Thanks, but No Thanks

While it’s highly questionable just how many Americans are going to take a moment to pause and truly give thanks before they sit down to gobble up the Turkey set before them this Thursday, perhaps there is some food for thought in realizing, that for a great many Jews in this country, the fourth Thursday in November is a time for reflecting upon thanks, but no thanks!
Close to a quarter of a century ago, during a period in American Jewish history that can best be described as “The Russians are coming”, I had the opportunity of welcoming a Ukrainian family of three, fresh off a Pan Am flight into JFK. As they settled into the borrowed station wagon, I began a nonstop monologue of the many good things that await them, as they embark upon their new life. “In America, you can be and do anything you set your sights on. No one will stand in your way,” I explained. However avuncular I may have sounded, I wished to contrast our land of the free and the home of the brave with their land of government knows best. Yet, one need not be a post iron curtain Soviet émigré to be exposed to the American challenge. As American Jews, we would have done well, had we realized this at birth. Unlike living under the Czar or whatever background our ancestors came from, America has always been the land of opportunity. America (at least far as the constitution) has always wanted Jews to succeed, as Jews. Yet, all too many of our ancestors responded by saying: Thanks, but no thanks, as they did everything they could to blend into the melting pot that simmered from sea to sea.
I’m neither a sociologist nor am I one to profile travelers as far as religious background and ethnicity, but I venture to say that a goodly number of those who travel to Israel from the United States are either “Brooklyn Black Hats” or Church groups. Your typical Conservative or Reform affiliated American Jew may have hauled off to the holy land once or twice, typically on a Synagogue or Federation tour. To any and everyone who has made the trip, I offer a heartfelt yasher koach. Only thing is, once or twice just doesn’t cut it when it comes to Israel. Israel is built on tourism, especially from Jews throughout the world. Aside from the economic benefit, there is an emotional component. As welcome as say, German or Scandinavian tourists are in Israel, there is still something special about a Jew from the United States. After all, we’re mishpocha! In my opinion, American Jews have the obligation to make the trip. Why is it that there are there are any number of American Jews who have the financial wherewithal to make the trip to Israel, yet go visit Rome or Paris or Amsterdam instead? Surely they must be aware that that most, if not all European cities are accessible as stopovers either flying to, or from Israel. Why not a week in Israel followed by a week in Europe? Living in the United States, there are absolutely no travel restrictions when it comes to Israel. Living in Dallas, there are any number of ways of making it from DFW to TLV involving no more than stop and change of planes. Yet, so many of us are much too quick to say: Thanks, but no thanks when Israel is offered as a destination.
Speaking of living in Dallas, never before has so much been offered to so many, when it comes to Jewish content. Given the plethora of synagogues, along with a JCC that never sleeps, there is hardly a week that goes by, without some program, lecture or class being given, many with free admission. Yet, given the attendance at the vast majority of these programs, lectures or classes, it’s as though the overwhelming majority of Dallas Jews respond to all these offerings with an attitude of Thanks, but no thanks.
Perhaps it’s just as well that turkey is the fare on Thursday. Given our thanks, but no thanks attitude when it comes to taking advantage of what Jewish Dallas has to offer, we might very well be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Given our thanks, but no thanks attitude when it comes to visiting Israel, any Israeli would have every right to accuse us of being chicken. Given the thanks, but no thanks attitude of our ancestors, there is no question whatsoever, that they were ducking their responsibility.
When seated at the table this Thanksgiving and you, or someone else politely turns down some food or trimming being offered, hopefully the thanks, but no thanks response will ring loud and clear in your ears, serving up a reminder, that despite the cornucopia of offerings that comes our way, for whatever reason, we Jews simply don’t seem to have any appetite.