Did you know that Thanksgiving was a Jewish holiday? Ok, it is not technically Jewish, but it does cover many of the themes of a true Jewish holiday: family, food, and guilt. More seriously, giving thanks is a big piece of Jewish practice and any holiday that encourages it is in keeping with our values.
Thanksgiving also brings us together. Like many of our own holidays, we join with family and friends to celebrate such occasions. And like a proper Jewish holiday, our gatherings have their own culinary customs – do the cranberries resemble the berries or are they cut along the ridges of the can they plopped out of? Do we cover our latkes in applesauce or sour cream?
Our liturgy is full of thanks. Often on a Saturday morning, we begin by singing “Mode/ah Ani L’fanecha” a song thanking God for restoring our souls. Later in our services, during the Amidah, we offer thanks to God for a variety of things, including God’s mercies, miracles, and kindness. And on the holidays, there are other additions to this prayer, offering specific thanks for each occasion.
That Thanksgiving is a fall holiday and evokes images of harvest and bounty, makes its connection to Sukkot inescapable. Whether those first feasts in the New World that came to be known as Thanksgiving drew from our ancient festival or not, we can feel the imprint of our tradition just the same. Thanksgiving is a time to show our gratitude for many things. Certainly, food is at the forefront, especially if we have a worthy feast in front of us. But we have come to take this opportunity to share our appreciation for all of the wonderful things in our lives. In Judaism, we have prayers to give thanks for nearly everything, from the foods we eat, to rainbows, to seeing a large number of Jews (if enough people come next Friday night, maybe we can recite that one!).
Whether we open our meal with “Baruch atah Adonai” or something else, we are engaging in something that affirms our values of gratitude, thankfulness, and praise. And should you be searching for the proper Hebrew greeting for Thanksgiving, consider this: in Hebrew, “Hodu” means both “turkey” and “thanks.” May “hodu” be in abundance this year for everyone. Yom Hodu Sameach!
Rabbi Benjamin Zober
Rabbi Sara Zober