This year we had “late” Jewish fall holidays. In fact, it was almost November before we finally danced around with the Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah, to start the year and the Torah reading cycle anew. One of the results of “late” Jewish holidays is that we barely miss a beat before celebrating Thanksgiving, without a doubt my favorite secular holiday. In fact, I would posit that Thanksgiving is just barely secular.
Not only is giving thanks a very Jewish concept—after all, our Hebrew name Yehudim means the ones who give thanks—but due to a twist of history, we may actually be responsible for American Thanksgiving. After leaving England and before making the transatlantic voyage to the New World, the Puritans stopped in Amsterdam and while there, they likely lived next door to the Jewish community. When they arrived at Plymouth Plantation and declared the first Thanksgiving (not an annual holiday until much later in history, by the way), were they emulating the celebration of Sukkot that they had witnessed in the Netherlands? The truth is we’ll never know for sure and plenty of historians will say, “no way,” but I very much like the idea.
I also like the unique way that the Jewish people have been instructed to express our thanks. We are taught that when we receive something we appreciate, we should express our gratitude by sharing it. It is like when you taste something amazing and so you turn to your friend and say, “Here, you have to try this!” We express our gratitude that very same way, through acts of tzedakah and loving-kindness. As Jews, when we experience good fortune, we share that good fortune with others. It is our way of saying “thank you.”
As Thanksgiving approaches this year, let me encourage you to celebrate by doing a mitzvah—share some of your good fortune with those who are less fortunate. And, this is our last month for the 613 Mitzvot Campaign—we still need your mitzvot to fulfill our goal but my installation on December 8. So, when you do that charitable act in honor of Thanksgiving, let us know by visiting wjcenter.org/613mitzvot or by filling out and leaving a card, which are available at boxes on both floors of the synagogue—and have a very happy Thanksgiving!