Monday, October 2, 2023 -
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Turkey with all the fixins’, the traditional accompanying side dishes of sweet potatoes, cranberry and pies. Mmmm. It’s that time of year again — that tradtional America feast of gratitude: Thanksgiving.

This is an all American time of celebration and appreciation. And of all days, this one has no price tag attached to it, no superficial gifts, agendas or expectations — other than the name of the day itself: to give thanks.

In today’s age of travel and technology, for many of us, our nuclear family is scattered in different corners of the world. Often, Thanksgiving is a time of three generations of family and friends gathered, connecting round a table, grateful for the bounty and abundance of life; for each other.

Every family has its traditions and every family has its stories. And memories. Whether it be of a particular grandparents’ touching gesture recalled, or the laughter at the memory of a Thanksgiving recipe tried and flopped, not to mention the tenderness of past Thanksgivings shared, a particularly memorable one recalled, or a child’s craft displayed — this is the stuff of most Thanksgivings.

Many families’ ancestors came to the shores of this country destitute, fleeing a cruel fate or simply embracing the hope of a better life. At this time we think of them and the opportunities that America, with G-d’s help, held out to us. Thanksgiving is a reminder of that.

And a reminder, in general, of being more mindful of all that we have to be grateful for in life, even the seemingly ordinary and insignificant gesture that barely registers, such as a start to the day with a morning greeting, someone knowing us by name. It’s creating the little moments along the way, appreciating the little things, the seemingly ordinary, that add up to the arc of our lives. The small colorful crops that become the harvest of our lives.

And yet, when you think about the origins of the holiday, Thanksgiving commemorates a disturbing and unsettling reality. When you stop to think about it, the whole romantic notion of the Indians and pilgrims feasting together is mostly a myth. When you consider the foundations of this holiday, the decision to celebrate Thanksgiving seems to have been complex, almost controversial.

A long time before Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November to be an American day of thanks; long before Congress passed this famous fourth Thursday of the month as a national holiday in 1941, the European immigrants came to this country, viciously and brutally overtaking land of the indigenous tribes in the “New World.” Natives were practically eradicated.

Thus, while we affirm all that we are grateful for, Thanksgiving is a mixed blessing, reflecting the reality that life is not cut-and-dried, either/or — certainly not for the all-American-as-apple-pie holiday of Thanksgiving.

How can we sit down in the toasty warmth of our fireplace to our sumptuous feast when so many with whom we share this earth tremble from terrible cold as their stomachs rumble from terrible hunger? Do we see ourselves as collectively accountable? Are we trying to repair this wrong in any way?

What I believe is significant about Thanksgiving, and what I think speaks so universally to most Americans, is not the date, the story or the history of the day. It is the idea of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is about capturing the spirit of the day. It is the idea of planting seeds, of gathering crops, of appreciating the blessing of harvests. It is a time to contemplate what seeds we are sowing and what crops we are harvesting in the relationships in our life, in our family, in our faith, in our country, in our world.

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and ask ourselves, are we gathering ripe crops? Thanksgiving is a time to evaluate the yield of our life’s activity.

Through the ebb and flow of our life, we all have some, if not many blessings, to appreciate, to feel deeply grateful for. To say thank you for.

When you think of Thanksgiving that way, it makes the autumn glow that much more beautiful.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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