On Thanksgiving

Scientists tell us that gratitude is good for the heart.

It’s a folk truth that’s always been around, one that cynics mock and the more earnest among us repeat as a mantra, and now scientists confirm it too. “Recognizing and giving thanks for the positive aspects of life can result in improved mental, and ultimately physical, health in patients with asymptomatic heart failure,” the American Psychological Association tells us.

Many of us have much for which to be grateful. We live in a terrifying world, yes — and when has the world not been terrifying? When have enemies not wanted to attack us? (Please note that I do not mean only Jews. Most peoples have had enemies; most of those peoples are long gone.) When has disease and natural disaster, which still pose huge risks to us, and which ultimately will kill most of us, been as domesticated and held at bay as they are now?

Never.

Now, as Thanksgiving approaches, as the season of golden glowing leaves and red-glowing apples and pumpkins and plaids begins to give way to winter’s clear thin pure light if we’re lucky — and its dirty snow and hidden ice if we’re not — our secular calendar — our American calendar — gives us the chance to appreciate and celebrate what we have, before the last leaf is raked up and the pumpkins eaten or tossed.

Now is a good time to give thanks.

We are lucky to be able to live in the United States of America — we as Jews, we as the descendants of immigrants, we as hyphenated Americans, we as Americans. Just plain Americans.

Yes, this country is imperfect, as any human institution must be. As, in fact, Israel is. It has sinned against people, at times grievously. It allows injustice to fester, poverty to persist, inequality to endure.

But it also has provided a haven of freedom to all of us, a place to breathe, expand, create our own communities, learn from our neighbors, teach our neighbors, say what we mean, mean what we say, taste and smell and see and glory in new colors and smells and shapes. To expand our creativity and explore our own truths.

This Thanksgiving, as the world seems to go crazy around us, is a time to be thankful. We will fight traffic to go to our families or our friends (and often friends become our families) and maybe we’ll even fight with someone in our family once we get there, ragged with annoyance, because both families and interstates are human institutions, and by definition far from perfect. The soup will be cold and the turkey will be overdone and the vegetables will be steamed to death and there won’t be enough of the right kind of soda and there will be far too much of the wrong kind, and the wine will be too sweet or too white or too cold, and it will be a long wait for dessert because cooking is a human invention and therefore imperfect, as is the art of timing a meal and preparing it for hordes.

But underlying all of it will be love, and comfort, and bone-deep knowledge of each other. And gratitude.

We know that at least one local synagogue refuses to acknowledge Thanksgiving, labeling it “legal holiday” on its calendar. We know that some yeshivas do not close for it. We cannot understand that.

To stand apart from the country where you live, where you have the opportunity — the great gift, even the blessing, as anyone who has grown up somewhere where he or she did not have that chance — to vote, is an inexplicable, counterintuitive, finally indefensible choice. To live in a country where you can say whatever you want to say, where you can do almost anything you want to do, where democracy flourishes, and not revel in it makes no sense. And to be willing to take whatever the country gives but to hold back from joining, from sharing, from lowering a lifted nose and uncurling a sneered lip, seems simply wrong.

Luckily, that is a minority approach. And, of course, it’s a free country! Which is, after all, the point. And it is something for which all of us at the Jewish Standard are deeply thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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