My Thanksgiving Message

Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz   November 20, 2018

thanksgivingI love Thanksgiving and I always have. I love a quiet day at home with family. And I love that the concept of the day -- gratitude -- is at the center of Judaism. Thanksgiving is one of those American holidays that feels Jewish to me.

We all know that Thanksgiving is about the more important things in life: Family, friends, and, of course, gratitude. Why then do we make a fuss about the relatively small things like how moist the turkey is, whose stuffing recipe we use, and whether football is on during the meal?

One answer: details matter. And while we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, we should recognize that small gestures and attention to detail can deepen a relationship and enhance an experience.

In fact, that is precisely what has happened in Jewish communities across America this month. Since the massacre in Pittsburgh, many of our non-Jewish neighbors have expressed profound sadness and solidarity with the Jewish community. Our non-Jewish friends have called or greeted by extending condolences. They have written notes, sent flowers, and attended vigils. Leaders of religious communities throughout the country have stepped forward to our community.

The notes, the calls, the non-Jews joining us in worship, these were all small gestures. But each small gesture made a significant difference.

And the message that Jews throughout the country heard was that the alt-right will not be tolerated in America. I am grateful for this message, and yet I am mindful that anti Semitism is alive and well in America. Earlier this month I gave a sermon at the United Church of Christ in Longmeadow. I taught about anti-Semitism from the right and from the left. I invite you to read the sermon to learn more about both the history of anti-Semitism in America and to learn more about how anti-Semitism is expressed in America today. Here is a link to my sermon.

Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim wrote many books but he is best known for a single phrase, a new commandment. Fackenheim taught that, in addition to the 613 commandments of tradition, Jews should observe a 614th -- not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory. While Fackenheim's remarks were directed toward the generation after the Holocaust, his wisdom is relevant for us today. He wrote:

"We are commanded, first, to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, second, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted."

Applying Fackenheim's teaching to today. We must practice Judaism to honor those 11 men and women who embraced their Judaism by coming to shul on Shabbat. We must not give up on America, despite the anti-Semitism we are witnessing. America is a great country and we must do all in our power to protect the democracy and eradicate hatred and bigotry towards any group.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, may we both appreciate the rights and opportunities that have been central to the American Jewish experience, and may we rededicate ourselves to becoming politically engaged and active so that this country remains a beacon of justice and freedom for all.



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