From Menurkeys to T-shirts, Thanksgivukkah Generates Big Bucks

The American pop culture mash-up that has given us the menurkey is quickly becoming a commercialized holiday.

NEW YORK – Thanksgivukkah, the extraordinarily rare confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, has become a full-fledged American pop culture phenomenon faster than a turkey can run from the hunter's rifle. It’s got its own trendy turkey-shaped menorah, T-shirts, a festival in L.A., a list on Buzzfeed and even a segment on The Colbert Report. Can Jon Stewart be far behind?

“People are just totally fascinated by this holiday mash-up,” says Anthony Weintraub, the father of Asher Weintraub, the young boy who designed the turkey-shaped menorah known as the menurkey. The Weintraub family’s involvement with Thanksgivukkah started when they were driving back to New York from visiting Asher’s maternal grandparents in Florida last January. Caroline Baron, who, like her husband, is a filmmaker and creator of educational digital content, looked at the calendar on her phone and noticed the holidays’ intersection.

Their son Asher, who was 9 years old at the time (and turned 10 this month), wondered aloud if anyone had ever come up with a turkey-shaped menorah. As soon as they got back to their Upper West Side apartment, Asher got to work with a computer-aided design program on his computer. And so the menurkey was born.

It was the first — but not last — product design for Asher, an apple-cheeked fourth grader at a local public school who also attends Hebrew school at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a Reform congregation on the Upper West Side, and has since gone on to design a bike lock and an iPhone case.

Around the same time, Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist in Albequerque, New Mexico, noticed the overlap. Mizrahi calculated the rarity of the intersection of these dates on the lunar Hebrew and solar Gregorian calendars and demonstrated them in graphs that only a scientist could love — or comprehend. Chanukkah will not overlap with Thanksgiving again, he said, until the year 79,811 — and then only if the Jewish calendar is not somehow reset to ensure that Passover remains a springtime holiday. Mizrahi sounded surprised that his calculations have gotten lots of attention.

“Originally when I put it up, I thought about 10 people were going to read it,” he said in an interview. “But a lot of people have really investigated that number more than I thought anybody would.”

Dana Gitell, who works in marketing at a Boston senior care agency, also noticed the holidays’ confluence and thought of it as an important cultural moment worth emphasizing.

“Here we’re celebrating America and Judaism on the same day, what an opportunity to celebrate Jewish freedom, what an opportunity for Jews to give thanks to America for all that we have here in this country,” said Gittell. With her sister-in-law Deborah Gitell and a graphic designer friend, she came up with a Thanksgivukkah design based on the iconic Woodstock poster that shows a dove sitting on the neck of a guitar. This version, though, shows a turkey and a menorah perched on the instrument’s neck. They partnered with online Judaica retailer ModernTribe, where a T-shirt touting the design was selling like hot latkes. On October 5, however, they got a cease-and-desist letter from the producers of the Woodstock music festival.

From clay to CAD design

Asher Weintraub was well-positioned for his menurkey moment. He has long been interested in video game design and 3D printing, and took a few classes in the relevant technologies with one of his buddies. Once he designed the menurkey, Asher tried sculpting it out of clay but it didn’t work very well, his father said. They took Asher’s CAD design to a 3D printer company, Makerbot, which is well-known for bringing 3D desktop printing to the masses, and printed the first menurkey prototype. A ceramicist the Weintraubs found on Etsy produced a plasticene version. Weintraub started a Kickstarter campaign hoping to net $25,000 to put the menurkey into production. Within days it had raised more than $48,000. From there, they found a company in New Jersey to produce the turkey-shaped menorahs in plaster. And now they’re being sold at www.menurkey.com for $50 each, as well as by the Jewish Museum of New York and on ModernTribe.com.

“So far we’ve made a little over 10. I don’t know the exact amount. All I know is that we have like three here,” Asher said in an after-school interview in the family’s apartment. “I’ve shown all the people in my class and most of them think it’s really cool.”

In fact, his dad said, they have sold 1,200 plaster menurkeys. Weintraub pere had to remove a higher-priced ceramic version from the menurkey website because after 300 were ordered he wasn’t sure he could deliver on more.

Jennie Rivlin Roberts, ModernTribe’s owner, plans to ship the plaster menurkeys to her customers with little pots of paint so they can decorate them, much as a child might decorate a plaster thingamabob in a paint-your-own-pottery shop. At press time, ModernTribe had been selling the menurkey for about a week and sold more than 140, “which is very unusual for us,” said Roberts. It is by far the best-selling of the 60 or so different menorah styles she carries, she said, which has especially surprised her because of the relatively high price of $50. Many are being purchased by collectors, she said. “Menorahs are probably the most collected item. Most people have one seder plate, maybe two, but people love a new menorah for their collection and display it all year long.”

As for that copyright infringement issue, ModernTribe got its buzz back and has sold hundreds of the Thanksgivukkah T-shirt even though Woodstock Ventures harshed the mash-up holiday’s mellow. “People call and are ordering T-shirts for their whole family,” said Roberts. “Thanksgivukkah means more gift exchanging, different foods, people are making a fun time out of it.”

Enthusiasm for the menurkey is at least partly due to its origins in the mind of a 9-year-old, said Anthony Weintraub. People “love this functional object, this kid-made thing. It’s humorous.”

Asher was set on giving part of the proceeds to charity right from the very beginning, his dad said. Asher told Haaretz that he’s planning to give the charity to the World Wildlife Federation, because “I like animals - a lot.” His two fish, named Yes and Yes, have died, but Asher is hoping that he’ll be able to get a hamster with some of the menurkey money. He also really wants to buy a 3D printer of his own.

“There’s a lot of things I want to print with it, a few things that would come in handy organizing my desk and stuff like that,” Asher said. His father, while still open to the possibility of a desktop 3D printer, said, “I hate to break him, but most of it will go to the college fund.”

There is a Thanksgivukkah festival slated for November 29 in Los Angeles. That’s the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day in American retail, known as Black Friday. The festival will feature food trucks, a cook-off, Israeli dancing and several live bands, according to its fundraising video on Jewcer. “Pass over Black Friday and come build a Thanksgivukkah festival,” says Deborah Gittell in the video. “Because it won’t come again for 80,000 years.”

The menurkey isn’t the only Thanksgivukkah item benefitting a nonprofit organization. Giving 10 percent of the Thanksgivukkah T-shirt proceeds to Mazon, a Jewish charity that fights hunger, was part of the plan from its inception, said MordernTribe’s Roberts. That plan subsequently helped her settle with Woodstock Ventures partner Joel Rosenman, who demanded a licensing fee since the Thanksgivukkah T-shirt was based on the classic Woodstock image. A week after he sent her a cease-and-desist letter, they struck an agreement that has Woodstock Ventures giving most of its licensing fee to Mazon, with the shirt again being sold by ModernTribe. Rosenman did not respond to requests for comment.

The Weintraub family, like most Americans, plans to celebrate Thanksgiving and Hanukkah with members of their extended clan. And “we’ll probably bring a menurkey,” Asher said.

Courtesy ModernTribe