Thanksgiving 2023 is a complicated time for American Jews.
On the one hand, now in particular, we are grateful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. With only a few despicable exceptions, the U.S. political class has shown broad backing for Israel’s moral, unchosen and unavoidable fight against the forces of evil. Last week’s rally in our nation’s capital with 300,000 people–their safety assured by local and federal security–and bipartisan participation in support of the Jewish state and the Jewish people would have been unimaginable in any other time or place in the annals of our 2,000 year exile. There’s what to be thankful for.
On the other hand, while much of the world seems to have already forgotten about the unspeakable horrors of last month’s terrorist attacks in southern Israel, Jews everywhere are still heartbroken and enraged. Threats from every direction, including missile attacks from Lebanon, Syria and Yemen and terror attacks within Israel are still a part of daily life. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the north and south have been evacuated from their homes for almost two months. Almost 70 precious Israeli soldiers have fallen since the beginning of the ground operation. Despite Israel’s best efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, much of the media is playing directly into the terrorists’ hands by villainizing Israel for defending itself and ignoring Hamas’s vile practice of intentionally putting its own people in harm’s way. Israel is about to pay an extremely high price for the release of 50 hostages while almost 200 will remain in captivity, with their fate unknown. Global Antisemitism is experiencing a renaissance–even in places like New York–the likes of which we naively thought was a thing of the past.
Israel does not have a day called “Thanksgiving” (giving thanks is a theme of most Jewish holidays and it is featured in all three of our daily prayers) but I came across an Israeli news segment that will shape my holiday this year–and probably for the rest of my life. Noa Marciano, a 19 year old female soldier was kidnapped on October 7th and murdered by Hamas in Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza. On November 14th, Channel 13 news anchor Lucy Aharish delivered the news of Noa’s death through tears and a broken heart. Just the day prior, Aharish had worked with Noa’s mother, Adi, to create a video raising awareness for the plight of the Israeli hostages in Gaza. Aharish, an Israeli Arab, provided an Arabic translation of Noa’s mother’s appeal for her daughter’s safety–it was not yet known that Noa had already been executed by her captors. (One does not need to understand Arabic or even Hebrew to be moved by the maternal plea of these women.)
At the request of Mrs. Marciano, Aharish then read the following passages from a “gratitude notebook” that Noa kept. Like her glowing smile, the beauty and sweetness of Noa’s writing cannot be fully conveyed in English words. Below is a translation, but if you can read Noa’s original Hebrew, I encourage you to do so.
…I wanted to tell you about a notebook that has been with me everywhere for two years – a gratitude notebook…a notebook in which you give thanks for the things you want to be thankful for on a daily basis. It can be a big thing like having a sister or sisters or a small thing like, I got organized in time this morning. To say thanks for being able to replace someone who was on guard duty that I did her a favor or someone who replaced me on guard duty when I wasn’t feeling well. To say thanks to a good friend that I was able to get closer to her and for the fact that the team helped us put things away [properly on the base].
But it is important to say – particularly when things are difficult, we need to find points of light that will help us deal with the difficulty. This is one of those points – gratitude. Thanks for the ability to be happy and to make others happy, thanks for the amazing friends I have met and will meet. Thanks for optimism, thanks for laughter, thanks for the ability to continue learning. Thanks for the fact that I’ve gotten to know my country. Thanks.
Noa, I never met you and I’m so sorry that I never will. Thanks for reminding me to be thankful for things big and small. Thanks for giving us strength, particularly at this difficult time. Thanks for being a point of light in a world so full of darkness. Thanks for showing us what Israel’s finest are made of. Thanks for the fact that I’ve gotten to know you, just a little bit. Thanks.