Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, for Americans of all religious denominations, one cannot overlook the religious ethic of giving thanks to God. Indeed, many communities make Thanksgiving a time for Interfaith gatherings which include churches and synagogues alike. During my forty years in this community I have frequently participated in joint worship services with our many friends of other faiths. The services always include readings, prayers and devotions of many traditions and are always well attended by members of the respective houses of worship in the community.
We look upon Thanksgiving as our one true secular holiday, universal to all of us. As Jews we regard all of our Religious Holy Days, Festivals and of course Shabbat as days of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims in looking into the Hebrew scriptures recognized that Sukkot, the “Feast of In gathering”, was also a festival of Thanksgiving. It is a parallel to the redemption from slavery in Egypt and the Pilgrims quest to find religious freedom in America. The Puritans saw much in common between themselves and the biblical narrative of the children of Israel. Both peoples shared a common hope for a new life in the promised land.
All Jewish holidays are related to the theme of the “Shehecheyanu” prayer which thanks The Almighty for “… giving us life, sustaining us and bringing us to this season “. The prayers, and meditations in our prayer book stresses God’s beneficence toward us. as we seek to acknowledge divine goodness through our thankfulness for all we have been given. Although we often take so much of what we have for granted, the events of recent times should now awaken us from our complacency. The world is becoming a frightening place and we need to be thankful for what we have. We often fail to feel gratitude for the people in our lives whom we love, for the beauties of nature, for the natural gifts and skills which we have have attained and achieved, and for the gifts of insight, wisdom, and love, as well as the opportunity to pursue our dreams in a society which affords us the freedom and security to do so. We know this to be true as American Jews living in this wonderful country.