Most American Jews easily relate to Thanksgiving because it's the American holiday most associated with family gatherings and food…and it is based on Sukkot! But, there is much more to the holiday than turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude and an acknowledgement of good fortune. Our Jewish tradition is reflected in Lincoln's words commanding us to care for those who cannot care for themselves: our society's widows, orphans, mourners and sufferers. Among the sufferers, Judaism includes the poor and the hungry. Scattered throughout our texts are guidelines for offering support to the less fortunate. We are instructed to leave the corners of our fields for the poor, to maintain the poor and to give according to our means. One cannot think about Judaism without thinking about charity and tzedakah--both monetary generosity and the pursuit of tzedek— justice.
Thanksgiving is a holiday about appreciating what we have. By recognizing our blessings, we become aware of our vulnerability. We realize that the abundance we enjoy is tempered by the poverty that surrounds us. We live in one of the richest countries in the world, yet our communities are filled with the impoverished and hungry. Lincoln called upon all Americans to observe a day of Thanksgiving each year to thank God for what they had and to pray for those people who were suffering, but Judaism calls upon us to do more than just pray, and on more than one day. We are commanded to alleviate suffering. Deuteronomy, Chapter 15, says, "Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for what he needs."
At Congregation Shir Heharim, we have much for which to be thankful. Our building, our programs, our religious school and our caring community are just some of things that come to mind. We are thankful for everyone who has helped create BAJC as a house of prayer, a house of learning, and a house where tzedakah and gemilut chasadim are part of our fabric. We are thankful for having a Jewish home, but we need YOUR help to maintain this place as a home for us now and for generations to come. If you want to keep this place heated and cooled, staffed and clean, if you want our excellent programming to continue, and you and your children to continue on the path to becoming learned Jews, if you want us to continue to be able to help others in our community who are not fortunate enough to have a home, then please give what you can and share what you can. If you are not already a member — become one; without the support of members there would be no Jewish community to turn to when you need it. We also need you to volunteer your time, your expertise, your energy, your presence. Lend us a hand. Give us a few minutes a week, an hour a month, whatever you can. The “Odds ‘n’ Ends” article in this newsletter will give you some ideas about how you can help. To volunteer, contact me or any Board member any time!
So, as we gather around our bountiful tables this year, give thanks for all we have and for all we can do. And, pass those mashed potatoes!