoes to Squanto
And pilgrims in Jerusalem standing with Hasmoneans
Got to get this temple cleaned up pronto
Like applesauce with cranberries, turkey stuffed with fried latkes
It’s clear that this is one heck of a mitzvah
Let’s celebrate this great country, religious minorities
Everybody loves Thanksgivukkah
I had a little turkey (toykey), I named him Maccabee
I tried and tried to spin him but I was not lucky
Thanksgivukkah, Thanksgivukkah; Let’s celebrate across America
Thanksgivukkah, Thanksgivukkah; Happy Holidays, Thanksgivukkah!
Nun, Gobble, Hay, Shin
Apple, rhubarb and pumpkin
167 BCE the Has-mo-ne-an dynasty
Was challenged by the lure of Hellenizers
But Greek culture could not compare to spinning tops and Jewish prayer
The miracle of light kept burning brighter
In 1620 pilgrims came across the ocean here to claim
A new land where the Mayflower could dock
At a place we must mention they met native Americans
When they landed here at Plymouth . . .
Rock of Ages let our song
praise Thy saving power
Thanksgivukkah, Thanksgivukkah; Let’s celebrate across America
Thanksgivukkah, Thanksgivukkah; Happy Holidays, Thanksgivukkah!Steve Maas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.