Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign over all that is,
Who sets within human beings the desire to gather together
to prepare food with memory and gratitude, to share that food
with friends new and old, with family from near and far.
You give us minds to understand the issues of the day;
please grant us the love and patience
with which to respect our differences,
for when those who disagree can truly listen to one another
miracles can happen.
Grant us mindfulness about our food; bless those who grew it,
who picked it, and brought it to market.
Bless those who prepared it and cooked it.
Grant us the awareness of the many sources of this food,
not only in the present, but the minds and hearts in the past
who devised ways to make simple things delicious.
May we rise from this table
with new understandings of one another:
filled not only with food,
but with gratitude for our many blessings.
Blessed are you, Holy One, who has given us hearts
that can appreciate one another,
and the many blessings we receive.
I know what it’s like. I’ve been there: Unhappy Thanksgiving.
The details are private and personal, but the larger picture: the family gathering that is more painful than fun, the lonely Thanksgiving far from people you love, the holiday when there is an empty chair at the table – I’ve been to all those Thanksgivings, and they were miserable.
One of the blessings I count today is that this year is a good year for me: I’m surrounded by family, in a happy home, with food on the table, and the turkey is paid for. I have what I need, and more.
Not all years were like that. And I know, for someone reading this, this year isn’t like that. I’m truly sorry that you are having an Unhappy Thanksgiving this year. If I had a magic wand, I would heal all the hunger, and the loneliness, and the poverty, and the broken hearts – but I have no magic wand.
All I can tell you is that this is just one day. If the sun is shining, take a walk. If you can identify a blessing, give thanks for it. Gratitude is often the beginning of something good, weirdly enough.
But know that I know you are there, and I’ve been there. I wish you better years ahead.
Kitchens around the country are warming up: Thanksgiving is coming. Chanukah is coming.
(Deep-fried turkey, anyone?)
Around some tables, there will be talk about Pilgrims and Indians. And around some tables, we might talk about our ancestors and Thanksgivings past. Perhaps at some tables (I hope!) there will be conversations about the unique relationship between the United States and its Jews, and about what Chanukah might mean here. And here’s another view of the Thanksgiving holiday, shared by Michael Twitty (@KosherSoul) an expert on the foods and lives of enslaved African Americans.
If you are about to click away nervously, thinking that you don’t want a load of guilt dumped on you — don’t. Really. Mr. Twitty is not about guilt. He is about enlightenment and education, and fascinating facts.
Jewish tradition suggests that giving be part of our budget from the beginning, not an afterthought at the end. However this new holiday (?) offers is a reminder near the end of the secular year that our lives are not just about us. One measure of a person is the good that he or she manages to do in the world.
How much should we give for tzedakah? That’s the Jewish word for charitable giving. Let me ask you that question another way: guesstimate the following figures:
the cable bill per month
amount spent on coffee drinks per month
or some other not-necessary-for-survival budget item
Now compare that to “given in tzedakah a month.” Tzedakah includes:
money to charities
to your temple
to Cousin Fred to pay his rent last month
in-kind gifts to charities (canned goods to the Food Bank)
the dollar to the homeless woman
The idea is that this giving relieves suffering and makes life more livable for people who need help. The question is, how much was it? And how does that compare to your cable bill? Your coffee bill? How does it compare to any other nice-but-not-necessary-for-life item in your budget?
If the numbers appear to be out of balance in favor of tzedakah, good for you! If they are out of balance the other direction, I encourage you to think about writing a check on Giving Tuesday. It’s another way of keeping life in balance.
(If you’d rather do this by a more traditional method, you can use Maimonides‘ rule of thumb: 5% of income if you have a low income, 10% if you are well-off. I know, those are challenging percentages, but it is the ideal, and there are people who manage to do it, most of them on the lower, not the upper end of the income scale.)
Consider giving for justice’s sake, not just on Tuesday, but on a regular basis. As Hillel says, “Who is rich? The person who is happy with what he has.” (Avot 4.1) The more we give, the richer we feel. That’s the miracle.