Sisterhood Blog

Celebrating Thanksgiving, the American Jewish Festival of Freedom

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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There is no more Jewish holiday than Thanksgiving.

It’s my second-favorite Jewish holiday. (My most favorite is Sukkot, because it’s so much about culture and history, welcoming friends and family to our temporary “home,” having time to cook, and it’s focused on the intangibles rather than the material.)

I love Thanksgiving because a) there’s no yontif involved so travel is guilt-free b) there is time to sleep in because you don’t need to be at shul and c) because it celebrates our freedom of religious expression.

And considering the state of affairs for our people worldwide these days, even, sadly, in Israel, leads to the conclusion that there is no place anywhere where liberal Jews enjoy greater freedom of religious expression than right here in the United States of America.

Ironically, those Jewish people who exercise the greatest expression of our religious freedom are the least likely to celebrate Thanksgiving — the American Festival of Freedom.

Agudath Israel of America, which represents the haredi community, has its annual convention over Thanksgiving weekend, starting on the holiday itself. It’s convenient because almost everyone is off from work on Thursday and Friday, so people are available to attend. This year it’s being held Thursday through Sunday at the Hilton Hotel in East Brunswick, N.J.

I went several times, a number of years back, when they held it in a hotel near where my mother lived, so I could both cover the convention and have Thanksgiving with my family.

I always found it odd that, while I personally know a few haredi families who mark Thanksgiving in some way, because it is a secular holiday the Agudah specifically does not.

No turkey or anything else to mark the day.

I’m looking forward to the turkey I’ll be enjoying later today.

In the meantime, for a non-caloric Thanksgiving tidbit, consider this explanation of why in America we eat turkey (seemingly named after one country) while in Israel American ex-pats are eating Hodu, which in English means “India,” apparently named for another. (Thanks, David Curwin, for posting this to Facebook).

Even though my children are bickering over control of the remote as they watch the Macy’s parade all is well with the world. The kids and my husband are well, my father is healthy after a recent stint in the hospital, we are safe and warm in our home, and the house is fragrant with the scent of my simmering cranberry mash (made with crushed pineapple and walnuts, it’s my mom’s recipe and much nicer than jellied cranberry sauce).

But, since it’s Thanksgiving, you know that the streets of New York are already festooned with Christmas decorations, and for weeks already my younger children have been penning lists of what they want for Chanukah.

In an effort to stave off the toy-focused frenzy of the Festival of Lights and extend today’s focus on gratitude for all that we have, on our way to the family Thanksgiving gathering I’ll be talking with my kids about a new Chanukah custom we’re adopting.

One night, instead of getting presents, we will all be giving them, and I want them to take some of the time they are devoting to their lists of toys to some new lists: one which enumerates the things for which they are grateful, and another of what they can do to help others, during Chanukah and all year ‘round.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Sisterhood readers. Enjoy this American Festival of Freedom, to be appreciated especially by we Jews.


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Comments
David Curwin (Balashon) Fri. Nov 27, 2009

So glad you enjoyed it!

-David http://www.balashon.com

Ben Levi Sat. Nov 28, 2009

"There is no more Jewish holiday than Thanksgiving". Well, surely, you've gotten carried away. I would imagine that holidays that are a reflection of Biblical history (Pesach, for example) have a Jewish ring to them that seems to be missing in Thanksgiving. Moreover, all the other holidays are held in accordance to the historic Jewish calendar. That added Jewishness is also missing in Thanksgiving. Lastly, Jewish holidays have a tendency to unite all Jews in the world in a common experience. So far, the Jews of Holland and Belgium have refrained from eating turkey on the fourth Thursday of November - so it is not quite as Jewish as Lag Ba-Omer. Perhaps, it would be more convincing to declare that you like Thansgiving, and you identify with it. Let's not pretend that it's part of the historic experience known as "being Jewish". Despite advanced assimilation in North America, still, being Jewish is still a different experience than being an American.

a. gottlieb Mon. Nov 30, 2009

i think...

S. Klein Mon. Nov 30, 2009

well as a jewish teenager, i think that judism and thanksgiving should be 2 seperate things. Judism is a religion, whereas americans are a reace, and thanksgiving is an american holiday, and should not be connected to religion what so ever, unless it is keeping kosher. The reason i am saying this is because not only are jews american, so are christians, muslims, hindus, ect, but they still celebrate thanksgiving, because it unites us all as 1 nation, and not different religions.

Iree Reich Mon. Nov 30, 2009

As a teacher in a reform congregation, I found your diverse articles about observing/celebrating Thanksgiving a perfect segue into a lesson on what Thanksgiving means to the Jewish high school students in our congrgation. Do they think Thanksgiving has the qualifications of a Jewish holiday? Are there things they can add to Thanksgiving to make it more Jewish while still keeping its universal quality. We also talked about the blessings of freedom that sre extended to all in the United States. By being able to read the different views the students were exposed to the positive and the negative and saw the holiday through the eyes of others. This made their Thanksgiving celebration more meaningful to them.

Emily Weiss Mon. Nov 30, 2009

Today in class we have been talking about the different prespectives of jews regarding Thanksgiving. As a 14 year old reform jew I feel that Thanksgiving is a holiday that should be celebrated by all. I feel this way because everyone no matter if they are jewish, christian, muslim, or atheist has something to be thankful for. It is also a time to be with your family which for some is a rare occasion. I feel it is a good experience for all to get together with everyone they love to give thanks for everything they are able to do. I also feel that on Thanksgiving people should give back to the community. They can do this by volunteering at a jewish nursing home, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, hospital, etc.




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