Thanksgiving and the Jews

November 21, 2012

By Jody Hirsh

So... is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday? Well, yes, actually it is! Or at least, believe it or not, it has its roots in the Torah. The Pilgrims, when they left for the New World in 1620, identified with the Children of Israel in the book of Exodus. They saw themselves as the New Israelites, escaping an evil king, crossing a sea safely and coming to the Promised Land. When they had spent the first year in Plymouth and wanted to commemorate their anniversary with an autumn harvest, they chose the Biblical holiday of Sukkot to emulate. Sukkot is essentially a harvest holiday – the last harvest of the year, an autumn harvest. The main theme of Sukkot is actually Thanksgiving! Perfect.  No, they didn’t build “booths” the way we Jews do at Sukkot, but the harvest is the center of the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Most of us Americans, love Thanksgiving... even when we’re living in foreign countries. We search for whole turkeys to roast (try finding one in Israel or Hong Kong), and cranberries (a uniquely American berry), and pumpkin pie. And we Jews see the holiday as a true way to celebrate our lives in the melting pot that is America. We look to the prophet Jeremiah, giving advice to the Jews exiled to Babylonia by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace.

We hope you take the time this weekend to give thanks for all that you are thankful for, and we hope to see you spending time with your family here at the JCC this Thanksgiving. (Click here for holiday building hours, special group exercise times, and gym schedule.)

Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday)