Next week is Thanksgiving, and it’s going to be a Thanksgiving unlike any Thanksgiving in our lives.
In my family, we do our best to gather on the fourth Thursday of November. Distance and my rabbinic responsibilities often prevent us from gathering as a family for the High Holy Days or Pesach. So, for the Gamburg-Cohen clan, we go all out for Thanksgiving, and have numerous good stories as a result. Now with a daughter who’s an Israeli, we’ve had to make accommodations, but through the miracle of WhatsApp, we’ve brought Talia along as part of the gathering.
But this year is different for the Gamburg-Cohens, as for everyone. Large family gatherings are a bad idea. Should the world begin returning to some semblance of normality, one Thanksgiving lost, or at least radically revised, is no tragedy.
But its absence this year perhaps provides us the opportunity to give a moment’s thought about Thanksgiving beyond how best to roast a turkey, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (is that even a thing in these parts?), and football (is there football this year?) (editor’s note: YES!).
I suspect we’ve become so inured to the name that we don’t often stop and reflect on it.
Thanksgiving is an American celebration, a moment of American civil religion, a day all Americans share in their respective dining room tables with friends and family. All over America, we sit down for an early dinner (or late lunch), most working through a turkey and so forth, rapidly feasting what has taken many person-hours to prepare. And that alone is a spiritual act, the kind of act Jews instinctively understand.
But more, as a harvest festival, its Pilgrim originators back in the day saw in it a commonality with Sukkot. Sukkot, of course, is a harvest festival, which also celebrates the Israelite wandering in the desert under Divine care.
Our modern-day American Thanksgiving gives us that opportunity, as an American society, to prayerfully join ourselves to each other and to the Divine in thankfulness.
In the days of coronavirus, it’s not always so easy to find moments to give thanks. They are there for us to see when we open our eyes. Thanksgiving is that invitation to open our eyes and see the world around us as Americans and celebrating what our world has to offer us by way of blessings, blessings of family, community, of love, blessings of which we can never have enough.
In sharing our blessings, I remind you that in our America live many who do not share our abundance. And in counting our blessings, let us also offer some to our less fortunate neighbors.
The particular blessings I leave to you to enumerate individually with your family. My invitation is for you to pause and reflect on your blessings and permit your spirits to rise because of them.
Rabbi Phil M. Cohen