November 25, 2008
How Jewish is Thanksgiving?
There were no Jews on the Mayflower, but Edmon J. Rodman says Turkey Day is very Jewy. Thanksgiving celebrates a persecuted religious group that fled their homeland for freedom, and, like all Jewish holidays, it includes family gatherings around food. I guess you could call it an honorary MOT holiday.
Thanksgiving is one of the few days in America where interfaith cooperation reigns, with many synagogues and churches holding combined services. Rabbis, ministers, priests and pastors try valiantly to craft services that will be meaningful yet not offensive to their combined congregations.
As a child at such a service, the first time I went to a church, the service ended with the congregation singing a song of thanks that began, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing …” From a hymn book I sang along, reassured to discover that other people sang about God, too.
Jews have their own prayers and psalms of thanks. Modim, a prayer included morning, noon and night in the daily liturgy, includes the words, “We thank you and praise you for our lives that are in your hand.”
This year at my Thanksgiving dinner I plan to break bread with the motzi and end with the Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meal that begins, “Let us thank the One whose food we have eaten.”