In the spring of 2005, after the government solidified the plans to go ahead with the hitnatkut/disengagement from the Gaza Strip, there was an interesting crisis within the Dati Leumi/National Religious camp. As Yom Haatzmaut/Independence Day approached, some asked the (already) loaded question if one should say Hallel–the joyous additional prayer commemorating miraculous events in Jewish history, including the modern re-nationalization of the Jewish People in the birth of the State of Israel on the upcoming Yom Haatzmaut.
My dear friend Reb Mike was quick to offer an answer which was obvious to him: The celebration on Independence Day is for the miracle that happened in 1948, and even if the State of Israel were to disappear (Heaven forbid), someone who believes that Hallel should be said on that day, should continue to say it entirely independent of what happened in Gaza in 2005. The miraculous gift of the State of Israel is independent of current events.
These past 18 months of the US Presidential Election cycle have raised many questions in all corners of the world, and in particular for minorities in the US, including the Jewish community. The past 12 days have been particularly concerning for many in the Jewish community, especially as clarity is emerging as to who will form Trump’s team.
For the first time this year, I am struck by how close on the heels of Election Day comes Thanksgiving. It is a very powerful statement and reminder. There have been countless commentators over the past week celebrating democracy and encouraging those who are disappointed with the results of the election to become activists now, working towards the mid-term elections in 2 years, and the next Presidential Election in 4 years.
For all of the joking over leaving the US, I have not yet heard of someone who has left. I have heard a great deal of fear and trepidation over what will be, and what will become of America, but not of people up-and-abandoning the United States of America.
I think that the arrival of Thanksgiving challenges us to recognize the cherished gift of freedom that most US citizens have: far and beyond what many people in the rest of the world have today, and certainly throughout history. Of course there are terrible realities of discrimination, racism, sexism, oppression and abuse, and it is unacceptable to say that since its better in the US than most places in the world that we should be content with the current reality. However, Thanksgiving comes to remind us of what this project of American Democracy is all about and that must be celebrated, no matter what the current climate.
My childhood Thanksgivings never demanded any action, rather they were an opportunity to stop and appreciate what we had. It was never thought to be a clarion call to action and to ensure that others will have what we had or even better. This year, more than ever, Thanksgiving is calling to us to not only give thanks, but to make a difference! How can we work towards increasing dialogue, acceptance, forgiveness, communication, appreciation and unity? What is the role of each of us?
Someone asked me this week if I celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel, and my quick answer is that every day is “Thanksgiving”. My Israeli wife and children have never experienced and American-style Thanksgiving, and this year, I plan to teach them not only about appreciating, but actively working towards making a difference for the better—that is the legacy that we should celebrate, and it is entirely relevant for us here in Israel too! Even if we may disagree with the current leadership, that we can disagree and work towards change is a blessing that is certainly worth giving thanks for!