Why Jews Should Celebrate Thanksgiving 2015!

I'm not an extreme sports fan but, after what happened this week, all I can say is "Let's Go Patriots!!" This past Monday night, the Pats held a moment of silence to honor Ezra Schwartz, an American teen who was murdered by terrorists while volunteering to deliver food to Israeli soldiers.

Ezra was just one of 19 victims who have been murdered by terrorists in Israel in the past few weeks mostly due to stabbings. And this is the climate in which we now celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend. On what is one of my favorite and most joyous days in the calendar, people are consumed with talk of the horror in Paris, the implications of countries shooting down each other's planes, and Kerry not even bothering this time to talk about "peace in the Middle East". It's no wonder the expression "World War 3" was trending all over social media this past week.

Yet, it is precisely on this Thanksgiving weekend that I wish to recall the words of Shakespeare "Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair." It is precisely on this Thanksgiving that I think how we are so often consumed with the "black dot" on the white canvas of life. This "black dot" that darkens our existence is not imagined but real and yet we must place this chapter of life within context of the broader novel of history. For there is so much on our canvas that we ought to be feeling immensely thankful for.

As a Jew, I remind myself that for 4000 years, my ancestors cried and prayed for the extraordinary era in which I live, a day in which the Jewish people enjoy both sovereignty in our homeland and freedom in the Diaspora! We are living in a miraculous time where we are all just a flight away from being able to walk the Holy Land, kiss the Wailing Wall and see with our very own eyes the dignity of the Jewish people restored in the shining gates of Jerusalem. Let us be thankful that when France doesn't seem safe for Jews, Birthright has seen a 127 per cent increase in young Jews looking towards our homeland. Let us be thankful that when the European Commision announces a inappropriately-timed labeling decision, we have both Republican and Democratic leaders of the greatest Superpower on Earth wishing to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement through the Export-Import Bank deal. Let us be thankful that when all hell is breaking loose in the Middle East, Israel is strengthening new alliances in India and the Far East.

But aside for remembering to be thankful, there is perhaps an even more relevant take-away message we can learn from Thanksgiving. That more than being just a "Day of Thanksgiving" established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the origins of this holiday commemorate building bridges between two very different cultures, the Pilgrims and Native Americans. As we look at current events, we see that one of the strongest weapons against modern terrorism lies specifically in the symbolic act of building bridges. Just as it happened at Plymouth in 1621, so too it is imperative in our time that all the good people of the world reach out to connect with one another across cultural, political and national divides. Whether this means more extensive sharing of information between national intelligence agencies, more interfaith dialogue events, or more building of bridges by any means you can imagine - this is way we'll prevail over the demonic forces of our generation.

As part of the annual Torah-reading cycle, synagogues around the world will read a section of the Five Books of Moses this Thanksgiving weekend. In particular, the section read will contain this exact message. In Genesis Chapter 32 when Jacob is faced with the murderous and demonic-acting Esav, the Torah makes a point of sharing with us that Jacob devises a multi-layered strategy of three components :

A. preparing for battle
B. Engaging in prayer
C. Building bridges with Esav through a pageantry of gifts (1).

And not only did this cause Jacob to survive but he thrived, not only did he defeat the demon but he was blessed by an angel as it says "no longer shall you be called Jacob but ISRAEL for you have prevailed over angels of God" (2).

On this Thanksgiving 2015, we have what to be Thankful for, we are seeing how the tragedies in our time are causing the network between the forces of good to grow stronger and I wish to conclude with a Jewish prayer in the spirit of "to believing souls, [God] give light in darkness" - that we go from this holiday of Thanksgiving to the holiday of Hanukah, the holiday that reminds us that no matter how dark the world gets around us, we can be the Light to shine above it all.


(1) "Jacob prepared himself for three things: for a gift, for war, and for prayer. For a gift, [as Scripture says] (verse 22): "So the gift passed on before him." For prayer, [as Scripture says] (verse 10): "God of my father Abraham..." For war, [as Scripture says]: "the remaining camp will escape." - [from Tanchuma Buber, Vayishlach 6]

(2) Genesis 32:29