Mordechai Soskil

Grateful for Thanksgiving

When we ask our family what everyone is thankful for, no one says anything interesting. They're glad to be together, and blah, blah, boring. My list is better
Thanksgiving dinner. (iStock)
Thanksgiving dinner. (iStock)

Hanukkah is described by the Talmud as being “days for thanks and praise.” In context, one can assume that it means days of thanks for our religious freedom and self-determination, and praise to G-d for bringing success to our meager efforts. It occurs to me that the confluence of Erev Erev Erev Erev Hanukkah being on Thanksgiving means it’s a good time to pause and be grateful. And while I’ll save my gratitude for my spiritual well-being for Hanukkah, I want to take this moment of Thanksgiving for thanks-giving.

In our family, we often go around the table at Thanksgiving dinner and ask everyone to say what they are thankful for. Almost everyone has nothing interesting to say. They are grateful to all be together, and for family, and blah, blah, boring. So today I would like to offer a new list of very specific pieces of gratitude.

You know how when you are eating a barbeque pulled beef sandwich and the sauce is really thick and delicious with just the right amount of heat that makes you want to go back and eat more, but then a piece of meat get stuck between teeth and it’s annoying and uncomfortable and somehow it makes the whole sandwich experience less good, but then you take a flosser and get that piece out and it’s amazing? I’m grateful for that.

I’m grateful for coming home and seeing my granddaughter and she says, “Zayzie!” (because she’s not yet 2 and she can’t say “Zaydie” and that’s okay, because “Zayzie” is so cute!) and she smiles her big baby smile and she puts out her arms to come to me. That’s awesome.

One time I was talking to my wife about a proposal that I made at work and we were talking about the new professional opportunities that might open up and the interesting and important work that I might be able to do, and she said that she thinks I would be great at that new and important work. That made me feel really awesome and I’m grateful for a wife who (thinks I’m not funny, and I have bad taste in ties, and I’m bad at killing bugs, and also) respects my contributions at home and in my professional life.

And going to the zoo with my granddaughters and hearing one say, “It’s called a Pokeupine because it can poke you and that would hurt,” and I’m not sure if she’s making a pun or being super smart, but it doesn’t matter because, either way, she got that from me, and then she holds my hand as we walk to see the zebras, and even though I thought holding my daughter’s hand at the zoo was the best, apparently holding your granddaughter’s hand at the zoo is a better best, and basically anything with a granddaughter is amazing and I’m grateful for that.

And every day, I see one of my married sons at the same minyan that I daven at, just, you know, living his life, and we don’t even talk every day because it’s morning and we both arrive with just enough time to get our tefillin on before davening starts and also he davens way over there on the other side of the shul, but I see him every weekday and that’s really neat and I’m grateful for that. For a lot of reasons.

And one of my daughters-in-law said that my son “went into dad mode” when he needed to be physically strong and also compassionate and also really good at problem solving in a moment of high anxiety, and it was obvious (to me at least) that he learned that kind of “dad mode” from me, his dad, and that was a really nice thing she said, both about me and her husband, and I’m grateful for that.

Also warm towels, fresh from the dryer, and putting on dry socks after your feet have been cold and wet, and a delicious cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and the quiet of the early morning when no one is up yet and it’s just me and G-d and my Gemara.

I know that to many in my community Thanksgiving is a non-event. It’s not a frum (religious) thing to do. And I suspect that if it weren’t so important to my brother and his family and my parents, we just would have let Thanksgiving fade from our practice. It’s a holiday but it’s not a holy day, so it might not have been our thing. And I understand the religious arguments against celebrating Thanksgiving; the Torah enjoins to not follow in the way of other nations, possibly even in non-religious aspects of culture, or perhaps the argument that when it began it was a way of Christians being grateful to their conception of G-d, so it kinda is a religious holiday, or that by including any aspects of secular culture into our way of life, it necessarily means that our experience is not wholly Jewish. I get why it’s not a frum thing. And yet . . .

I really like Thanksgiving!

When we lie to ourselves about not filling up on hors d’oeuvres, and when my wife tells me that there is no mitzvah to drink on Thanksgiving and she doesn’t understand why I do it, and when we watch a football game we literally couldn’t care less about, but in that moment it seems important, and when we argue over the best type of cranberry sauce, and eat corn bread to “celebrate our southern roots,” even though the most southern our roots extend is the Lower East Side, and when we are so full we can’t eat one more bite but then oh! Pie! And even when we go around the table and no one has anything creative to say, I really like all of that. I’m grateful for Thanksgiving.

About the Author
Rabbi Mordechai Soskil has been teaching Torah for more than 20 years. Currently he is the Director of Judaic Studies at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. He is also the author of a highly regarded book on faith and hashkafa titled "Questions Obnoxious Jewish Teenagers Ask." He and his wife Allison have 6 children. And a blessedly expanding herd of grandchildren.
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