Thanksgiving is soon upon us and, once again, our children will hear a beautiful version of the first Thanksgiving. They will hear about Native Americans and pilgrims feasting together on corn, turkey and yams, oh, and let’s not forget cranberry sauce.
Many adults who have given up on the myth of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny still cling to the Thanksgiving story they learned as little ones.
I have the same problem with those who dropped out of Temple life after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. They stopped learning about God and Torah, and, now, even in their upper years, they have a 13-year-old view of God and His word. The problem is that there is much more to these biblical stories. And, there is much more to the Thanksgiving story.
Let me share just a few things with you about Native Americans. Did any of you move down here from Canarsie? Well guess what, it was named after the Canarsee Indians. And for those of you who spent time in Rockaway; guess what, it was named after the Rechaweygh (pronounced – Rockaway) Indians.
Many of the tribes were quite content before the pilgrims came. One tribe lived in one area and another tribe in another area. And, while they lived on the land, they considered it owned by a higher power. They were respectful enough of each other not to move too close. But if another group needed to use some of the land for awhile, or they needed some food or some water… no problem. You see, the Native Americans didn’t fence themselves in, nor did they fence others out. But then the pilgrims came, pilgrims who had this concept of land ownership.
Now, let me focus on the feast of Thanksgiving. The family sitting around the table on Thanksgiving night often follows a tradition of having each one say something they are thankful for. So what, you might ask, were pilgrims thankful for?
The pilgrims there did not have it so easy. They had neglected to bring others with them from their homeland who had the skills that would be needed to survive. This was especially true in regard to food. To get food, you needed to be able to hunt. And not only were they lousy hunters, but, when they did get lucky enough to catch something, they weren’t exactly great in the butchering department either. In other words, they could not catch it, they could not kill it and they could not skin it.
And this is where the religious background came in handy. With so little food to eat they came up with days of fasting. Yes, they would pray on these days. They would pray for something to eat, as they were darn near starving.
The days on which they were permitted to eat became joyous days of thanks … hence, Thanksgiving Day. And their feast probably consisted of some bread and potatoes.
This Thanksgiving, I want you to take the time to research, to learn as an adult. What I’ve written today might not be totally accurate; but, I can tell you this, neither is the story we learned as children. Keep learning. Seek the truth and give thanks!
Shalom my friends,
Rabbi Craig H. Ezring
Rabbi Ezring is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel of Deerfield Beach. If you would like to be part of a small, haimishe, Conservative Congregation stop by and become a part of our family. (Services – Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. followed by a beautiful Kiddish and friendly conversation. Temple is located one block South of Hillsboro Blvd on Military Trail).