Adena Berkowitz
Adena Berkowitz

Our weekly Thanksgiving x2

This past Sunday morning, after a very meaningful, spiritual and busy Shabbat, I decided I could now treat myself to some down time. I admit we still subscribe to the New York Times, an addiction I have not yet been able to break, despite its often negative Israel coverage. And so there I was going through the various sections when I was stopped cold in my reading tracks. I saw it and could not believe it: a 20 page special section for Thanksgiving. The heading? “Relax. It’s going to be great. Here’s our guide to planning and cooking Thanksgiving.”

All I could think of is — you have got to be kidding! And I didn’t say that out of a sense of triumphalism but out of the reality of my life and so many others. Something that so many of us may be  thinking but perhaps never articulate. And here it is:  those of us who are observant Jews do Thanksgiving every week. And not once but twice.

Consider what our Friday night meals are like. Our Shabbat day lunches. And, even if we are invited out for a meal, don’t we often bring something to our hosts?

Ponder this statistic: during the past High Holiday/Succot holiday season we either prepared or participated in 20 holiday meals. 20 meals! How would the average American even begin to grasp such a concept?

Add in on top of that the restrictions we work with- no running to the store in case we forgot or ran out of something! No ability to call our hosts or guests if we are running late or need to change the timing! On Shabbat, no adjustment to any heating implement and limitations to what we can even heat up in the first place. On Yomtov, we have to take into account the potential late start time to cook at night. And — what happens if we end up welcoming those that need home hospitality, but with more people than we anticipated and no ability make new dishes, will we actually run out of food? And of course the pressure to make sure all preparations are done by candle lighting time- which in our neck of the woods is now 4:25 p.m.!

Week in and week out, hundreds of thousands of us, women and men, rush to finish work at home or rush from our offices to make it in time for Shabbat. Hundreds of thousands of us spend Thursday night cooking into the wee hours of the night, or get up at the crack of dawn, trying out new recipes, aiming for more healthy cooking, taking into account vegetarians, lactose intolerant (especially pertinent over Shavuot), vegan, and those with food allergies.

An herein lies a very basic truth: To be observant takes work. There is rigor. There is discipline. It is not easy. But it is rewarding. It is meaningful. It has a higher purpose. But the failure to acknowledge that it takes work and discipline does a disservice to all of us, especially those coming up the ranks and those who may be interested in coming aboard.

It was said that the “gadlus” of baseball great Joe Dimaggio is that he made it look easy. Maybe to the outsider Shabbat looks “easy.” I often think most non-Jews think Shabbat as a “day of rest” means we spend 25 hours on lounge chairs, as someone feeds us grapes. But being observant isn’t any easier than sliding into home plate.

Hurray for our fellow MOT (member of the Tribe) who weekly not only prepare for Shabbat but make it home from work before Shabbat begins. Hurray for all the women and men who balance so much — time, effort and expense, and remain observant. It is not easy. It means missing out on certain things and leading a life different than those around us. And guess what? It pays off. Tell me, is there anything like that feeling once candles have been lit, shul has concluded with a leisurely walk home, Kiddush is made, appreciation is conveyed to the heads of the household, along with Netilat Yadayim and Motzi followed by a dinner and the next day lunch — with not only food lovingly prepared or ordered, words of Torah shared–but no interruptions for 25 hours from our phones, our laptops, our bosses or employees. Just built in downtime, with family and friends. How I love to witness a scene of both adults and kids, sitting at a table or living room, playing games and talking to each other, rare moments of one to one socialization in our era of diminishing moments of human contact.

Don’t get me wrong. Thanksgiving is without a doubt one of my favorite holidays and time for family and friends to gather together, with none of the stresses for what it takes to bring in Shabbat. (So if the turkey is not done by shkiah, big deal!) But truth be told, there really is nothing like our weekly Shabbat.

How lucky we are, despite the work, the prep, the energy expended, to weekly share in the glow. Let’s revel in it and even give ourselves a rare pat on the back as we work to uphold Shabbat both through observance and enthusiasm. In that way we can live up to the immortal words of Ahad Haam: More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews!

About the Author
Dr. Adena Berkowitz is co-founder/Scholar in Residence of Kol HaNeshamah NYC, an outreach congregation dedicated to reenergizing the spiritual life of affiliated and not yet affiliated Jews. With backgrounds in law and Jewish Studies from Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School and the Jewish Theological Seminary, she is co-author of Shaarei Simcha, a mini prayerbook, the first liturgical work in modern times written by Orthodox women. She is also a visiting lecturer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.