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On Thanksgiving

10/31/2022 09:32:12 AM


Rabbi Ezray

I love Thanksgiving!

Yes, a piece of that response is the food; mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, pie, my mother in law’s sweet potato casserole with pecans on top; all my favorites. I also love the Macy’s parade and the loud cacophony of different conversations and generations coming together around the table. 

The holiday resonates even more deeply in its connection with Jewish values.

Gathering together. Gratitude. A shared story that unites us.

Thanksgiving is rooted in these values which resonate with sacred Jewish values.

Take a moment and think about how to create the connection between Jewish values and Thanksgiving at your table.

Practice gratitude, both at your Thanksgiving table and every day. 

Gratitude changes us. Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. It helps us feel more positive, relish good experiences, improve health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Judaism ingrains gratitude into our hearts. Psalms, prayers, and other sacred texts create a breadth of moments and experiences to be grateful for. Saying blessings of gratitude for food, moments, seeing a friend, and nature highlight the good that surrounds us.   

The word for a Jew in Hebrew – Yehudi – comes from the root to be grateful. The name derives from Leah and Jacob’s 4th son – Yehuda (Judah). Judah’s birth caused Leah to exclaim ha’pa’am odeh et Adonai – this time I will thanks the Lord (Genesis 29:35). We as a people, Yehudim, have come to be identified by the name of this son, Yehudah. Our essence is gratitude. 

Deepening our sense of what we are grateful for enhances the gratitude of Thanksgiving. Rabbi Ed Feinstein writes that the story we tell of Thanksgiving is one of the Pilgrims escaping tyranny and religious persecution of the Old World and braving a treacherous journey to find freedom on this continent. The conditions were dire and the Pilgrims nearly perished. They were rescued by generous natives who brought food and taught them to survive in this land. A year later, they sat down to a Thanksgiving feast, in gratitude to the natives who welcomed them and to God for protecting them. Holding on to this piece of the story, we too reflect on our appreciation of our freedom and survival after difficult history. This is our story as well; dreaming of freedom, harrowing journey, and people who assisted us along the way (like Moses’ father-in-law Yitro).

Like the pilgrims, we too celebrate new beginnings and a sense of homecoming in America. We have so much to be grateful for and our shared sense of gratitude with the Thanksgiving story enhances our holiday. 

I write this column with awareness that the history of Thanksgiving (like most history) is complicated and messy; fraught with difficulties. The arrival of the Pilgrims was the beginning of an unhappy history for Native Americans; disease, land theft, relocation, loss of sacred culture, and beliefs. These are wrongs that must be acknowledged and accounted for. This is a piece of the story that also must be lifted up around the Thanksgiving table.  

I believe we can hold onto the complicated history of the holiday and our gratitude. In fact, our awareness of the messiness of the story allows us to reflect on healing and justice which can occur. We can gather around the table with loved ones and delicious food, while proclaiming Modeh Ani, which means both, “I am grateful,” and, “I acknowledge." May this Thanksgiving bring love, meaning, gratitude, and healing.

In the spirit of gratitude, I would like to remind all of you that we are working to raise money for Second Harvest Food Bank. In the past we’ve done food drives for them, but as they’ve had to pivot in the midst of the pandemic, they are asking for financial donations. Please click on the banner further down this email or click HERE to donate.

Tue, May 30 2023 10 Sivan 5783