Odd, isn’t it, how Thanksgiving, a holiday with roots that extend to the Reformation and the feast of gratitude consumed by the Separatist Puritans, has been so readily embraced by American Jews from nearly one end of the religious spectrum to the other.
Indeed, American Jews – including those residing in Israel – will fondly remember the once-in-a-generation-or-two event that occurred five or six years ago: the coincidence of Thanksgiving falling on the same day as Hanukkah. The imagination positively soared: candied sweet potatoes with latkes, pumpkin pie with sufganiyot, football with dreidels (not everything can be perfectly in sync, you know).
In fact, I read an opinion a while back that Jews living in Israel are obligated to observe two days of Thanksgiving .... Get it?
Dvora Waysman’s sweet sentiments notwithstanding (“Let’s give thanks,” November 22), for nearly a century the focus on the thanks part of Thanksgiving has become more than a little blurred. In 1939, exactly 80 years ago, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt decided the holiday should be celebrated on the second-to-last Thursday of November rather than the last; an extra Black Friday, he figured, would bring a faster end to the Depression. Tradition prevailed, I’m happy to say, and two years later Thanksgiving was returned to its honored place in the fall calendar.
Thanksgiving, then, is basically a kickoff to December Delirium, the time when both Jews and Christians busy themselves with removing from storage the paraphernalia and decorations of the upcoming holidays, planning parties and family dinners, and fretting over how to keep the kids occupied and supervised during the extended school vacation. Hell, the turkey is barely digested before the madness gets under way.
Dvora, though, is quite correct. Time should be reserved to express gratitude for all that we have and not take whatever good fortune we might be blessed with for granted. Observant Jews, in fact, do this every day, three times a day. Prayer is not only for requesting that which we are in need of, it also provides the means to express thanks for what we have already been given.
And all without chestnut gravy, Spider-Man floats and Miracle on 34th Street.