For 30 years, Stuart Kahan has resisted customers’ entreaties to shake up the Hanukkah selection at his Teaneck, New Jersey, delicatessen. Now he has a reason to move beyond potato pancakes: Thanksgivukkah, a mashup of the American and Jewish celebrations.
Owing to an overlap in the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have collided for the first time since at least early last century. Merchants as varied as Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN:US), Martha Stewart and Teaneck’s Smokey Joe’s kosher barbecue are rising to the occasion with Thanksgivukkah menus, tchotchkes and merchandise.
Exhibit A: the Menurkey, a turkey-themed menorah, the eight-tiered Hanukkah candelabra, dreamed up by a 9-year-old boy from Manhattan. For folks who want to commemorate the occasion there are “Gobble Tov” and “Happy Thanukkah” shirts. Americans will spend $2.38 billion on Thanksgiving dinner alone, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“Everybody’s excited about it,” Kahan said. “It’s like a double whammy, two for the price of one.”
The holiday merger has spawned unlikely combinations, including maneschewitz-brined turkey, sweet potato bourbon noodle kugel, challah-apple stuffing and pecan pie rugelach.
In Teaneck, a New York suburb with a large Jewish population, Kahan and other merchants say the combo holiday is driving higher sales than usual.
Kahan, who runs the Ma’adan deli, said he’s sold 50 percent more turkeys than previous years because many of his customers are having a combined Hanukkah-Thanksgiving celebration with extra guests.
Joe Godin, owner of Smokey Joe’s, a kosher barbecue restaurant on Cedar Lane, said sales have surged 20 percent this year. He taught a Thanksgivukkah cooking class at a local Jewish community center and is offering a menu that includes items such as smoked duck and wild rice latkes.
Not everyone is planning a joint observance.
“We’re celebrating them separately,” said Toni Nayowitz, the 61-year-old owner of the Judaica House gift shop in Teaneck’s Cedar Lane shopping district. “We’re not double-dipping. They’re both very important.”
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A mother of four and grandmother of eight, Nayowitz stopped by the neighboring Teaneck General Store last week to pick up her first Hanukkah gift, a Popular Mechanics puzzle.
Even those who don’t observe Thanksgiving and other secular holidays say they’re intrigued by the event.
“It’s cool because it’s something different,” said Chana Gledzahler, 28, a therapist who lives in the ultra-Orthodox town of Monsey, New York.
Americans are taking to social media to share ideas on celebrating the dual holiday. On YouTube, you can find decorating tips. Over on Pinterest, celebrants are sharing their favorite mashup menus, including butternut squash latkes. On its website, Williams-Sonoma Inc. has pulled together “Best of the Web” menus. Of course, Twitter has a holiday handle: #Thanksgivukkah.
The rarity of the event has left Jennie Rivlin, founder of the ModernTribe Jewish gifts website, struggling to keep up with demand. As of last week, she had sold 4,500 $36 t-shirts emblazoned with “Thanksgivukkah 2013: 8 days of Light, Liberty & Latkes,” which she had to keep reprinting as they sold out.
“People are ordering t-shirts for their entire families,” she said.
Right now, 70 percent of the site’s sales are coming from Thanksgivukkah goods, said Rivlin, who once counseled Fortune 500 companies in industrial and organizational psychology. The booming sales of her Thanksgivukkah merchandise prompted her to open a pop-up store in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood, drawing shoppers from all over the notoriously congested metro area.
Hanukkah commemorates the oil used to keep a candelabra burning for eight days in the Temple in Jerusalem during an uprising against the Seleucid Empire. To celebrate, Jews eat oily fried foods such as latkes and jelly doughnuts. Hanukkah typically falls in December.
The timing of the last and next convergence of the holidays has sparked intense debate in the Jewish community.
Justin Topilow, vice at president at 40 North Industries in New York, created a spreadsheet of the Jewish calendar going back to Oct. 15, 1592, in order to calculate the interplay between the lunar Jewish calendar, which adds a leap month every three years or so, and the Biblical mandate that the Passover holiday must fall in the spring.
Topilow, 41, determined that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlapped in 1888 and 1899. While Thanksgiving will coincide with the first night of Hanukkah in 2070, he estimates, the first day won’t converge again “in any real time.”
Jeremy Wertheimer, 52, vice president of travel at Google Inc., gave a talk at his synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts, about the timing of the Jewish holidays that included an eight-page handout he created.
Hanukkah and Thanksgiving may coincide again in “many tens of millennia,” said Wertheimer, who has a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded ITA Software, a flight-search company bought by Google for $700 million in 2011.
His family will have a “huge number” of people over for a combined celebration tomorrow. Thanksgiving, though secular, has “a very strong resonance with Jewish values,” he said.
Meanwhile, those menurkeys are hot sellers.
Alexis Robins, the assistant teen coordinator at the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades in Tenafly, New Jersey, has received a flood of queries for her menurkey-making workshop this month. The center had only supplies for 25, then saw another 25 walk-ins.
When Robins, 24, broached creating Thanksgivukkah events a few months ago, “everyone thought I was a little crazy,” she said. “Who knew it was going to be so hot?”
Robins also planned a latke fusion Thanksgivukkah bar at one event, intrigued by the idea of using creme brulee torches to melt marshmallows onto sweet potato pancakes.
Kahan, who’s been in business since 1982, has long resisted such hybridization.
This year, “it’s not like I had a choice,” he said. “I had to make sweet potato latkes.”
He’d received 400 orders as of last week, and Kahan is selling them only today and tomorrow.
“I’ll do it again in another 70,000 years,” he said.
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