Thanksgiving knows no religious bounds

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By Judi Siegal

I love fall and Thanksgiving. Here in our part of Florida the air is cooler, the nights have a bit of a nip in them and the trees along the turnpike have a bit of color around the tips. Pumpkin patches seem to pop up everywhere along the rural back roads and festivals and craft shows abound.

The supermarkets are filled with fall produce; gourds, squashes, apples, pomegranates and pears. The aroma of cinnamon hearth brooms mingles with holiday candle scents, and the home decor departments of the stores are displaying turkey and Pilgrim figurines of this uniquely American holiday, made, of course, in China.

While the holiday is still a couple of weeks away, the Christmas promotions have seemed to overtake the Thanksgiving displays – almost leading one to believe that the holiday is over rather than still to come. And, yes, the Christmas and yuletide music is heard in the stores as if Thanksgiving is just a brief interlude or jumping-off space to the commercialism that has become the biggest shopping season of the year.

But before we start with Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, we need to step back and celebrate Thanksgiving, not as some forgotten holiday but as the holiday for it encompasses us all, regardless of what faith we follow, or not, if that is our choosing. This beautiful celebration expresses what most Americans feel, that of gratefulness for the bounty, freedom and opportunities we have here in America.

While it is true that these are less than prosperous economic times, we can at least be grateful that these things will soon change, that we live in a democracy where people have a vote to will these changes to happen. We can be grateful for our neighbors and the generosity of the people of this region, who never fail to help others even when they are struggling themselves.

Let not let the buy, buy, buy mentality of Christmas overshadow our gratefulness and gratitude for our lives, health, family, friends, faith, and everyday necessities of life. We need Thanksgiving to remind ourselves of these basics and whether we praise God or just show gratitude in our own special way, it is enough that this humble spirit of thanksgiving comes through and that we don’t take these things for granted.

This was the spirit of the first Thanksgiving when a remnant of the colonists who braved the dangers of the New World celebrated survival by inviting the Native Americans to a feast. These Pilgrims endured many hardships – but their hearts were full as they celebrated their survival.

In Judaism the concept of gratefulness pervades all through the daily rituals of a traditional Jew. There are blessings for just about everything; eating, drinking, sleeping, wonders of nature, etc. Thanksgiving is a holiday Jews readily embrace because it celebrates a basic principle of Judaism, gratefulness to God for all that God has provided.

Nothing in Jewish life is ever taken for granted, especially life itself. Therefore, the holiday allows Jews to celebrate with all Americans the gratitude we feel for the rights and privileges that are ours as American citizens.

This year, as I celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, I will be grateful for many things. As this was a bittersweet year for me with my breast cancer diagnosis, I can at least be grateful for life and for the fact that I got excellent care.

I will be thankful for my family and friends who surround me and enrich my life in so many ways. I will revel in the sunsets whose glorious colors could only display themselves here in Florida.

I will cherish each day my beautiful hibiscus bush blooms to provide me with showy pink blossoms. I will delight in the sight of the thoroughbreds snorting, their breaths coming in foggy mists in the early mornings as they race around the training tracks.

Yes, I will be grateful.

We need Thanksgiving, we need to say “thank you.” May you spend Thanksgiving with the warmth of family and friends. May we all share our bounty with those less fortunate and may the spirit of thankfulness stay with us through the year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.