Rivy Poupko Kletenik

Should We Skip Thanksgiving this Year?

I already have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving. It was a holiday that passed unnoticed in my childhood home. Contributing further to the nonobservance was the annual Bnei Akiva, religious Zionist youth group weekend held each year in Pittsburgh which took most of our energy and efforts.

Then one year, as an adult, shopping for Shabbat on Friday morning, I saw a few unbought turkeys at the kosher market and – epiphany, I would make a Thanksgiving Dinner for the family on Friday night.

This became our practice, Friday Night Thanksgiving. “I only cook for God” – I drolly proclaim, as I shift the festive American tradition to Shabbat. As a holiday devoid of complicating religious practices, Thanksgiving has become a place to express authentic Jewish appreciation for our freedom in this country, even as we may wonder about its dubious origins. Now we arrive at this year’s situation – to celebrate or to not celebrate Thanksgiving?

Though this week’s Torah portion supports our inclination, as Jews – Yehudim, to offer thanks, what with Leah naming her forth son, Yehudah. It is going to be tough to go around the table and have friends and family share what they are grateful for this November.

We are all feeling a weighty heaviness. We in the U.S. are appreciative of our homes, our well-being, the plentitude on the table and privilege in our lives. Yet, none of us is not feeling the dragging down, deep sadness; the anxiety of uncertainty. We are navigating the continuous painful questioning of; are we doing enough? Are we advocating enough? Protesting enough? Keeping up on the situation enough? Donating enough? Showing up enough? Convening our community enough? We go to sleep with it, and we wake up with it. There is never enough. October 7 is rarely far from our minds.

How can we sit around a table of abundance while our people continue to mourn for the slaughter of 1200 people, pray for the 200 being held captive, weep as funerals continue to be held for young soldiers and as we all continue to mourn and navigate the new reality? Can we be of two minds; grateful for our blessings and full of sorrow for the pain of all of Israel? I am not sure yet – but for now, perhaps this might help, a prayer of intention for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Lord of our ancestors. You have blessed us with safety and security, with rights and privileges in the United States.

As we move to express gratitude for our gifts, we are at the same time heartbroken with the continued pain and suffering of our people in Israel. We seek its peace and plead desperately for its security to be restored.

You have challenged us with the responsibility of being to be a light unto the world. With that holy light from Above we seek to continue to illuminate the world with a spirit of justice and mercy. Though we live in a broken world, we seek to lift up the sparks; to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and seek fairness for all.

May we yet sit all together one day at the table of plenty and peace. Amen.

About the Author
Rivy Poupko Kletenik, a 2002 Exceptional Jewish Educator Covenant Award Winner, just completed sixteen years as Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. Rivy is an enthusiastic writer and devotee of poetry and literature. Her column “What’s Your JQ” appeared for years in the JT News and then “Jewish in Seattle Magazine” and she is thrilled and proud to be awarded the Simon Rockower American Jewish Press Association Excellence in Commentary.