Giving Thanks Wherever You Are.
I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. As a child, it meant visiting my grandparents in Phoenix and getting together with family and close friends. If I close my eyes, I can inhale the smell of my childhood Thanksgivings – filled with turkey, my grandmother’s fresh baked fruit pies, and memories of waking up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
As an adult, and working as a congregational rabbi, Thanksgiving took on new meaning. Jewish holidays are meaningful, spiritually fulfilling, and rewarding, but when you are a rabbi, they are not restful. You are busy preparing programs, services, and sermons to engage the community and help them connect to the holiness of the day.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a day of private celebration at home. There are no ceremonies or rituals surrounding the day in the synagogue, and I did not need to perform any rabbinical duties. It was a pleasure to relax, sit back, and enjoy, savoring the quiet that overtakes my city.
Six years ago, my husband, Evan Kent, and I made Aliyah. When our first Thanksgiving in Israel arrived, we realized that we would have to work to recreate the same feeling of Thanksgivings spent in America. It’s easy to forget about Thanksgiving in Israel. The sense of hectic preparations for the day are missing here, and then the quiet of the day itself. And of course, we miss our family. It’s kind of similar to how Jews outside Israel need to consciously create an atmosphere of the Jewish holidays when the world around them is not celebrating.
There are many ways we try to incorporate American traditions into our lives in Israel … we will be sharing those snippets of everyday life in an upcoming trip to Israel in 2020, led by me and Evan, called “Our Home: Our Hearts.”
So we make sure to celebrate Thanksgiving day every year in Israel. We share a special dinner with fellow Americans and Canadians, friends who have become family, and keep the tradition alive. Our butcher even knows that during the last week of November, there will be special orders placed for whole turkeys. It takes a bit of searching to find all the ingredients you need – cranberry sauce, pumpkin spice, corn syrup – and we pretty much spend the entire week before Thanksgiving shopping and cooking (well, Evan does the cooking. I clean. And eat.)
This year, I am lucky. I get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family in Los Angeles. The ultimate treat.
Truthfully, though, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. The message of Thanksgiving – to be grateful – can be felt and celebrated wherever you are. As Jews, we say “Modeh/Modah Ani” the minute we wake up. Our very first thought is to be thankful for waking up… for being alive. On Thanksgiving we take that concept and emphasize the importance of gratitude for everything we have in our lives – both materially and spiritually. Happy Thanksgiving – wherever you are!