The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us and the messages of this day are many. 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 both Jewish and American. Don’t forget to say the Shehechiyanu!
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.” He says to make Kiddush and Hamotzi on Thanksgiving. “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.”
The most important thing is to continue being thankful after Thanksgiving. Our rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings everyday. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think of 100 things that we are thankful for? There is a wonderful camp song that was written by the director of the UAHC Goldman Union Camp, Rabbi Ron Kotz. It is called “The Na Na Song” and the words (beyond “na na”) are: “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shenatan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et haolam — Blessed are You, Eternal G-d, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.” Add this to your daily blessings and do your part to make the world a better place — start this Thanksgiving (and if you want the music to the song, send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.