A Thanksgiving Seder: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

This year, some Jewish leaders are applying the Passover Seder model to the Thanksgiving dinner.

Joy Levitt (executive director of the JCC of Manhattan) has compiled a Haggadah for her family Thanksgiving meal — replete with her own set of Four Questions. Her Haggadah features patriotic songs (“This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land”, “America the Beautiful”) and poetry (Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again”), with readings gathered from JewBelong.com.

“My daughter struggled with an eating disorder, so Thanksgiving can be especially difficult,” said Levitt. “So I wanted to take the pressure off the food, by providing an activity other than eating. So I came up with our a set of readings and questions for my family to discuss at this year’s meal.”

Others are taking an even more literal approach.

Rabbi David Kalb of the Jewish Learning Center of NY offers a comprehensive Thanksgiving seder plan, with kiddush and challah even, and with four questions devoted to talking about immigration, white supremacy, gun policy, and climate change in light of the history of the holiday.

“To some degree unconsciously many of us have turned our Thanksgiving meal into a Thanksgiving Seder of sorts, in order to tell the story of our families Exodus to America,” he writes. His ‘Maggid’ portion, which on Passover is the section devoted to retelling the story of Exodus, is an opportunity for each participant to tell of their own family’s coming to America.

What a great idea for an activity that can elevate Thanksgiving from a ‘mere’ family dinner to a thoughtful conversation focused on gratitude and values.

And luckily, it’s much shorter than a Passover Seder, so you won’t be waiting for turkey for too long.

Author

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the Life/Features editor at the Forward. She was previously a New York-based reporter for Haaretz. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesSalon, and Tablet, and she teaches journalism at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women.

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A Thanksgiving Seder: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

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