Posts Tagged ‘American Jews’

Thanksgiving Jew.0

November 24, 2009

For Jews, Thanksgiving is both a re-run and a preview.  Our harvest festival, Sukkot, was weeks ago.  Pesach (Passover), which won’t come around until the end of March, is our time to gather the family around for a freedom feast.  We are Americans as well as Jews, however, and there are no laws prohibiting us from participating in Thanksgiving’s tasty, and primarily, secular celebrations.  In fact, most people would agree that we should express thanks for the freedom and prosperity we’ve found in the United States.

This ain't Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving

Growing up, my family usually celebrated Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s house on Long Island.  We started our meal by lighting candles and saying the blessing for Yom Tov (1).  My aunt’s father would bless the wine and say the Shehechiyanu (2), in recognition of the miracle that we were all together for another year.  Next, we’d say haMotzi over my aunt’s finger-licking, buttery garlic bread before moving onto the spinach salad, turkey, and sweet potato pie.

Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, per se.  For many, this is one of its greatest attributes.  Temporarily putting aside the critical debate over the real relationship between the settlers and native Americans, we gather to gorge ourselves on great food and family.  But, like so many others, my family began this day off from work and school in front of the television, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; a parade that ends with Santa riding his sleigh down Broadway, ringing in the holiday season.  For us, it was the beginning of the annual, month-long reminder that we were different.

And so, it seems appropriate that we should find meaning for Thanksgiving as Jews: A day for reaffirming our Jewish identity within and against the dominant Christian-American culture; A day to recommit ourselves to acts of Tikkun Olam, to work for peace and justice like the fight against hunger; A day to enact responsible choices about what we put on our tables and in our bodies.

Chag Samaech. Happy Holiday.

Notes:
1. Yom Tov literally means “good day.”  This blessing is said over candles on holidays other than Shabbat or Chanukah, which they have their own blessings.
2. Shehechiyanu is a blessing of thanks for sustaining our lives so we could experience this moment of joy.  It is traditionally said when experiencing something for the first time.  Many people, including my Aunt’s father, express their joy by looking for opportunities to say shehechiyanu.