As many of you are aware, Thanksgiving and Chanukah are happening at the same time this year! Since I am no expert on Jewish religion and culture, I invited fellow blogger Rachel to share with us her thoughts on this very special holiday season. Rachel maintains her own (and might I add excellent) blog which focuses on eating disorder recovery for the spiritually-minded Jewish community.
But if that doesn’t sound like you, DON’T STOP READING! This is such a fabulous post about something every one of us can relate to- how to feel sane in a world that is diet obsessed and weight phobic. Thank you Rachel for sharing your unique and always thoughtful perspective on such a unique topic. Enjoy.
In case you haven’t heard, two great holidays–Thanksgiving and Chanukah–are about to make an unlikely convergence. The resulting, “Thanksgivukkah,” has become quite a craze, producing hybrid treats such as butternut squash sweet potato latkes, and even inspiring Conan O’Brien to get in on the action with the Turkey Dreidel. Personally, I feel like these two holidays are meant to be together–how else can you explain that the biblical Hebrew word for “give thanks,” hodu (הודו), is ALSO the modern Hebrew word for, “turkey”? Coincidence? I think not.
The truth is that Thanksgiving and Chanukah also have some thematic similarities, chief among them being the shared emphasis on freedom, particularly cultural and religious freedom. Most of the original “Pilgrims” came to the New World because they were unhappy with the Church of England’s inflexible, dictatorial style. In England, attendance at Anglican churches was mandatory and people didn’t feel that it was safe to practice their religion openly in any other way. Similarly, the Maccabees of the Chanukah story rebelled against the Greeks’ attempts to forcibly Hellenize the Jewish people in the Holy Land. Hellenic culture emphasized idol worship and focused on physical beauty–concepts that were deeply at odds with traditional Jewish values of monotheism and spiritual connection to Torah.
I find the common theme of freedom fascinating, particularly the Jewish resistance against a culture of materialism. Recently I have been feeling quite frustrated with the cultural world I inhabit–it seems that I can’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing something related to dieting, weight loss, exercise, or physical appearance. Between television, radio, magazine covers, social media, and conversations overheard in just about any venue imaginable, there is no shortage of evidence that we live in a food-, body-, and weight-obsessed culture.
Recovering from an eating disorder while living in such an environment can be a maddeningly frustrating experience. A clinician I know explains it this way: “A person recovering from an eating disorder is recovering into a very disturbed world.” To recover means to land above and beyond where the vast majority of people are in terms of food and body. Although it can be satisfying to have such an evolved perspective, it also can be challenging. It’s hard to feel forced out of all the bonding that happens over discussions about exercise routines, and it can be daunting to try to practice “normal eating” when you are surrounded by people eating diet foods. Even though I know I should be proud of myself for doing what is healthy and supportive of a life in recovery, I sometimes experience shame around not complying with the prevailing cultural expectations. In those moments when I feel like I will scream if one more person comments on how she supposes she can afford to eat dessert because she worked out that morning, I have to dig deep and remind myself that I actually don’t want to fit into that cultural norm–I’ve worked too hard to raise myself above it.
It is hard to swim alone against the tide. The Pilgrims and Maccabees knew this, which is why they each formed groups in order to defend and preserve their true values. Similarly, we need to surround ourselves with other people who can reinforce our commitment to a life free of the food-and-body obsession. This Thanksgivukkah season, I wish all of us the courage of our ancestors to keep our eyes and hearts trained on what is truly important and beautiful in this world.