Maj. (Chaplain) Horovitz, who took me along with him to find all the Jews in the 82nd Airborne.

Maj. (Chaplain) Horovitz, who insisted I go with him in 2005 to find all the Jews in the 82nd Airborne for a Sukkot celebration.

For my family, Thanksgiving has always been our holiday … the most relaxed time to be together and be truly thankful for friends and family.

Because Chanukah – unlike Christmas – floats around the calendar, this year it overlaps with Thanksgiving.

For 2013, Chanukah, or the Festival of Light, runs from Wednesday, Nov. 27, through Thursday, Dec. 5.

This is a holiday that has been elevated from minor to major in the United States, in part to give Jewish kids a winter event as most of the nation celebrates Christmas. But for me, this is one more reason to give thanks for being a citizen of the freest country in the world, and a resident of a city that’s completely tolerant and accepting.

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Click to see full size.

Our friend Ben Goldenberg at the Jewish Community of Louisville, sent us this very cool infographic that explains the origins of  Chanukah, (which we spelled “Hanukkah” in the day).

This is the Jewish federations’ second  infographic. “Our Sukkot infographic was such a huge hit, we continued the series with one about Chanukah,” Ben wrote in an email.

True story: While I was waiting at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for a Black Hawk to a remote forward operating base, an Army chaplain – a rabbi – came up to me out of the blue and said God had a different plan for me that day.

I was going with him to an 82nd Airborne FOB and we were going to round up all the Jews for a Sukkot celebration, Sukkot being a remembrance of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert, as well as an agricultural ceremony.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well, why not …  it should take about 30 seconds to find all the Jews in the 82nd Airborne.”

To my surprise, on a tiny fire base in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, we rounded up 16 people – paratroops, support soldiers, Department of Defense civilians and clandestine operators – who self-identified as Jews, and who kept Jewish traditions.

I’ll never forget that day … and my mitzvah. (More about mitzvahs below.)

Louisville’s Jewish community is very active this time  of year. As an example, the community has a formal program to assist the needy, which aligns nicely with Christian tradition.

The Jewish Community effort is called Merry Mitzvah, a mitzvah in the modern world interpreted as an act of kindness and selflessness that one does as part of being a Jew, a bit of a evolution from the original meaning of “commandment.”

Here’s from the Jewish Community website:

Merry Mitzvah projects start early this year

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace, Editor, Community]

The calendar may say it is only the end of October, but this year, that means Chanukah is right around the corner. The first candle is November 27, the night before Thanksgiving. And if Chanukah is so close, that must mean it is time for Merry Mitzvah 2013.

Co-chaired by Amy Benovitz and Rabbi David, this year’s program offers a wide variety of mitzvah projects and lots of volunteers are need to meet the needs. For full list click here.

There are four Merry Mitzvah projects scheduled for November. “Hanukah Helpers,” the Jewish Family & Career Services/Temple Shalom program to provide Chanukah gifts and winter clothing for children in need in the Jewish community, is already underway. Pick up your dreidel at Temple Shalom today. Each dreidel has a fictional name of a child, the child’s real age and his/her real list of needs.

Other Merry Mitzvah projects including cooking and baking for Ronald McDonald House, Wellspring and Volunteers of America and preparing and serving meals at the VOA shelter.

During November, The Temple is collecting supplies for the homeless including warm gloves, hats and underwear for adults and children; baby products and diapers; as well as toiletries, linens, parka-style coats for homeless men, new socks, uniforms and school supplies.

There are also many opportunities throughout the month of December to provide gifts and supplies, perform music, cook and bake, serve food and make parties.

For more information on how you can contribute, see the Jewish Community of Louisville page here.