As with most of you, I grew up in two worlds: An American world and a Jewish world. Thanksgiving in my family was an coveted celebration of our American freedoms. Aside from the food and football (and I do not minimize the latter!), my family was always appreciative of the life we lived in America. My grandparents were part of that immigrant generation; arriving in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thanksgiving re-enforced for all of us kids, the privileges we enjoyed growing up in a freer society. Now, decades later, I still passionately carry the torch for Thanksgiving; and lovingly recall the childhood celebrations I shared with my parents and relatives of blessed memory. …And I still get excited about the early NFL (National Football League) game starting at noon!
Thanksgiving traditions are part of our individual and national heritage. Whatever else may transpire in our lives; whatever the political, social or economic climates, Thanksgiving remains a constant. It serves as a binding link to our American past; and hopefully it serves as a bridge to our future.
I could not imagine an America without Thanksgiving Day. We may vary in our Thanksgiving Celebrations; for not everyone eats turkey nor does everyone enjoy football. Thanksgiving traditions are as diverse as America; our family celebrations reflect the joys of living in a pluralistic society. Whatever our Thanksgiving particulars, the central feature is still the continuity of Thanksgiving in American life. Even if the Pilgrims would not recognize our contemporary Thanksgiving; the link we share with our Mayflower forbearers is binding (I hope the right-wing extremists who have been vocally and physically abusive over the past two weeks, become more mindful of what it truly means to be an American…).
Celebrating our continuity-along with our diversity- is essential to Judaism as well. In this week’s Torah portion Hayai Sarah, Abraham acts upon his vision for the future Hebrew clan. He takes a first step toward insuring his family’s continuity; commanding his trusted servant to become the first Jewish shadchan (matchmaker) Abraham sends Eliezer to the family’s ancestral home; to find a lifetime partner for Isaac. As customary for his generation, Abraham oversaw the process. He disqualified women from neighboring Canaanite tribes; since the local clans were too pagan for his taste. When Rebecca became Isaac’s partner, the next generation of Israel became secure. Rebecca and Isaac would certainly put their own inprimatur on the clan; but they would do so as Sarah and Abraham’s faithful successors.
Over the centuries, each generation of Jews (and each specific community of Jews) would express its own unique character. Each would deviate somewhat from the generation which preceded it; shaping Jewish experiences and rituals according to its own needs. The Judaism of today therefore, is not identical with Judaism of yester year. Yet, as with our contemporary Thanksgiving; our link to the past is binding.
Just as I cannot imagine an America without Thanksgiving; I cannot imagine a Judaism devoid of of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat or Hanukkah. Yet, these Jewish holidays are declining and disappearing with passage of time. We are losing Jews and Jewish celebrations because we find them increasingly tangential to our lives. As young parents we are dismissing serious Jewish education and our responsibility to guide our children to live Jewish lives. As they grow, we focus on success in college; often ignoring the Jewish components which are so vital in this age of BDS and campus anti-Semitism. As adults we focus mainly on career but not on nourishing our souls. As our children leave home we find synagogue and Jewish life having little utilitarian purpose and so we abandon our responsibility to remain connected. Abraham took extraordinary measures to insure the continuity of his clan. He could not expect Isaac-nor Rebecca- to be a carbon copy of him nor of Sarah; but he expect them to pledge loyalty to the future of their new faith. Today, our identification with Am Yisrael is weakening; not because of diversity and pluralism, but because of indifference. We may vary in our ritual practices, but variation has always been a hallmark of the Jewish people. We adapted; but never abandoned. Today, we are witness to the growing abandonment of Jewish life in America; to the alarming decline of identification with Am Yisrael. As with Thanksgiving, we need to forge our contemporary brand of Judaism while still declaring our binding link to the past.
May our Thanksgiving link between past and present be matched by the Jewish link which binds Am Yisrael past and present. I hope both links remain unsevered for centuries to come.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom!