Jewish traditions for Thanksgiving
By Laura Seymour

Dear Parents and Children,
seymourforweb2The holidays of Thanksgiving and Chanukah are upon us and the messages of both of these days are numerous. The importance of being thankful and the value of expressing those thanks are crucial lessons for our children to learn. Here are a few thoughts to make your Thanksgiving and Chanukah both Jewish and American. Don’t forget to say the Shehechiyanu!

Make Kiddush and HaMotzi

I am honored to quote my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver, from his book  “40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People.”
“It is important to treat Thanksgiving as a Jewish ritual meal and thereby blend Jewish and American values into a single expression. Thanksgiving has always had its own rituals … we had never thought to make it Jewish — we had never thought to remember that when the pilgrims were gathering that first fall harvest in their new land, they went back to the Bible and found their own way of bringing the Sukkot ritual alive. Thanksgiving is nothing more than a pilgrim version of a creative Sukkot celebration — add the popcorn and cranberries, take out the lulav and etrog, and you get the picture. The moment I figured out that Thanksgiving wasn’t just an American holiday, my world changed. I was no longer involved in a thousand discussions about Jewish American or American Jew. There was no question of priorities — the answer was simple. From then on, I’ve made Kiddush before eating turkey. Kiddush adds another dynamic — it shows not only a melding of food, but of spirit.”

‘Molly’s Pilgrim’

Now that you’ve heard the “adult thinking part,” add the story of Molly’s pilgrim to your traditions. The book was written by Barbara Cohn in 1983 (yet could certainly be written today in our community) and tells the story of Molly who has moved from Russia, and the children make fun of her for her differences. The school assignment is given to make a pilgrim doll for a display.  Molly tells her mother that Pilgrims came to this country to worship God as they pleased.  Molly’s mother makes Molly’s pilgrim dressed as a Russian woman. Not surprising, the children make fun until their teacher understands, “Listen to me, all of you.  Molly’s mother is a Pilgrim.  She’s a modern Pilgrim.  She came here, just like the Pilgrims long ago, so she could worship God in her own way, in peace and freedom. I’m going to put this beautiful doll on my desk where everyone can see it all the time. It will remind us all the Pilgrims are still coming to America.”   (There is also a video available!) Thanksgiving has many lessons to share!
Laura Seymour is the director of camping and youth services at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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