Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday is like a ritual that we observe similarly each and every year. We often gather at the same home, with the same people, eating similar foods and sharing in conversations. If we gather with close friends or family whom we see often, then Thanksgiving is a time for our annual Turkey Day rituals. If we gather with family or friends whom we don’t see all year, then it is a day to catch up and reconnect.
This year, there is great question as to whether or not Turkey Day will bring the regular treats of joy, reconnecting, enjoying and being thankful for all that we have, or if it will simply be the catalyst for painful and divisive political and life conversations. Thanksgiving always falls a few weeks after Election Day, and yet, this year is clearly like no other.
For some of us, we are still living in the post-election misery or glory (depending on which side of the aisle we voted). For many of us, we are shocked and appalled by the hourly review, repetition and recitation of what is happening in the political world. There are many, like myself, who are distraught at what is happening around our cities, our states and our country. The incredible amount of hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that has erupted over the past two weeks is a disgrace to the founding fathers of this great nation.
And so this brings us to Thanksgiving. For some of us, we are not ready to move on from our anger and our disappointment over the recent election. We need to process, and share, and live in our grief. For others among us, we are saying: Dayenu. Isn’t it enough already? Haven’t we argued and spoken and been divided enough?
So how do we come together around the Thanksgiving table, and partake in our annual rituals as if nothing is different? Perhaps it is precisely what we need after a painful and challenging few weeks. In the past two days, I heard about a family who will not be sharing Thanksgiving dinner together, because one part of the family was on the opposite political side from the other. I heard about a family who was instructed that there would be no politics discussed at the Thanksgiving table, because a newcomer to the table is on the ‘other side’. And I heard of a family who is walking on pins and needles, anxiously waiting to see what war will erupt over turkey and stuffing.
I’m not sure there is a great answer to this year’s dilemma of ‘Turkey Trouble’ or ‘Turkey Treats’. I don’t agree that we should remain silent. Nor do I agree that ‘anything goes’ is acceptable. So I searched our Jewish text for some answers, and this passage from Pirke Avot (Sayings of our Fathers) speaks volumes: “Who is wise? One who learns from every person… Who is strong? One who overpowers their inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with their lot… Who is honorable? One who honors their fellows.”
Perhaps we can actually listen to one another. Perhaps we can find a way, for several hours, not to forget politics, but to be thankful for the many riches that fill our daily lives. Perhaps we can be certain that our conversation is filled with respect and honor for God’s other creations.
As the great Reb Nachman teaches: “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” I hope that Friday, we can each be a better person than we are today.