This year’s unusual confluence of Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah has added a new word to our lexicon – Thanksgivukkah – and a new kind of chanukiah – the menurkey – to our windowsills.
Like every other year, however, local day schools are using Thanksgiving as a teaching tool to reinforce the fundamental Jewish value of gratitude. After all, the Hebrew word “hodu” means “give thanks” as well as “turkey.”
|This Solomon Schechter Day School student holds a turkey; the turkey holds conjugations of the word l’hodot –
Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford took advantage of this coincidence in several ways. Fourth- graders combed through the daily prayer book to find ideas and phrases related to gratitude, and used those words to create centerpieces for their families’ Thanksgiving tables.
Sixth-graders are keeping gratitude journals, and all the middle school students will create “thankfulness chains” next week during their regular visit to residents of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh.
Inspired by the University of Chicago’s annual campus-wide Latke-Hamentaschen Debate, Schechter will host its first-ever Great Latke-Turkey Debate the day before Thanksgiving. Middle school pupils will debate the question before the entire student body, and every Schechter student will weigh in by wearing a brown latke necklace or an orange turkey necklace. Students who like neither latkes nor turkey will wear a purple circle necklace.
Schechter’s head of school, Ruth Gafni, said that the essence of Thanksgiving dovetails neatly with Jewish tradition. “We start each day by saying [the prayer] ‘modeh ani’ to express how grateful we are,” she said. “And our school philosophy is to imbue a sense of awe and gratitude. This is an opportunity to showcase it and take it to the next level.”
At the Moriah School in Englewood, the “positive psychology” value of gratitude is the theme for the Jewish month of Kislev, in which both Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall.
“Older and younger paired buddies had the opportunity to express gratitude to a variety of important individuals in their lives: parents, school faculty and staff, chayalim [Israeli soldiers], veterans, and deployed troops by creating gratitude projects,” Moriah’s principal, Elliott Prager, said.
For example, some Moriah students decorated and packed care packages for Israeli soldiers, while others made lifesaving paracord bracelets to donate to U.S. troops stationed abroad through Operation Gratitude.
“Throughout the month, our students have been engaged in a range of in-class activities to further reinforce the importance of expressing gratitude,” Dr. Prager said. “Our first- and second-graders especially enjoyed reading ‘Gratitude Soup,’ a beautifully illustrated book which emphasizes the asset of gratitude and inspired our students to self-reflect upon the various gifts in their lives.”
At the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, each grade has approached Thanksgiving in a unique way.
“We look at Thanksgiving as a day for recognizing all the wonderful and important things in our lives,” the school’s principal, Arlene Libman, said. “Truthfully, as Orthodox Jews, we view each day as a day to give thanks.
Third-grade boys’ teacher Chana Zinstein has her pupils writing “persuading paragraphs” incorporating Thanksgiving and Chanukah. “The boys are pretending to be the turkey and are persuading the farmer to eat latkes this year instead of turkeys for Thanksgiving.”
They also discussed the hardships the Pilgrims faced. “I try to tie in their religious persecution to the Jews and how this land was a haven for both of us,” Ms. Zinstein said.
First-grade teacher Julie Nicolosi told the story of the first Thanksgiving, read books about life on the Mayflower, and directed her pupils in creating “thankful turkeys” and illustrating poems about turkeys and Pilgrims.
Annie Blumenthal’s second-graders interviewed their parents about what countries their ancestors came from, and when they came to America. Then they charted the data into a bar graph and tally time line. “The families of the boys came from 16 different countries and began arriving in America in the late 1800s,” Ms. Blumenthal said. “We also prepared a Venn diagram comparing what the boys thought their ancestors brought with them versus what the Pilgrims brought.”
Second-graders in Dina Lehman’s RYNJ class learned about the culture of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, and made totem poles decorated with pictures of people in their families for whom they are thankful. They also composed a few sentences describing their totem poles and produced color-by-number Thanksgiving pictures.
A festive early childhood pageant is the highlight of every pre-Thanksgiving at the Yavneh Academy of Paramus. “We also had a wonderful staff-led workshop about ways to incorporate the themes of Chanukah together with Thanksgiving,” its head of school, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, said.
Yavneh’s early childhood director, Shani Norman, said Yavneh’s preschoolers “are busy exploring, creating, writing, patterning, illustrating, baking and experimenting when learning about Thanksgiving. For our fabulous feast, the children crafted their own costumes, prepared their own foods, and chose their own Native American names.”
Residents of the Jewish Home Assisted Living Home in River Vale were invited to Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus for an annual Thanksgiving feast served by junior high school students. The event included a patriotic singalong.
Ben Porat Yosef’s early childhood director, Jessica Kohn, wears a costume as she conducts a Thanksgiving pow-wow. She tells the story of the first Thanksgiving and sings songs with the preschoolers, who invite each other for a feast of Thanksgiving treats that they prepared with their teachers.
Pre-K pupils at Yeshivat He’Atid in Bergenfield will make their own butter to spread on bread at their dairy pre-Thanksgiving feast on Wednesday.
Embracing Thanksgivukkah, He’Atid pupils are making menurkeys from wood, and placemats decorated for Thanksgiving on one side and Chanukah on the other.
“For the Thanksgiving side, the children dipped their hands into different turkey-colored paints to create a hand-printed turkey. They also worked on their writing skills with the use of inventive writing to form words that remind them of Thanksgiving, such as cranberry, turkey, and pilgrim,” said He’Atid’s spokeswoman, Leiku Perles.
“On the Chanukah side, the children used their handprints to create little dreidels and a menorah. They listed all the things that remind them about Chanukah, from delicious sufganiyot to the illuminating chanukiah. They cut out the Chanukah brachot and pasted them onto their placemats so they will be able to follow along with their parents when lighting the menorah.”
Middle-school students at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus will write a message of appreciation to their current teachers, previous teachers, and administrators as part of a “Thank You” program initiated by educator Aliza Chanales.
Noam kindergartners and their teachers spent a day costumed as Pilgrims, gathering sticks, vegetables, and other materials outdoors to make their own soup, soap, and brooms. They used the soap to wash laundry, which they then hung to dry on a clothesline, and swept the classroom floor with their stick-and-corn-husk brooms.
Noam’s spokeswoman, Amy Vogel, reported that the elementary grades took part in an interactive Lenape museum show to learn about the Lenape Indians of New Jersey. Kevin Twosteps, a member of that tribe, introduced them to artifacts, tools, games, and traditional musical instruments such as drums and turtle rattles.
“Kevin continued on to tell stories and discuss ancient Lenape legends that reflected important issues such as the environment, character education, and building self-esteem,” Ms. Vogel said. “With singing, dancing, history, and storytelling, this show had it all!”