THANKSGIVING CAME EARLY

Unexpectedly, Thanksgiving came 10 days early for me this year. Recently, I discovered a “reality” show on the Weather Channel, called  Ice Pilots NWT. The show focuses on Buffalo Airlines, a Canadian air carrier that uses a fleet of antiquated, pre-jet-powered aircraft, primarily for cargo service. Last week’s episode, although 7 years old, was a tribute to Arnie Schreder, a former pilot at Buffalo, who retired from the company, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two years later, Arnie lost his battle with cancer and died shortly after checking into a hospital in Kelowna, British Columbia, 1,500 miles south of Yellowknife.

Arnie Schreder may have left Buffalo, but Buffalo never left Arnie Schreder. Upon learning of his passing, those at Buffalo contacted Arnie’s family and coordinated plans to honor his last wishes and memory. A Buffalo DC 3 aircraft with passenger seats installed, carrying Arnie’s closest friends was dispatched to Kelowna to pick up members of the Schreder family and Arnie’s cremains and fly them back up to Yellowknife. Although Buffalo has several different aircraft, and Arnie piloted them all, the DC3 was chosen, because it was Arnie’s favorite. After climbing to cruising altitude, the urn carrying Arnie’s ashes was strapped into the very same pilot’s seat Arnie had occupied any number of times and a set of headsets was placed atop, to symbolize Arnie’s last flight.

Once back in Yellowknife, a memorial service was held in Buffalo’s hangar that had been converted into a chapel, with rows of chairs set up. Television viewers were treated to the remarks of Justin Simle, a protégé of Arnie’s who, summed up his feelings towards his mentor, by saying “he was one of my best friends”. It was Mikey McBryan, son of Buffalo’s taciturn owner “Buffalo Joe” however, who said it best: “it’s not so much remembering what Arnie did, but what we can do with what Arnie taught us”. Neither Justin nor Mikey remained dry-eyed as they shared their sentiments. Similarly, most other men in attendance stood or sat crying, as they bade a final farewell to one of their own.

Prior to scattering Arnie’s ashes over Pilot’s Monument, a structure set up in Yellowknife’s Old Town, honoring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the north to the rest of Canada, there was an appropriate honor guard of flybys of various aircraft from different Canadian carriers.

Say what you want about the veracity of “reality television”. Last week’s episode of Ice Pilots NWT, which first aired close to 7 years ago, leaves us with the following to consider:

There are those of us who not only make impressions but leave lasting impressions. Arnie Schreder was one such individual. Schreder’s death came about because of his lungs; Arnie Schreder’s life came about because of his heart. And his heart found its way into the hearts of more people than Arnie could have ever realized, because of his love for flying and his love of planes. And Arnie did whatever he could to share that love and express that love with others. It should not take the fourth Thursday of November for us to be thankful for the love that is similarly expressed and shared.

Appreciation is shown in different ways. The way Buffalo Airlines expressed its appreciation to Arnie and the Schreder family defies words. I can only hope and pray that it didn’t take Arnie’s death for that appreciation to be expressed. True thanksgiving ought never to take the form of delayed thanksgiving. Thanks to Shaw Canada and Reality TV, the Schreder family has a record of that appreciation. However tasteful the turkey, however flavorful the filling, however delicious the dressing, like any other food, it must be quickly consumed. True thanksgiving is the hug, the phone call, the note, and the letter, the television tribute, as well as whatever else we will remember and cherish the rest of our lives.

RESOURCEFUL RECIPE

A gourmet cook, I’m not. Quite frankly, I see myself as culinary-ly challenged. Even though I have never taken the time or expressed any interest to look at the various possibilities for the sumptuous repast that adorns the table of American homes on the fourth Thursday of November, I stand in awe at the plethora of recipes that come out each year. There is, however, one recipe that I should like to share, in the hope that one’s Thanksgiving dinner truly lives up to its name.

Having seen the how very easy it is to have those at the table lose their appetite when politics is brought up, might I suggest that rather than speak about the Democrats or Republicans, there other “parties” that deserve to be serve as the main topic of discussion for all who are present. Perhaps the host can go around the table asking each invited guest to name the best Thanksgiving meal he or she has ever attended and why. Alternately, the host could ask those present to tell about the most interesting guest that has ever graced their Thanksgiving table and what made them so interesting. Far better to have everyone involved discussing a neutral topic than see two people going at each other, as they argue the merits or the worthlessness of a political view that they hold sacrosanct. Remember, the turkey is on the platter, not someone seeking or holding political office.

A little more than two months ago, various foods, symbolic in nature (either because of taste or because of name) adorned the Rosh Hashana table in traditional Jewish homes. For example, honey flowed freely as  it coated slices of apple dipped into to it, thereby tastefully telling us that in Judaism we look forward to a sweet, rather than happy year. However, historically flawed it may be, the apple serves to remind us of the primordial fruit, as we celebrate the creation of the world. Carrots, especially in stewed form, are a staple in Eastern European homes (the Yiddish word for carrots is “merren”, a homonym for the Yiddish word “increase”) in that it is our hope and prayer that the year bring with it an increase of all things good. Why shouldn’t foods similar in intent, adorn the Thanksgiving meal as well? Rather than make a “tsimmes” over sweet potatoes, perhaps it’s time to introduce (pareve)  au gratin potatoes to the table. Served either, instead of or in addition, to the sacrosanct sweet potato, au gratin potato, by its very name, could serve as a word play for “gratitude.” As peachy keen as peach cobbler is, why relegate apple pie to July 4th? One not need be suffering from a bad head cold to realize that that there very little difference between  the sound of “apple” and “ample.” Ample food, ample comradery, ample blessings are hopefully what Thanksgiving is all about. Last but not least, the final course of the Thanksgiving meal ought to be replete with a hot toddy, given the similarity in sound of “toddy”  to the Hebrew word “todah”(thanks.)

Chances are that no one is at a loss for words at a Thanksgiving dinner, especially if there are friends or relatives in attendance. Yet, prior to carving the Turkey, perhaps a request can be made by the host, asking that those in attendance to come up with three reasons (non-compulsory) to give thanks. Better yet, set a pen/pencil with a sheet of paper at each place setting for the invited guests to jot down their gratitude, to be shared during the meal. Should the host really want to add a dash of spice, the directive may include that the reason for thanks omit standard platitudes . It would be interesting to see if anyone takes the time to thank the volunteers who helped provide the “have-nots” with a Turkey dinner or the those on the police force or those at the firehouse who are putting the welfare of others before being with family. Or airline captains, flight attendants who are miles from home. Or bus drivers and cab drivers who are helping take people to Thanksgiving dinners and bringing them home again. This Thursday….

May you savor the flavor.

May the symbolic food not elude.

May the conversation merit positive evaluation.

Happy Thanksgiving

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.