What could be more American than Thanksgiving? This is certainly an American holiday, but is it Jewish?
Thanksgiving was first celebrated in America in 1621 by American pilgrims who wanted to show thanks for their harvest. During the American Revolution, the First Continental Congress proposed making Thanksgiving a national holiday, and many who were sympathetic to the revolution began to celebrate it. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a national holiday and day of rest.
As Jews the celebration of Thanksgiving is appropriate for several reasons. We can acknowledge all that we have to be thankful in our country. America has become more than just a safe haven for Jews. Officials in the highest levels of government, business, and academia are all testimony to the acceptance of Jews in American society. Also, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday at its origin and in the ways it is celebrated. Thus, there is no halachic, Jewish legal, problem with American Jews celebrating this special day.
In addition, Judaism teaches us to give thanks, whether in reciting the blessing after meals, or the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals to Jerusalem, and the prayers of thanksgiving throughout our liturgy. For example, since Biblical times the ancient Israelites celebrated Sukkot by bringing a portion of their Fall harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem as a sacrifice to God of thanksgiving for the good Fall harvests. Similar to Thanksgiving, the families would gather together around their table inside their sukkah and share a bountiful Fall harvest meal of celebration. Some people believe that the original Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims of New Salem, Massachusetts, was a copy of the Sukkot festival celebrated by the ancient Israelites of Jerusalem.
I find another deeply Jewish connection with the holiday of Thanksgiving, which encourages us to give back to the community, sharing what we have, giving a little of our time, energy, and resources to help those in need. As Jews we strongly believe in the idea of tikkun olam, repairing our world, and sharing what we have. What a wonderful time of the year for us not only to give thanks for what have, but to share in our time, talents and energy to give back to those less fortunate than others. As has become our tradition at Ilan Ramon Day School our Elementary School students are going to give back. Tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we will celebrate it not only through song and dance, but also through the acts of mitzvot.
At this time of the year, I hope our families can pause to enjoy and be thankful for all that we have and remember to give back a little to the community around us. This way we add meaning to our American tradition of Thanksgiving and better understand how our Jewish values and ideals have found root in American culture.
I want to wish all of you a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.
Posted on Mon, November 20, 2017
by Yuri Hronsky