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Happy Thanksgiving

11/20/2018 10:02:49 AM


Rabbi Brad Levenberg

In 1620, for many of us, our Pilgrim ancestors escaped the tyranny and religious persecution of the Old World and braved a treacherous journey, to find freedom on this continent. They landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Settling at the edge of a vast wilderness, they nearly perished. They were rescued by generous natives who brought food and taught them to survive in this land. A year later, the Pilgrims sat down to a feast of Thanksgiving, in gratitude to the natives who welcomed them and in gratitude to a providential God who protected them. And so we gather each year to share our appreciation for our freedom, our blessings, and our bounty.

For many of us, our ancestors weren't here in 1620. But this is our story and this is our holiday nonetheless. Our people also knew tyranny. They lived in fear of the knock at the door in the middle of the night. They too dreamed of freedom for their children and they endured a harrowing journey. For a Jew with a sense of history, America is a miracle. Other lands of the Diaspora afforded degrees of security and opportunity. And while there is certainly room for improvement - far too many of us find the blessings of security and opportunity denied - we collectively recognize the promise that, when she achieves those lofty aspirations, America offers a genuine sense of belonging.

It is not just the sacred documents of our land that have opened America to us. It is this remarkable congruence of the American story and the Jewish story that gives us a sense of being at home here. We share the experience of exodus, of journey, of God's protection, of reaching the promised land. We share the imperative to protect liberty, to express our gratitude, and to share with those in need. Thanksgiving, the sacred festival of American civic religion, uniquely captures the miracle of homecoming that Jews share with all other Americans. 
But Thanksgiving is about so much more than national history and a second helping of turkey. It is a time for a second-helping of our stories and our recognition of what a miracle America has been to the Jewish people. We can and should populate our tables with questions - four questions, as is customary for our holiday tables. Try these on for size: 

•    How did our family come to this country? 
•    What risks were faced in the journey to where we are today?
•    What were the difficult choices made by our ancestors so that our present iteration of family can sit where we sit? 
•    Who were our allies? Who helped our ancestors on the way?

Tell the stories, recite the tales, recount the heroes, remember the tragedies. And then ask how we can show proper gratitude, living in appreciation of the generations past, to those who may need our help today.

And while you're up, please pass another slice of pie. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tue, February 18 2020 23 Sh'vat 5780