WINCE LESS BEFORE WENCESLAS

I have no idea how many of you will be offering up a prayer of thanksgiving before you sit down to the turkey and trimmings, Thursday afternoon. I truly hope that you do offer up such a prayer. In fact, I am providing you with three different prayer topics that you may wish to chew on. Feel free to use any, all or a combination of the ideas I present below:

Coming from an Eastern European heritage where our ancestors were treated as second class citizens at best, Thanksgiving is a national holiday in which we Jews can fully participate with no reservations  on our part whatsoever. Can you imagine if the Pilgrims had dined on wild boar for their first Thanksgiving? Can you imagine if no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without curds and whey? Can you imagine if the Plymouth pilgrims had chowed down on clam chowder for their first Thanksgiving? Thankfully, turkey was the fare, and even if Turkey was a strange bird to us Jews in every sense of the word, our rabbinic leaders concurred that the fowl was edible, as incredible as that might be. And the pumpkin pie along with the sweet potatoes and stuffing or dressing also comes with rabbinic endorsement, provided of course all ingredients added to the pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, stuffing or dressing are kosher.

Thanksgiving is the “wince less before Wenceslas”. Several years back in December, Sarah Moore who worked in the Tiferet office, was kind enough to run an errand with me. Sarah followed me in my car as I dropped off my wife’s car at the mechanic. Driving back to Tiferet (Sarah was at the wheel) Christmas music was playing on the car radio. “Would you like me to switch stations”, Sarah instinctively asked. I reassured Sarah that I was a fan of any number of Christmas songs, especially those orchestrated by Manheim Steamroller. I may or may not be in the minority of rabbis who has an appetite for Christmas songs. There are other rabbis no doubt as well as other Jews for that matter who wince at songs that deal with subject matter that evokes negative associations. Not so Thanksgiving. Other than not receiving a much hoped for invitation, or having to eat the meat of the Turkey you must grin and bear whenever it is served to you, there is nothing offensive or hurtful about Thanksgiving to any religion, including ours. We Jews have every reason to be thankful, that there is nothing offensive about Thanksgiving – unless of course you simply detest turkey.

There are “date sensitive” holidays and there are “day sensitive” holidays. The former refer to those holidays that are celebrated on a specific date on the calendar regardless of the day of the week that it falls out. The latter refer to those holidays that are celebrated on a specific day of the week, regardless of the date on the calendar. Christmas is “date sensitive”; Thanksgiving is “day sensitive”. As Jews, it should hardly matter if Christmas day falls on Shabbat, or the day before or after. As Jews, it matters a great deal, that Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, giving us plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat. For this too, we owe a big debt of thanks.

On Thursday, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving repast, let us be sensitive to the bountiful blessing this country affords us. Let us be cognizant of the challenges those who went before us had to deal with to secure the freedom that is ours. Let us be aware how truly blessed we Jews are to be able to celebrate a holiday that is so very “kosher” in so many ways.

 

THANKSGIVING TRANSCENDS

If the media is to be believed – and that’s a big if, then there will be any number of families and friends that will alter their plans for sharing Thanksgiving dinner this year. No puns intended, but it seems that one of the outcomes of the recent elections is that political allegiance trumps familial allegiance. Reading the news, one would be led to believe that this is the first time in American history that families refused to sit down together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Nothing could be further than the truth! If the Civil War pitted brother against brother, then there is every reason to believe that refusal to share Thanksgiving dinner was one of any number of causalities that came about when the North and the South of this country faced off against each other.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends politics. Despite strong held Democrat or Republican beliefs along with more than a healthy dose of stubbornness, Thanksgiving has transcended party allegiance. Say what you want about turkey and trimmings, but they are oblivious to political ideologies. So too has been the case for the vast majority of Americans who refuse to let their appetites become ruined as they debate within themselves whether or not they should go for second helpings or whether the turkey is as tender and tasty as it was last year.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends trends. There may be a world of difference between America of 2016 and America of 1966, just as there was most likely a world of difference between America of 1966 and America of 1916. America has changed! Despite the packaging along with the fact that by the time they are in the supermarket for purchase, turkeys seem to have lost their feet, necks as well as their internal organs, the prerequisite Thanksgiving fowl  has remained the same. That’s why grandma’s recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner is savored more and more as the years go by; that’s why traditions and honors such as who is asked to carve the “ toikey” (see the 1990 Barry Levinson movie Avalon) remains sacrosanct.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends self-interests. How else does one explain millions of Americans turning airports into “scareports” as travelers desperately attempt to keep their tempers in check? First they must stand in line to check in, and then stand in line to go through security only to have to stand in line once again to board a plane, where for all intents and purposes they will be pretty much forced to assume a sitting posture not all that dissimilar to the turkey they are about to dig into at the Thanksgiving meal. How else does one explain inching along overcrowded interstate highways wondering if you are going to make it in time, in that under the best of circumstances, your destination is still an hour and a half away? How else does one explain adjusting one’s personal calendar and rescheduling appointments, so that one is able to spend a couple of hours around a Thanksgiving table, all the while hoping and praying that one does not end up sitting beside cousin Bartholomew who gives new meaning to the word obnoxious?

Thanksgiving transcends it all. Perhaps that’s why in the hundredth psalm otherwise known as the Psalm of Thanksgiving, we find the phrase “from generation to generation”.