Celebrating Thanksgiving, the American Jewish Festival of Freedom

There is no more Jewish holiday than Thanksgiving.

It’s my second-favorite Jewish holiday. (My most favorite is Sukkot, because it’s so much about culture and history, welcoming friends and family to our temporary “home,” having time to cook, and it’s focused on the intangibles rather than the material.)

I love Thanksgiving because a) there’s no yontif involved so travel is guilt-free b) there is time to sleep in because you don’t need to be at shul and c) because it celebrates our freedom of religious expression.

And considering the state of affairs for our people worldwide these days, even, sadly, in Israel, leads to the conclusion that there is no place anywhere where liberal Jews enjoy greater freedom of religious expression than right here in the United States of America.

Ironically, those Jewish people who exercise the greatest expression of our religious freedom are the least likely to celebrate Thanksgiving — the American Festival of Freedom.

Agudath Israel of America, which represents the haredi community, has its annual convention over Thanksgiving weekend, starting on the holiday itself. It’s convenient because almost everyone is off from work on Thursday and Friday, so people are available to attend. This year it’s being held Thursday through Sunday at the Hilton Hotel in East Brunswick, N.J.

I went several times, a number of years back, when they held it in a hotel near where my mother lived, so I could both cover the convention and have Thanksgiving with my family.

I always found it odd that, while I personally know a few haredi families who mark Thanksgiving in some way, because it is a secular holiday the Agudah specifically does not.

No turkey or anything else to mark the day.

I’m looking forward to the turkey I’ll be enjoying later today.

In the meantime, for a non-caloric Thanksgiving tidbit, consider this explanation of why in America we eat turkey (seemingly named after one country) while in Israel American ex-pats are eating Hodu, which in English means “India,” apparently named for another. (Thanks, David Curwin, for posting this to Facebook).

Even though my children are bickering over control of the remote as they watch the Macy’s parade all is well with the world. The kids and my husband are well, my father is healthy after a recent stint in the hospital, we are safe and warm in our home, and the house is fragrant with the scent of my simmering cranberry mash (made with crushed pineapple and walnuts, it’s my mom’s recipe and much nicer than jellied cranberry sauce).

But, since it’s Thanksgiving, you know that the streets of New York are already festooned with Christmas decorations, and for weeks already my younger children have been penning lists of what they want for Chanukah.

In an effort to stave off the toy-focused frenzy of the Festival of Lights and extend today’s focus on gratitude for all that we have, on our way to the family Thanksgiving gathering I’ll be talking with my kids about a new Chanukah custom we’re adopting.

One night, instead of getting presents, we will all be giving them, and I want them to take some of the time they are devoting to their lists of toys to some new lists: one which enumerates the things for which they are grateful, and another of what they can do to help others, during Chanukah and all year ‘round.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Sisterhood readers. Enjoy this American Festival of Freedom, to be appreciated especially by we Jews.

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