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by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

In 1620, our Pilgrim ancestors escaped the tyranny and religious persecution of the Old World and braved a treacherous journey, to find freedom on this continent. They landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Settling at the edge of a vast wilderness, they nearly perished. They were rescued by generous natives who brought food and taught them to survive in this land. A year later, the Pilgrims sat down to a feast of Thanksgiving, in gratitude to the natives who welcomed them and in gratitude to a providential God who protected them. And so we gather each year to share our appreciation for our freedom, our blessings and our bounty.

My ancestors weren't here in 1620. But this is my story and this is my holiday nonetheless. My people also knew tyranny. They lived in fear of the knock at the door in the middle of the night. They too dreamed of freedom for their children, endured a harrowing journey, and found here a New World, open to their contributions of talent and energy. For a Jew with a sense of history, America is a miracle. Other lands of the Diaspora afforded degrees of security and opportunity. But only America has offered a genuine sense of belonging.

It is not just the Bill of Rights that opened America to us. It is this remarkable congruence of the American story and the Jewish story that gives us a sense of being at home here. We share the experience of exodus, of journey, of God's protection, of reaching the promised land. We share the imperative to protect liberty, to express our gratitude, and to share with those in need. Thanksgiving, the sacred festival of American civic religion, uniquely captures the miracle of homecoming that Jews share with all other Americans.

One year, as we began our Thanksgiving feast, my son became very upset: "You forgot to make Kiddush!" he cried. For a Jew raised in the rich symbolism of Jewish tradition, there is something wanting in Thanksgiving. We need a Thanksgiving Seder.

As a beginning, I offer the following prayer composed by Ina J. Hughes as a "kavannah" a meditation for your Thanksgiving table:

We pray for children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never "count potatoes,"
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those
who never get desert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can't find any bread to steal,
who don't have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who lie and move but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried
and for those who must,
for those we never give up on
and for those who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Fri, December 9 2022 15 Kislev 5783