Here in New Jersey we are thinking winter. Suddenly the summer heat has disappeared, taking with it the mosquitoes, the balmy nights and the great escapes to the shore. Picnics seem ridiculous. The barbeque grill is only now for the intrepid. That’s not me! The leaves define the real word for autumn, fall, as they slippery-up our roadways and blow into our sanctuaries. The cries of “wipe your feet” are heard throughout the land.
By now we’ve all had enough of summer. Time was when summer brought with it the scourge of polio. This summer it was mosquito borne eastern equine encephalitis, not so abundant as polio in its prime but enough of a worry. Good riddance indeed.
Now the darkness comes early, and profoundly. The long and lazy days of summer are a mere memory. Suddenly we start to think of dinner at 5 o’clock and being cozy in the den is the ultimate indulgence.
And our minds wander to Thanksgiving. Of all the American holidays, clearly and overwhelmingly this is the one that every Jew celebrates. Unlike Christmas and Easter, we can claim Thanksgiving as one of ours. Of course July 4 and Memorial Day belong to us as well. Our great nation was built and defended by huge numbers of our brothers and sisters. But Thanksgiving brings with it just about everything we treasure. Families make exceptional efforts to be together. Crowded tables, redolent of the Pesach seder, are de rigeur. Just as room for everyone is more than a cliché. Even when there is no room at all, there’s still room.
As soon as Americans, and even some Jews, have hung up their Halloween costumes, the menus start appearing in the newspapers. Nouveau cuisine just doesn’t cut it. Only turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and stuffing are ubiquitous.
And the cook is overwhelmed. Lots of shopping and lots of preparing for a meal rarely known for comfort. Sure, we can squeeze two little ones at the end of the table. Sure the folding chairs are a bit tortuous but that’s what we’ve got. And for sure we have room for your cousin from Israel.
Of course our lives need to keep rolling along even when the Thanksgiving preparations are well under way, Going to work and school are part of the routine but a Thursday holiday, like Thanksgiving, is a welcome reprieve.
As a kid, so long ago, Thanksgiving started with the great annual football game between Weequahic High School and our arch rival Hillside High School. Our team, consisting almost exclusively of earnest and hard working Jewish boys, just about always lost. The big exception was in the great victory of 1951 when Weequahic redeemed itself and beat Hillside. What a Thanksgiving that was! A bit amazing to count the years that have flown by since. Gone like the autumn leaves.
After the game, frozen as we were, the walk home was accompanied by the fragrances escaping from the numerous homes we passed. Many many turkeys gave their lives for that sensory overload. Many kosher butchers, most of whom were Shoah survivors and didn’t quite understand their fellow Jews cooking a somewhat goyisch meal to celebrate Pilgrims and Indians and some boat called the Mayflower. Nonetheless, each stocked up on a supply of turkeys to sell and each year our mothers proclaimed that this year’s turkey was the best ever. And it was always true. In those days no supermarket sold kosher turkeys. We got ours from Sam the Butcher on Newark’s Clinton Place. Our butcher of choice.
The meal itself always followed a pattern. The late-comers were always late. The food was always delicious. And the beautiful moment of being together was as beautiful as it always was. The year gone by, with its joys and sorrows, was bravely born as we all looked forward to what was to come. But, of course, none of us knew what was to come, then, or now.
Except for one thing. Winter. As soon as the table was cleared and the meal declared complete, it was suddenly winter. Of that we could be sure, and it never failed to arrive on schedule. As it shall this year