Tomorrow we will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a day when we share with others and to be grateful for what we have. It is a very Jewish concept. In fact, our daily morning prayers form a litany of thanksgiving for life itself -- for the human body and the physical world. The first words we say each morning – Modeh Ani, “I thank you” – mean that we begin each day by giving thanks.
In honor of my colleague, Nancy Greer, who just retired as the CEO of the Jewish Federation in Seattle, I adapted her recent comments:
Thanksgiving is the time of year when we reflect on what brings us gratitude.
I am grateful for the resoluteness of Israelis. In the face of the unbearable, they have put aside divisiveness, drawn together as one family, and demonstrate the unstoppable strength that comes with working for a common purpose.
I am grateful for all who keep raising their voices to demand the unconditional release of all the hostages. Perhaps incorporate at your Thanksgiving meal and on Shabbat the Prayer for the Welfare and the Return of Israel’s Captured and Missing from Among our Family, created by Congregation Ramath Orah in New York, and the Acheinu prayer in solidarity with Israel. Here are the words in Hebrew and English.
I am grateful for the solidarity our people around the world have shown for Israel and for their steadfast courage in pushing back against the vile tide of antisemitism.
I am grateful for law enforcement agencies that protect our synagogues, schools, and community centers.
I am grateful for our local Jewish community, in word and deed. We are stepping up to meet the unprecedented needs of our mishpocha (family), here and abroad, as we have always done when the world has turned upside down.
We can respond in times of crisis because our community is strong. Our community is strong because generous people like you care. As we gather during this season of gratitude, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the strength and resilience of our community. Your dedication and commitment cannot be understated.
I must extend a heartfelt thank you to the professional and volunteer leaders who tirelessly work to ensure our Jewish community thrives. As we navigate through the current crisis, it is essential to recognize the added stress on these professionals. A simple reach-out or a word of acknowledgment goes a long way in letting them know that the community is aware and thankful for their unwavering dedication.
This Thanksgiving may your moments with family and friends be filled with warmth and joy. Let the connections we forge with each other serve as a reminder of the importance of human connection. Together, let us strive for relationships that are stronger, more forgiving, and aimed at creating peace in the world. May we all be grateful for what we do have in our lives -- and the release of some of the hostages!
Like I do every year, here are some interesting Jewish facts about Thanksgiving (learn more here):
Thanksgiving Is Modeled After Sukkot - America’s first Thanksgiving holiday took place in 1621 during the Pilgrim's first harvest. The Pilgrims declared a three-day long feast of Thanksgiving to thank God for their harvest. The Pilgrims, deeply religious Christians, were well acquainted with the Hebrew Bible and Jewish holidays, including Sukkot, when Jewish pilgrims brought offerings from their harvests to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Shavuot Connection -- Thanksgiving only became an annual holiday in 1863 when proclaimed by President Lincoln. That was thanks in large part to Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of America’s most popular journal, Godey’s Ladies Journal.
Each year, starting in 1846, she published a public appeal in Godey’s, asking the government to establish a national day of Thanksgiving. Hale made specific reference that the day be like “Pentecost,” which is a Greek name for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the day God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
Inventing The Thanksgiving Day Parade -- The Thanksgiving Day Parade was started by the descendants and business partners of Jewish immigrant, Adam Gimbel. He founded Gimbels Department Store in Milwaukee and later expanded to Philadelphia. After his death, his sons expanded Gimbel’s further to New York City.
In 1920, Bernard Gimbel, Adam’s grandson, held the first Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, which lasted until 1986. Macy’s in New York later started their own Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924.
Creating America’s Green Bean Casserole -- The green bean casserole topped with crunchy fried onions was popularized in the 1950s by the Jewish food writer Cecily Brownstone. In 1955, Ms. Brownstone authored a story about a journalists’ dinner she attended at the home of John Snively, a citrus grower in Florida.
The story goes that the Snivelys had recently hosted the Shah of Iran and his wife and Mrs. Snively made her green bean casserole. The Iranian Queen was so taken with the dish that she kept asking about its ingredients. The Snively’s butler answered each question, until he finally lost his patience and told the royal, “Listen, lady, it’s just beans and stuff.”
Cecily Brownstone wrote it up yet wanted a recipe to go with her story. Ms. Brownstone reached out to the Campbell Soup Company to see if they could help her develop a fool-proof green bean casserole that was similar to what she had eaten at the Snively's home. Campbell complied, creating the recipe that is still popular today.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday (and green bean casserole?), have fun shopping, and early wishes for Shabbat shalom.