On Thanksgiving I acknowledge all that I have and pray that we will all have more to be thankful for next year.
Thanksgiving makes me feel American. As an observant Jew, my holidays don’t always correspond with my neighbors’ celebrations. But on the fourth Thursday in November we are all sitting down to abundant meals and giving thanks for the blessings we have received. This ritual grounds me as a citizen of the United States; I feel connected to other Americans—people beyond my Jewish community, my network of friends and my local acquaintances. I like to think that the first Thanksgiving really was a friendly gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans. I imagine a moment of communal joy and gratitude, before relationships were soured by mistrust, deception and violence.
Even if this never did happen—and there was abuse and anger at the very first Thanksgiving—I still find the image useful. It provides me with a mythic model for what is central to my American experience of gratitude. I love sitting down at the Thanksgiving table with people who voted differently in our recent election. I appreciate the fact that we can address this with humor and mutual respect. I am grateful for the peaceful transfer of power that happens in this country every four years (or eight). Our system is far from perfect, but we have no tanks in the streets. As Thanksgiving follows on the heels of Election Day, I am aware of this blessing.
Right now, I see suffering wherever I turn. Super storm Sandy wreaked havoc in my part of the world. Food insecurity touches my community; unemployment has changed it forever. Violence rocks Israel and Gaza. People are dying and my friends argue angrily with each other about how to respond. On Thanksgiving, I will bring this suffering to the table. As I acknowledge my gratitude and celebrate all that I have, I will pray that these blessings are shared more evenly next year.