Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

Thank you, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an extraordinary holiday; it’s profoundly American but has many of the attributes of Jewish holidays; family, food (and not in a jokey way, but with a profound understanding of how eating together creates and sustains relationships), tradition, discussion, deep gratitude, and the self-reflection that such gratitude often demands.

I am still flying from my Thanksgiving, because it gave me hope that the American dream still exists, and that we can work toward it. So if you don’t mind, please bear with me as I elaborate.

My son-in-law, Rabbi Dave Vaisberg of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, is a serious cook. He and my daughter, Miriam Palmer-Sherman, invited 45 people to their house, and Dave and my husband, Andy, smoked two turkeys and roasted a third. Dave also smoked 30 pounds of brisket to make Montreal smoked meat. (He might be a naturalized American citizen by now, but once a Canadian…) Miriam and I prepared what seemed like oceans of Brussels sprouts (tip — just cut off the cores and shake them in two bowls. All the outside leaves will come off. It’s magic. Who knew?)

There were approximately two desserts for each of the 45 people in the house, including a turkey cake.

Except for the desserts, there were no leftovers. Everything was eaten, and everyone was very happy. Very very full, and very very happy.

But the food, as glorious as it was, wasn’t the main point. The real magic was us.

I have shared almost every Thanksgiving of my whole life with my aunt and uncle, and there they were. My siblings and their kids, my first cousins, with their spouses and kids, were there as well. It is hard to overemphasize how incredibly centering that continuity is.

Although most of us there are white middle-class Jews, we did represent at least a bit of the glittering mosaic that is this country at its best. My tall thin very pale cousin and his tall thin very dark African-American Jewish wife and their biracial toddlers were there. My niece, the strawberry blonde librarian who works at a school in the Bronx, was there, and so was her brother, who is a welder, lives in Texas, and has a huge Jewish star tattooed on his forearm and a beard long enough to be alarming (“What’s that on his chin?” my startled 3-year-old grandson asked) cascading down his chest. His Ukrainian-born friend, removed to Staten Island before she was old enough to have any memories of Kiev, was there too. My sister-in-law’s Italian Catholic brother, her sister-in-law, and her nieces were there, along with her wonderful matza-pizza kids. Dave’s good friend, Imam Farhan Siddiqi, was there, with his wife and their four young children. You know what it’s like when little kids look at you gravely as they tell you about the cat they’ve just seen? How it meowed? And then ask about the dog? And then they start playing with other kids their age who they’ve not seen for a year and they cannot possibly remember, and it all works perfectly? That’s what this was. (Dave, Farhan, and their friend Rev. Justin D. Karmann have a podcast, called “We’re All Frocked,” that introduces itself with “An imam, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. Except the imam wouldn’t walk into a bar. Instead, they walk into a podcast studio…”)

So there it was — Jews, Christians, Muslims. All eating kosher turkey and Montreal smoked meat together. All talking with each other. No politics. No arguments. But real discussions. With lots and lots of gravy. And stuffing. And turkey cake!

It should be like that every day.

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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