Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

Turkeys and Gd

Thanksgiving Denver, 2002: The Berman/Cohen cousins (picture by SJC)

הודו לֹה’ כי טוב כי לעולם חסדו

Praise Gd for Gd is good; Gd’s loving-kindness is everlasting.

I  went to get my monthly blood test at my neighborhood last Thursday — successfully.  I mention this for a couple of reasons (neither of which may interest you, but I’ve got your attention, so hang on!).  I normally have what is called a “standing order” for this blood test, because I need it every month in order to make sure one of my medications has not dropped my white blood cell count to zero, thus making any infection that comes my way – COVID, influenza, the common cold – fatal.  I have been doing this for years now, without problem. (Well, I struggle every month to have them add a notification to my pharmacy as well, but that has become part of our dance)  Come last May, my standing order ran out (it is good for 6 months), and so I asked my doctor to send in a new one.  And here came the issues.

And first, the administrative assistant/phlebotomist checking me in told me, my doctor had not put a start and end date in the right place.  She would take the order for that one day, but. . . I would need a new one.  And their fax machine was broken, so I would need to bring the order in by hand.  This, of course, was made more difficult for my doctor, since he was working from home, but okay.  The next month, the problem was he had written an end date, but no start date.  I suggested the date at the top of the order was a start date, but no. . . and we were off to the races.  “What does she want from me?” I raged to my husband.  “Blood?!  No, wait.  I’m already giving that.”  So, when I went in this past week, I was armed with my paper copy of the order, and low expectations.  The waiting room was fairly full, and progress through those hoping to pricked by the needle and go on their way.  Two things shocked me.

One was that when the woman at the front desk saw me, she said, “Oh, I entered your order.  You are all set.”  As though there had never been an issue. I was stunned.  Wordless.  When it came time for my turn, I gently asked if they had my pharmacy number on the order as well, and she checked and added it.  Miracle of miracles!  Something to be grateful for in this season.

Which is why I am writing this now.  When I walked into that waiting room, Christmas was everywhere.  Santa, tinsel, trees, wreaths, you name it.  Everything but a baby Jesus. I am very tolerant of Christmas decorations in stores and so on, but this made me want to mention to the staff that not all of their clients celebrate Christmas!!

Besides, what happened to Thanksgiving?

In my family, growing up, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday.  It was about family, about being together, about being thankful, and about a really good meal and then watching football with my dad.  As adult, Thanksgiving has been a time for my family of origin to get together, to watch the cousins play, for the adults to catch up.  We count our blessings, either out loud or internally, and, for me, being with my family IS the blessing.  And, of course, the turkey.

When my daughter was small, just beginning Jewish day school, I used to (well, we still do) tell her that Thanksgiving was all about “Turkeys to Gd.”  “Just look at the Psalm,”  I’d say, “Hodu L’Adoshem ki tov!”  In Hebrew ”Hodu” is the command form of “to give thanks” and “Hodu” or more formally “Tarn’gol hodu” means turkey.  It is the perfect Thanksgiving pun.  And I told it to her at the right age; I got giggles, not eye-rolling, and so we still tell it, every year.

But it seems to me that a holiday devoted to family and gratitude is holiday we all in the US – and Israel, and Canada (who already did it) – can get behind.  Putting aside for a moment the debt we own Native Americans for the horrible things white people and the US government has done to them, and focusing on the name of the holiday, is there any community in our country that does not believe in giving thanks?  There are so many people in our country that have little to give thanks for, and this could be a time for families to think about how to help t those people.  But those who are reading this are often not those families.  Most of us have homes.  WE have computers.  WE have people who love us.  Some of us have illnesses that make our lives hard, or endanger them (I am one of those people).  Some of us struggle with terrible losses in our lives.  The pandemic is making work that much harder, and is making LIFE devastatingly difficult in big ways and small – and that all counts.  That pain is real, and I would never suggest that money or family makes up for pain or loss.  But one day a year, we might take a moment to have gratitude.

Skipping from Halloween to Christmas might be economically the right choice for businesses.  I don’t’ know.  It seems to me to be way of going from one completely external holiday (you dress up, you get candy – no need for introspection!) to another holiday that many are striving to make about the surface things (beautiful lights, presents, even just goodwill towards man, which seems to mean just saying “Merry Christmas) as opposed to really engaging with the theology of the holiday (Gd coming to earth in the form a baby, because of Gd’s love).  It is the jobs of stores, at any rate, to make Christmas about what you DON’T have, so that you will buy stuff.  I’m not a Christian theologian, but that would make me crazy!  Stores

Let us take a moment to stop and, as they say, count our blessings.  This year, my entire family will not be around the table together, but there is Zoom, and perhaps we will see each other’s faces.  That is a blessing.  It is not perfect, but life does not have to be perfect for me to be grateful.  We can love from afar.  We can slow down and experience Gd’s loving-kindness in the moment.

And there will turkey, as well.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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