Thanksgiving could be my all time favorite Jewish holiday. OK, well, it feels like it should be a Jewish holiday.
You get to sit down to a huge meal, all of your family and invited guests sitting around the table, and just…eat. No services. No guilt. No they-tried-to-kill-us-we-won-let’s-eat. We get the day off and can actually enjoy a day off.
Even more significantly, it’s a holiday that we share–freely and proudly–with our non-Jewish friends and neighbors. Even with its general non-specific religious context, it has no supposed secret and obscure Christian past like Halloween or Valentine’s Day. In fact, it probably resembles our festival of Sukkot more than anything–a time of giving thanks and rejoicing after the harvest has been completed.
Furthermore, Thanksgiving gives us Jews a way to show that we’re completely integrated into American society. I’ve always felt that Jews were among the most patriotic of groups–we love this country because we know what life could be like somewhere else. Our ancient status as strangers living in a strange land has given us a strong connection to other marginalized groups and those who are less fortunate.
So here’s something I always wondered: when you’re driving down the road and you see a pickup truck with an American flag draped over the back window–why is it pretty much a 100% certainty that it is not a Jewish person behind the wheel? (And yes, I do know some Jews who own a pickup truck.)
Asked another way, if we Jews are so fiercely patriotic (and we are!), why don’t we attach American flags to our cars? Why don’t we routinely chant “USA USA USA” at our gatherings?
I believe there’s a vast difference between patriotism and jingoism. Between loving a country and blindly rooting for victory and dominance above all others as if you’re attending a football game. Between mindless and unquestioning nationalism and working towards Tikkun Olam–recognizing that no matter how wonderful this country is, and by extension how fortunate we are as Jews to live in this place at this time–there’s always room for critical thought and improvement.
Have a great Thanksgiving, but just remember the most important thing: around your Thanksgiving table, make sure to never discuss any religion or politics.