Thanksgiving (November 2012)

As Thanksgiving approaches this year, our sensitivity is heightened to the many blessings we share as a nation. We are thankful not merely for the bounty of the holiday meal, but especially in this Presidential election year-for the precious freedom it celebrates and our opportunity to express our preferences for our nation’s leadership. We are also extremely thankful that the election year is almost over because it has been such a negative process — much more negative campaigning than positive. All the phone calls and negative advertising is enough to make us question the character of all the candidates!

I am writing this message just a few short weeks before the election. I hope and pray that the president and the government will always be mindful of the needs of all people and remember that government is not bad but good and has a responsibility to be compassionate and understanding for all. On Thanksgiving day, as we gather with family and friends, we won’t break bread without taking the time to express thanks for the meaning of this country that is our home; for the democratic values that are at the foundation of what this nation stands for and by which we strive to live, for the open and pluralistic society that embraces and celebrates human diversity, and for all those men and women who fight to protect the freedom we cherish.

While the classic Norman Rockwell painting of a traditional Thanksgiving is probably more reflective of the exception rather than the rule (particularly in an age of tremendous national mobility and changing familial patterns), when we picture Thanksgiving in our minds a picture develops that focuses on the elements of family, friends, food and football. (An interesting tidbit: The top turkey-eating country in the world is not the United States, but Israel, at 25 lbs per person every year as compared to the United States at l5 lbs. per person). Most people don’t actually realize that Rockwell did not call the painting “Thanksgiving.” In fact, it is entitled “Freedom from Want” and is part of a series that Rockwell created, called the “Four Freedoms.” Rockwell’s intent was not to depict a typical Thanksgiving dinner, rather to emphasize that in America, no one should go hungry and be denied the ability to share in the bounty of our society.

On this coming Thanksgiving holiday, let each of us take a moment before we slice into that succulent piece of turkey (or Tofu) to reflect on the many blessings in our lives. The folklore of Thanksgiving teaches that the Native Americans and Pilgrims came together to share of their bounty. As residents of this United States of America we have a special obligation to share our bounty and our blessings. May this Thanksgiving be — for our families, our community, our nation — a celebration of all we value, all we hope for, and all we struggle to create.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett