Remember when you were a kid and asked your mother why there was a mother’s day and father’s day but no children’s day and she answered, “everyday is children’s day?” Well, if you live life with positivity, everyday should be Thanksgiving. For the record, that’s aspirational for me, but I recognize that I nonetheless should be thankful on a regular basis.
I’ve written in this space that my Aliyah does not come with the glamour or hardships of those that preceded me years ago. Israel is a modernized power, international travel is relatively cheap and conspicuous (in non Covid times at least) and technology enables constant contact with loved ones 24/7 wherever in the world they might be. Still, with bureaucratic hurdles overcome, visa in hand and me waiting for my flight which is a few days away, the sense of loss and separation is palpable.
I spent this past weekend in Virginia visiting with my daughter and her three children all under age seven, the youngest just two months old. It happened to be my birthday on Saturday and my grandchildren made sure it was the best one ever. When it came time to leave we said our goodbyes with kisses and embraces and as I headed to the car I broke down. I used to not be a crier but as I get older I’m embracing my emotional side and overcoming a severe emotional handicap. There is power in tears; the power to feel, the power to emote, the power to heal. For years I was nearly incapable of crying. When I was a teenager and my mom was ill, dying of cancer, the adults in my life you used to tell me to stay strong and I internalized that to mean stoicism. By the time she passed away, my body was so accustomed to burying pain that an internal mechanism shut down my ability to emote sadness. Admittedly, I have an alternative fallback emotion, anger, that I loathe but is so very much a part of me. It feels like a soda bottle shaken with only your thumb holding back the gaseous eruption. Suppressing it is a lifetime work in progress. I have little to be exacerbated about yet so much to be incensed about all at the time. At fifty seven I am still hankering for balance.
There was melancholy in my goodbye tears but also overwhelming joy. My daughter made a beautiful life for herself and she brought into this world three beautiful children. The physical distance between us will be wistful but we will make it work. Bringing children into the world is much more than perpetuating DNA, it is the single greatest act of optimism we contribute to the world. If we lacked hope that the world would get better we’d never bring new life into it at least not on purpose.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, always has been. With apologies to Purim, my favorite bar none. For a good many years my wife and I hosted our greater family Thanksgiving dinners. As the family grew we would have as many as 40 plus people. We always had a Jewish angle to our celebration. When we had enough for a minyan we davened. There were often words of Torah around the table (we have a few rabbis in the clan). I once proudly conducted a siyum on the tractate Sanhedrin in memory of a dear friend before we sat down to our Thanksgiving dinner turning it into a seudat mitzvah as well. It had taken me almost three years to study it on my own and I wrote about it HERE. This tradition of blending the quintessential American holiday with our Jewish observance dates back in my family to my grandfather, a Hasidic rebbe, who for decades had a congregation in Detroit. Before the fanatics kidnapped our religion, he led Thanksgiving dinners in his home unafraid of being tarred and feathered for heresy by the self anointed Halacha police so prevalent in today’s Haredi world.
Thanksgiving is a reminder to first and foremost be grateful for being an American. I don’t think that statement needs elaboration, just read a newspaper and see how most of the rest of the world lives. Of course I am overwhelmed by having a great family and many loving, loyal friends. I have gratification as well for being a Jew, the Aliyah process has enhanced that sentiment. In a time when immigration has become a political lightning rod here in the US, Israel has not abandoned a cultural thirst for welcoming newcomers.
Israel is legendary for the z’chuyot, the benefits it gives olim. Included in the Aliyah process are two agencies that guide you, including offering seminars on everything from how to choose health insurance to whether to choose leasing vs. purchasing a car. The flight is free. There is cash assistance, tax abatements and reductions and free language courses. Israel used to run an ad campaign whose slogan was “come to Israel come stay with friends.” It ought to run a campaign with the slogan, “come to Israel, we do immigration right.”
This year, my last Thanksgiving in the US, dinner will be small and intimate. My youngest daughter and her partner are hosting my son, my wife and I. As we sit down to dinner, I will recall the tears I finally let out a few days ago when I said goodbye to my grandchildren. I will recognize that in the sadness of leaving and the pure joy of having so much family and loved ones, my tears are also tears of gratitude for all the blessings life has bestowed on me.