Thanksgiving and Chanukah

As Americans, November conjures up all sorts of thoughts of turkey, pumpkin pie, and football. Arguably, it is one of the best times to be a part of this counry. Many of us have the opportunity to enjoy an extended weekend with our families and our friends. We gather around the table and, hopefully, we pause to share our own perspectives on what we are grateful for in our own lives.

Thanksgiving comes packed with a deep narrative: What the theologian, Peter Gomes, calls the “American sense of mythic past.” It’s a narrative about an arduous journey to escape religious persecution for freedom in a new land, the establishment of a democratic charter, and the sense of divine providence that carried those refugees through their plight.

In the following month, December, we celebrate Chanukah. Chanukah is also a deep narrative, embedded in the collective Jewish psyche, of how we fought back against religious oppression, earned our freedom, and thanked God for allowing us to reach this day.

In America, most holidays have lost their original signficance for most people. With Thanksgiving, that may not yet be the case. Most Americans, after all, are descendants of those who fled to this side of the planet seeking a new future unbridled by the oppressive restrictions of the old world. And when we think of America, we still think of a land of promise and liberty. So Chanukah and Thanksgiving are deeply connected, and that connection can be summed up in just four words: “Thank God, we’re free.”

As we celebrate our freedom, we must always think of those who do not enjoy the freedom that we have. Throughout the world in so many different countries, people suffer under the yoke of oppression and discrimination.

We must get back to the teachings of our prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, who taught us that God needs more than just our prayers. God needs us to take action: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, study war no more, and not to be silent in the face of oppression. This is what Thanksglving and Chanukah demand of us. Let us celebrate these two joyous occasions always with the caveat to translate the words of our prayers into directives for our lives so that we not only recite a blessing but we become a blessing as well.

 Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett new-message24