You may have heard about the American holiday that happened this week. Its eponym is also its most important feature, and the item that truly characterizes the day for what it is. It’s called Turkey Day. Because, well, turkey. And stuffing. And pie. Never forget about the pie.
I jest, of course. We all know that the most important thing is the football.
Thanksgiving. Yes. That’s what it’s called. A little bird told me. (Not the one that was on the table.)
Seriously speaking, though, I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be an interesting day. In the world in which I grew up, it was always a question of, “Do you do Thanksgiving?” In my parents’ house, we never did a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (with the exception of the one year that we went to my dad’s cousin) (not for religious reasons, to be clear, but because that’s a gigantic dinner to have to cook for a random Thursday), but I do distinctly remember, year after year, my father talking, as we ate our boring old regular Thursday night dinner, about the importance of the day and its underlying principles. I can’t tell you what he said every year (I’m the same as everyone else: most of what my dad said when I was growing up never penetrated beyond the membranes of my eardrum), but what stuck with me was the importance of gratitude and how that is foundational to not just a Jewish life, but to life itself. And the day itself was certainly not necessary towards creating a foundation of what it takes to live a life of gratitude, but it served as a good reminder, because any opportunity to be thankful serves as a good reminder to be thankful.
Coming up to Thanksgiving this year, though, was kind of heavy, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this. The general zeitgeist this time of year is this very contented atmosphere, even with all the frenzied menu planning and cooking and traveling and all of the stressors that come along with the holiday. But the prevailing mood, typically, is one that invites everyone to sit back, take stock of what they have, and bask in the good that they have in their lives. It breeds goodwill, and not just because of the delightful fall flavors that permeate the air. It’s a simple cause-and-effect relationship: When we pay attention to the good in our lives, we notice more and more of it.
I don’t know about you, though, but I’m having a hard time with contentedness right now. There’s something about it that’s been very elusive for the last little bit. Rightly so. I shouldn’t be content. And honestly, I can’t be. Not while there are still members of our extended Jewish family trapped in Gaza, although thank God—thank God—for those who were brought home. I can’t be content while my soldiers are still on the front lines, fighting for their lives and for our future. I can’t find that inner peace when my messages just don’t go through for days on end and who knows how long it will be before they do. I can’t just be okay when my land is still bleeding and suffering and mourning the senseless killing of so many of our people. I cannot bask in the cozy sweaters and fall flavors of Thanksgiving when my soldiers are living on variations of canned tuna and trudging through day after day in the very same uniform that, trust me, is nasty, but there’s nothing else for it because that’s what they have to do right now.
I can’t just be okay right now. I can’t just be in full-on Thanksgiving mode right now.
Here’s the thing: It’s times like these, when complete inner peace is so far away, that it is absolutely imperative to focus on the gratitude. It’s times like these, when we are not okay because we cannot be okay, that it is of critical importance for us to find the good in our lives. Not just because it’s the little things that will carry us through, although that’s important. Rather, it’s because times like these challenge us to our very core to be bigger, be better, be greater. It’s when we least feel like smiling that it is most important to smile. It’s when we least feel like saying thank you that it is most important to say it. That doesn’t diminish the pain of the moment. That doesn’t take away from the fear that we are living with. And, critically, that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to live with that fear and pain and the full spectrum of what it is that makes us human. (To be clear, I’m not trying to proselytize and sermonize superciliously from the position of an ignorant, armchair philosopher. I don’t have a husband or father or brother or son on the front lines. Those of you who do, well, I stand in awe of you, because I can’t imagine what you’re going through. However, I don’t speak from a place of pure ignorance, and I’m not trying to preach at you.)
So this Thanksgiving, I took both the good and the hard. I took the light and the dark. I took the peace and turmoil, I took the gratitude and anguish, and I got together with friends where we shared in our collective joy and suffering, where we held each other up because that’s what we do when we can’t stand on our own, where we found a moment of light in what’s been a lot, lot of dark. We laughed. We talked. We made fun of each other. We basked in being in each other’s company. We did all of the things that friends always did and always will do. And we grappled with the darkness that has invaded our world. We spoke about our people who are so much deeper in this fight than we are because we sit 6,000 miles away in the perceived safety of the United States. We did not forget, because we cannot forget, because it’s impossible to forget when your heart is broken and you have been torn in two. But we tapped into the warmth of that cinnamon-and-nutmeg atmosphere because it is the light in our lives that gives us purpose. The good is what makes us persevere in the face of unfathomable tragedy. The blessings that exist in our lives, the blessings that do not negate the pain and are not negated by the pain, are what give us the strength to carry on.
This season, then, we found strength, rather than peace. We found purpose, rather than contentment. We found tenacity and courage and fortitude and the will to push forward, bound in the light that will spill over enough to one day banish the dark because we took this moment for what it always was and what it could not be this year and found a discordant, yet beautiful, harmony.
So yeah, this Thanksgiving was different. But honestly? I like this one. It felt meaningful and real in its totality of acknowledging the good and the hard in our lives. And for next year, when, please God, this nightmare is long since over and we have picked up the shattered pieces of our lives and glued them back together with gold, I’m going to come back to this moment.
I challenge you to do the same.
Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה
כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם