Celebrating Thanksgivukkah in SLO County

The giant menorah in front of Mission San Luis Obispo was lighted for the first night of Hanukkah on Wednesday.
The giant menorah in front of Mission San Luis Obispo was lighted for the first night of Hanukkah on Wednesday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

For Los Osos cooking instructor Brenda Hock, the rare convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving means even more chances to whip up seasonal goodies.

In addition to the turkey, apple pie and Brussels sprouts salad she’d usually prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, she’ll serve Hanukkah treats with a twist — such as pumpkin-flavored challah bread and sweet potato latkes with a side of applesauce.

This year, Thanksgiving Day coincides with the first day of Hanukkah, which officially starts Wednesday night.

Thanksgivukkah, as the shared holiday has become known, has happened just once before, in 1888. It merges a secular holiday saluting the season’s bounty and an eight-day religious “festival of lights” commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Members of San Luis Obispo County’s Jewish community are embracing Thanksgivukkah as a fun, festive way to celebrate with friends and family while sharing Jewish culture with the masses.

“We’ll get to try to do something different and unique,” said Los Osos attorney Jon-Erik Storm, who is celebrating with his wife, children and a few close family members. He plans to make hand turkey-inspired latkes with his three-year-old son, Asher, and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Dinah.

On Wednesday, the Jewish Community Center of San Luis Obispo will celebrate Thanksgivukkah with the lighting of a large menorah in Mission Plaza, followed by a community party at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. Participants will compete in a dreidel spinning contest, make menorahs and sample pumpkin-stuffed donuts and chocolate coins known as gelt.

“One of the things I’m definitely thankful for is … that our community here is so open to diversity and interested in other cultures and warm and welcoming,” said Storm, who teaches a world religions class at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. “Having the menorah lighting at the Mission speaks volumes to the kind of place we live in.”

For the community celebration, Hock created a faux turkey molded out of mock chopped liver. Intended to feed 200 people, the dish required about 50 pounds of ingredients, she said, including 12 pounds of nuts, four dozen hard-boiled eggs and plenty of mushrooms and fried onions.

“These are two holidays where tradition is so important and they’re both melded together for this occasion,” said the culinary whiz, who’s no stranger to shared celebrations. She and her friends hold an annual Christmakwanzakah party combining Hanukkah, Christmas and the African-American holiday Kwanzaa.

Susan Stern-Pearl finds the combination of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah “really awkward.” But, she added, “It’s so unique and so special that it does call a lot of attention to (the holiday).”

Thursday, the retired business owner will open her Shell Beach home to 15 people and three dogs. They’re planning a kosher turkey dinner with potato latkes instead of mashed potatoes.

This year’s celebration, which will include songs, candle-lighting and dreidel-spinning, will be particularly poignant for Stern-Pearl and her family. Her husband, Jack, a retired school administrator, died on Sept. 1.

“He loved Hanukkah,” she recalled. “He would leave up the decorations for, like three months. I’d say, ‘Enough with the decorations! We have to take them down!’”

However they plan to celebrate Thanksgivukkah, county residents know they won’t get another chance to do so anytime soon.

According to a calculation by physicist Jonathan Mizrahi, the next time Thanksgiving coincides with the start of Hanukkah will be more than 78,000 years from now.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Latkes

Yields about 20 large or 30 small latkes

  • 1 1/2 lb. Idaho or Russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled (not yams)
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (can substitute egg whites)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or cornstarch)
  • 1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Corn oil
  1. Using a hand grater or food processor, coarsely grate the unpeeled potatoes and peeled sweet potatoes. Let sit in water while preparing the rest.
  2. Grate onion into a separate bowl and set aside.
  3. Transfer grated potatoes to a large colander and let drain for 10 minutes.
  4. Stir grated onions into potatoes with a fork, then add beaten eggs, flour, salt and pepper and mix well.
  5. Heat about 1/4 cup of corn oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, drop level spoonfuls of the potato mixture into hot oil. Do not crowd the pan, leaving enough room on all sides of each latke.
  6. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes per side, pressing lightly with a spatula before turning, until golden brown on both sides.
  7. Once cooked, drain on brown paper bags or paper towels laid over a baking sheet in a warm oven (200 degrees). Add more oil to the skillet for additional batches.

Note: Latkes can be made in advance. Reheat in a 400-degree oven on a baking sheet for five minutes.

— Courtesy of Brenda Hock