I was listening to The Kojo Nnamdi Show yesterday where he interviewed Native Americans about Thanksgiving. As expected, they recounted the history of displacement and suffering of Native Americans going back to the 17th century. While Thanksgiving has its roots in European religious and pagan traditions as a harvest festival, as well as in our own biblical holiday of Sukkot, their story reminded me of this much less known narrative.
Last night, in between winks, I caught Chris Cuomo's (CNN) different take on Thanksgiving. He emphasized that the distinctiveness of Thanksgiving was rooted in George Washington's, Abraham Lincoln's and FDR's desire to transcend division and darkness, to remind the country of their common roots and their common humanity. He noted how the institution of Thanksgiving took place during times of strife and war. For Lincoln, it was the Civil War, for FDR it was after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Cuomo noted how this year's Thanksgiving could perhaps bring us together, to appreciate what we have, to respect civility and express compassion for the less fortunate.
Reflecting on this, I would like to suggest that we try to honor both understandings of the holiday. I plan to light a yahrtzeit candle to remember the suffering endured by Native Americans, make a contribution to the American Indian College Fund and share a Native American earth poem at our table. On the Cuomo side, we might consider taking a couple minutes to name our blessings and, during the meal, engage in thoughtful dialogue about our fears.
It just so happens that this week's Parsha contains the story of the reunion of the twins, Jacob and Esau. In today's world Jacob would be considered a Progressive and an environmental activist; Esau, would be considered a Conservative and a strong advocate for the NRA. Nonetheless, after much independent soul searching, they meet each other. Esau runs toward Jacob, embraces him, kisses him on the neck several times "...and they wept".
May our Thanksgiving hold out such promise for our society and ourselves. Hodu L'Shem! Happy Thanksgiving, Reb David