When I came in for breakfast this morning, my wife Linda, with tears in her eyes, served me some extraordinarily good pancakes.
“I remember my father had this Thanksgiving morning ritual of making us pancakes,” she said. “All week long I have had a hankering for pancakes, and I realize that it was all because of this association with this day and my father and pancakes.”
For us olim of only five years vintage, there are still many associations with Thanksgiving back in the US. The briskness of the Fall, the leaves everywhere, the occasional early morning pilgrimage into Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Parade, and then of course, the Thanksgiving meal, followed by the tryptophan-induced inability to clean up the dishes.
Thanksgiving is not celebrated per se in Israel. But that is a superficial statement.
American Jews have a special kesher, connection, with Thanksgiving. For one thing it is an accessible holiday, not a Christian holiday. But apart from what it is not, Thanksgiving is beloved because of what it is: a humble recognition of the blessings in our lives, a respectful gratitude for the bounty bestowed upon us.
Alone among American holidays, Thanksgiving has continued to resist the lure of crass commercialism, standing as a (relatively) unadorned reminder the need to stand back, take stock, and to express gratitude for all that we have, that we enjoy, that we are.
But there is an important flip side to the concept of Thanksgiving, which is a less remarked upon aspect of the day: the recognition of the role of God in shaping human events, and in bringing blessings into our lives.
Lest this be thought of as a latter day drasha, consider the wisdom of the man who created Thanksgiving some 150 years ago. In his directive to celebrate a national day of thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln intoned:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.
“We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” 1, 2
If this quote were attributed to any number of talmid hachamim, few would blink an eye.
This recognition, Lincoln’s insight, becomes the way for us to incorporate Thanksgiving into life in Israel. The link is not the gratitude for what we have, it is the gratitude for having Him taking care of us.
It’s the concept of Divine Providence. God is watching us, and watching out for us.
Israel is a nation that exists by virtue of Divine Providence, pure and simple.
I would venture to say that the vast majority of Jews in Israel, religious or not, recognize that something profound beyond our own efforts takes place here regularly.
This something is what allows us to win wars against overwhelming odds, to create beauty, brilliance and joy in the face of endless external threats and mind numbing internal dissensions.
We have much to be proud of concerning our own achievements. But on any given day, and Thanksgiving day is as good a day as any, we can and should recognize that our efforts have been enabled, abetted, and even allowed because He wants us to be here, and to succeed here.
We can debate (endlessly) why that might be, but most any sentient being has to conclude that much more than the product of our own efforts is going on in this place.
Here is one small, but significant example. For years and years, we would shake our heads, marveling at the treasure trove of natural resources enjoyed by many of our neighboring adversaries, while lamenting that we had none.
Well, talk about mixed blessings. The countries with all that oil never figured out a way to build their societies and economies beyond tapping into all that natural abundance.
Bereft of the easy pickings, we, on the other hand, had no choice, but to innovate, to improvise, and to create. The result has been breathtaking creativity, the creativity borne out of necessity.
And then, long after the cultural die had been cast, and the mindset of the Nation had been determined, lo and behold, we hit the motherlode of gas finds! We’re rich! But we’re not spoiled.
I am no mystic, but I certainly think none of this is coincidental, or without design.
It is Divine Providence at work, and I for one, am awestruck, humbled and immensely grateful for it.
So, yes, Thanksgiving Day is alive and well in Rosh Pina, and in all of Israel. In the Israeli variation of the day, we will celebrate with a Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner.
We will welcome the day and tip our hats to the courageous Pilgrims, the gracious Indians, the hapless turkeys, and above all to Abraham Lincoln for reminding us that Divine Providence is everywhere and all the time, if one just chooses to step back and soak it in.
- Thanks to Steven McLean for unearthing this amazing quote, and publishing it in an op-ed in the 11/25/14 Wall Street Journal.
- There has always been conjecture that Lincoln was of Jewish descent, and he reputedly once intimated as such to Isaac Mayer Wise. While never invoking Jesus, Lincoln was never reticent to invoke God.